Review: Absolution Gap

When I’m reading multiple books simultaneously, it’s usually because I’ve relegated one to my “before bed” pile. Absolution Gap, the conclusion of Alastair Reynolds’s Revelation Space series, was one of those. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the longer books I’ve attacked in a couple months, and half an hour per night hardly pays quick dividends. Even worse, Reynolds’ writing style is copious and unrelenting; I felt every single one of those pages.

I’m saying the novel is immense, folks. Stick with me, here.

The conclusion of this series is difficult to comment on. Once again, there are multiple plotlines interwoven, but two primarily stand out in a way not seen in previous entries. This time, two concurrent timelines separated by about 100 years slowly converge, giving ample time to provide character motivation, sufficient background, and foreshadowing.

The Inhibitors, now actively eradicating humanity, have finally caught up with Skade, who has also located Clavain, Scorpio, and the rest. While they work to find a method of escape or defeat these foes, a man named Quiache invents a religion based on watching Haldora, a gas giant, periodically vanish from the vantage of its moon, Hela. Aura, Khouri’s daughter by Thorn from Redemption Ark, is apparently the key to contacting beings known only as the Shadows, which supposedly can defeat the Inhibitors. And Rashmika Els searches for her lost brother among the cathedrals that circumnavigate Hela in an effort to always keep it overhead.

These things really are the core of what’s going on, and while the novel sets up all of the counter-plotting admirably, it does so very slowly to build ambiance. Very Slowly. Glacially, even. And frustratingly, there’s almost no payoff for it. There are a couple mild surprises in store in the last few chapters, but even these were excessively telegraphed and predictable almost halfway through the novel. The conclusion is also a staggering cop-out. All of the preparation our characters perform, all of their investigations, new technologies, and even the Shadows and Wolves themselves, are effectively hurled into the nearest landfill, and an ending completely out of right field is bolted on as an afterthought.

This is probably the worst betrayal I’ve felt after finishing a space opera of any length. The characters’ efforts are unimportant; the antagonists ultimately moot; the conclusion is only tangentially related to the rest of the novel. Reynolds invoked deus ex machina here, but did so by alluding to a circular time loop which is supposed to tie everything up in a neat, depressing little bow. Instead, it cheapens the struggles of every character introduced in the novel, reduces their travails to drab, pointless endeavors full of eloquent prose that accomplishes approximately nothing. If you’re a fan of Neal Stephenson, some argue his novels lack clear endings–this is ten times worse.

Alastair’s writing is as amazing and elaborate and cohesive as usual, but his pacing and plotting leave much to be desired. I actually feel robbed, an emotion none of his other books have imparted. Taken with the greater context of his other novels, this particular entry also seems oddly isolated; almost none of the established universe makes a single appearance except as an elusive location to evacuate before the Wolves arrive. It’s all so pointless, and the vast amount of time it spends being pointless just makes it more aggravating. Luckily The Prefect more than redeems this bomb, so I’m not too trepidatious about pursuing Alastair’s future work.