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Absolution Gap
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz, 565 pages

Absolution Gap
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle, doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University. At present he works at ESA as a contractor.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Turquoise Days
SF Site Review: Redemption Ark
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

It's a dangerous galaxy out there. Just how dangerous, the characters who inhabit the universe of Alastair Reynolds' Absolution Gap have been finding out through the course of his previous novels, most directly in Revelation Space and Redemption Ark. These characters, including Scorpio, the genetically altered pig, and the post-human Conjoiners Clavain and Khouri, have survived perilous journeys and witnessed the flowering and subsequent destruction of cultures encompassing entire solar systems.

Spreading human civilization has triggered attacks from a machine intelligence known as the Inhibitors. Absolution Gap splits its story between two locales, the planet Ararat, where Scorpio and Clavain find their refuge under attack, and Hela, where a strange astronomical phenomena has attracted the attention of religious zealots, who see a planet's vanishing and reappearance as a sign of the end times. Then, on Ararat, Khouri arrives with her daughter, who has been altered in the womb and possesses information that may help defeat the Inhibitors. And on Hela, a young woman full of questions about the truth behind the world around her leaves home to find her missing brother.

Absolution Gap thus follows two relatively straight-forward storylines through one of the more complicated universes in recent science fiction. Reynolds scrupulously avoids violating relativity and the speed of light limit, yet at the same time continues to bring his characters into contact with astronomical wonders. His universe also has historical depth, human beings, for example, are hardly the first to have encountered the Inhibitors.

The characters too have grown during the course of the series. They remain capable of doing terrible things, but Khouri and Scorpio especially have gained in depth through their suffering. It makes them more sympathetic as characters, and insures that even with its vast backdrop the story in Absolution Gap remains grounded in its characters. Reynolds' vision remains almost Gothic in its bleakness, but Absolution Gap allows a small measure of hope to intrude, and in the context of these characters and the lives they have led, that hope is a wonder.

As the titles Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap suggest, religion plays an important part throughout this story. At first glance, comparisons to Dune abound. There is an infant preternaturally aware in the womb. There is a young woman who can tell whether anyone talking to her is telling the truth. And there is a way of using religion as a weapon (a virus that brings with it a state of religious indoctrination) that the Bene Gesserit would kill for. But while Dune was concerned with religion as a force in society and the consequences of trying to control the future, religion in Absolution Gap and its predecessors is more of a state of mind, a way of looking at the universe that competes with and often subverts understanding based on a scientific outlook. For Reynolds's characters, absolution comes in the form of trying to understand the universe as it is, and in recognizing the difference between what they would like to be true and what actually is.

That may sound like a heavy burden, but it in no way drags the story down. Absolution Gap is a first-rate work of science fiction, a thoroughly modern space opera full of dangers and marvels to match. At a time when large-scale SF is flourishing, Absolution Gap is as good as it gets, and should solidify Alastair Reynolds' reputation as one of the best hard SF writers in the field.

Copyright © 2004 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson regards Absolution Gap as a prime example of how new ideas in cosmology are shaping the development of hard SF. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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