Friday, December 31, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Alastair Reynolds' Absolution Gap

Alastair Reynolds' Absolution Gap is the third novel in his Revelation Space series. I was turned on to his work by Mark Chitty's Walker of Worlds blog, who is also a big fan or Peter F. Hamilton and Neal Asher, two other big British science fiction writers.

I read the first book in the Revelation Space series in Fall 2009 but have been eagerly devouring all of Reynolds works since then. See my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy, Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. In addition, there are two other novels which are set in the Revelation Space universe, Chasm City and The Prefect, both of which are excellent, well-written science fiction novels.

Surprisingly, even though Reynolds is most well-known for his original trilogy of novels set in the Revelation Space universe, they may not actually be his greatest creations.

Absolution Gap is the third and concluding book in the trilogy and features all the characteristics we have come to expect from Alastair Reynolds: dense, multi-layered plot(s), ambiguously identities of main characters, political intrigue, relativistic suspense and vast quantities of prose.

There is a 20-year gap between the events from the end of Redemption Ark and the events from the beginning of Absolution Gap. Our main protagonists Neil Clavain, the Conjoiner who defected to join Humans, Scorpio, a human-pig genetic hybrid, Ana Khouri (the main character from  Revelation Space and Redemption Ark), Skade (head of the Conjoiners and arch-nemesis of Clavain) all return and interact in ways on the planet Ararat which are exciting and horrifying (not everyone survives and I don't want to give away any spoilers here). It is nice to see characters that we are familiar with re-appearing in this third and final book of the series.

As with his other books in the Revelation Space series, the sophisticated plot of Absolution Gap also unspools in multiple time periods, due to Reynolds' insistence on no space flight greater than the speed of light combined with events that occur in different star systems.

The new characters that Reynolds introduces are terrifying and fascinating. On the planet Hela, Rashmika Els is a teenaged girl who apparently always knows when someone is telling the truth. Hela is ruled by the clearly insane Quaiche, who is a former crewmember of the Ultra spaceship Gnostic Ascension, and Grelier another crewmate who acts as Quaiche's right-hand man and enforcer. Quaiche has been infected with an indoctrination virus which makes him obsessed with Hela's star, Haldora, which appears to disappear intermittently (for fractions of a second every decades or so). He has had his eyelids removed and placed himself in a cathedral in perpetual motion so that he can (literally) keep his eyes constantly on Haldora so he doesn't miss a single vanishing. Rashmika goes to work for Quaiche and Grelier since someone with her unusual talents are invaluable.

The two storylines from Ararat and Hela intersect when the "lighthugger" Nostalgia for Infinity leaves Ararat (the Inhibitors are destroying that planet's star and are only prevented from destroying the planet itself by Clavain's old Conjoiner friend Remontoire) and everyone goes to Hela for the resolution of the story. It turns out the mystery behind Haldora's bizarre disappearing act is the existence of another alien species who may be able to help humans in the fight to stave off extinction, or who may be even worse than The Wolves.

Overall, although Absolution Gap is not as gripping as the first two installments of the trilogy, it is a reasonably high-quality conclusion to an incredibly original, well-written space opera which can be favorably compared to any of the classics in the genre of hard science fiction.

Author: Alastair Reynolds.
Title: Absolution Gap.
Length: 768 pages.
May 31, 2005.

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.4/4.0).

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