Short Attention Span Review™
Before delving in to the Revelation Space universe I first suggest perusing the chronology and consider reading the books in order.
This is Part 7 in my series of reviews focusing on the Revelation Space future history books by Alastair Reynolds.
Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds
Absolution Gap is the final novel in Alastair Reynolds’ sprawling Revelation Space Trilogy (a.k.a. The Inhibitor Trilogy). This is a review late in the coming as I finished reading it almost a year ago. So here it is, for the sake of posterity and completion.
As is common with Reynolds’ works, and as dictated by the fact that his settings are driven by slower than light travel, Absolution Gap spans over a century of time telling us the continuing adventure of Nevil Clavain, Ana Khouri (and her daughter Aura), and Scorpio as they find a way to survive and cope with the spread of the Inhibitors.
The book starts in 2615 with the discovery of Haldora and its moon Hela, by a group of Ultranauts searching through space for ancient alien relics to plunder and sell on lucrative markets. Something is detected on Hela and they dispatch Quaiche with his lover, Morwenna, trapped in a sensory depraving scrimshaw suit where she was placed by the Ultras until Quaiche is able to deliver on promises of wealth. Quaiche encounters defense systems on the planet that shoot down his landing craft. He’s marooned with little oxygen left to survive and out of communication range of his primary shuttle which is orbiting behind Haldora. As he’s dying Haldora briefly vanishes from Hela’s sky, allowing him to communicate with his shuttle, which races down at maximum acceleration killing his love, Morwenna, in the process. Haldora re-appears from nothing, and Quaiche believes he’s been saved by the hand of God himself.
The dogma of religion is one of the more interesting aspects of this book. It’s clear to me that Reynolds has a particular view on religion, and it’s one that I seem to share. Essentially Quaiche turns into a religious lunatic. He constructs a religion on Hela that’s devoted to watching the miraculously disappearing planet Haldora. Decades later enormous moving cathedrals trundle around the equator of icy Hela, following a road fraught with hazards, all so Quaiche can sit on his throne at the top of a cathedral with his eyes permanently held open while computer controlled mirrors continuously focusing the light of Haldora into his unsleeping eyes. He wants to bear witness to the disappearing event that saved his life and doomed his love.
And as she leads them to an apparently insignificant moon light-years away, it begins to dawn to Clavain and his companions that to beat the enemy, it may be necessary to forge an alliance with something much worse . . .
His followers are indoctrinated with a virus to ensure and cement his twisted belief system. For centuries philosophers have analogized that religion is a virus of the mind. In the case of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe he makes religion, and control by said religion, a literal indoctrination virus that is injected into you on a regular basis.
But the disappearance of Haldora is not divine, “miracles” never are . . . at least ones involving entire planets vanishing. And the voices coming from Morwenna’s scrimshaw casket are not ghosts.
Ana Khouri and the survivors of the ship Nostalgia for Infinity have to find a way to work with the madman Quaiche in order to solve the enigma of Haldora, for they believe it may be their answer to countering the threat of the Inhibitors. How do they convince a religious zealot to let them investigate the planet that he worships? Not easily.
Absolution Gap can be a confusing novel to read. Yes, it contains Reynolds’ normal and twisted (and in some cases grotesquely SICK) gothic space opera elements, but if you inadvertently pick it up assuming its a standalone novel you are bound to become very lost in short order. While Rashmika is infiltrating Qaiche’s cathedral you may ask . . . Where is all this leading? Again, as with all of Reynolds’ books, the threads always intertwine and lead somewhere, but it generally won’t lead to a nice, cohesive ending that many readers want. That’s the weak point of this book and The Inhibitor Trilogy in general. Only readers who immerse themselves in the Revelation Space universe, by devouring all the books, novellas, and short stories will appreciate (or even understand) the ending of Absolution Gap.
Unfortunately the ending of Absolution Gap, and the ending of the Inhibitor Trilogy, is a bit ambiguous and leaves many questions unresolved. In order to fill in the gaps (no pun intended) I recommend you at least read the short story Galactic North in the book by the same name. The last story in the book attempts to resolve many of the unanswered questions in Absolution Gap, most notably details surrounding the origins of the “Greenfly” von Neumann machines, and specifically how they were unleashed on the unsuspecting galaxy.
Is there opportunity for Reynolds to return to the Revelation Space universe? Without doubt. It’s a setting absolutely bursting at the seams with more stories to be told. The entire “Greenfly” and “shadows” threads that are dropped at the reader’s feet in Absolution Gap would be enough for a trilogy alone. But Reynolds has given no word about returning to Revelation Space other than the occasional short story. If he ever does, I’ll not hesitate to jump back in. Revelation Space has been one of my favorite settings to explore in recent memory.