Alastair Reynolds,
Absolution Gap
(Gollancz, 2003; Ace, 2004)

In just a few years, Alastair Reynolds has created, developed and destroyed the better part of a galactic civilization. With the grand finale of his first series, Absolution Gap, he begins rebuilding it from the ground up and the sky down.

Reynolds once again does a fine job of explaining a backstory that now runs several novels deep without resorting to tiresome recaps or heavy-handed flashbacks. Humanity, in various guises, has settled the galaxy and is being busily scoured from its extraterrestrial colonies by the Wolves introduced in Redemption Ark. On the watery world of Ararat, human colonists fleeing the Wolf attack have settled and wait for news from other survivors. On the world of Hela, a teenage girl searches for clues about her vanished brother under the pretense of studying the equally vanished Scuttlers, a possibly intelligent race that inhabited the world before. And at sometime in the past, an opportunistic treasure hunter studies an unnamed world in a deadly dull corner of space.

Reynolds has an uncommon talent for beginning a story with a thousand separate threads and pulling them into one tapestry so complete that the process feels inevitable. Absolution Gap starts with stories separated not just in space but time, and how the three main threads bleed together is a process as interesting as the dramas playing through each separated tale initially. While old readers may find their interests first hijacked by the adventures of the survivors from earlier novels, attentiveness to the other threads is well repaid as all the threads are untied in a series of audacious, yet irresistibly plausible twists. New readers may feel more adrift at first, but the relevant history is quickly explained in the most unobtrusive manner possible, and Reynolds has a short story writer's knack for making the reader love a character in half a paragraph.

The vagaries of space travel and time lag allow Reynolds to unleash destruction on many of his worlds while keeping a core group of characters relatively safe. There are painful sacrifices to be made, and longtime readers will find some of their emotional attachments broken in painful ways. There are also some unusually gory and horrific scenes from Reynolds, many not even presented in a threatening situation. The haunted interior of a living ship may be less hostile than the pursuing alien exterminators, but is also far more eerie. That the most unsettling moments are caused by echoing human mistakes, rather than unstoppable alien forces, gives a sense of realism to a science fiction tale that otherwise might veer too far into the fantastic.

Absolution Gap puts a rather firm capstone on the story that's been unfolding since Revelation Space. Fittingly for a book so concerned with the future, it's an ending that looks ahead, to new challenges, with hope for the characters and for the readers, who may anticipate a new series. Whether it marks a new beginning or a grand finale, Absolution Gap makes a very human close to one of the grandest space adventures in years.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 11 September 2004

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