Thursday, 26 August 2004

Alastair Reynolds: Absolution Gap (2003)

Edition: Gollancz, 2003
Review number: 1260

This novel completes the story of Revelation Space and Redemption Ark, about how the human race falls foul of machines named Inhibitors or wolves, which destroy interstellar civilizations when alerted by the use of particular kinds of advanced technology. (Chasm City and the pair of novellas Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days share the same background, but are not part of the same story.) At the end of Redemption Ark, one group of humans had taken refuge on the backwater planet of Ararat; one strand of Absolution Gap starts when the Inhibitors attack them. The other main narrative thread is set on the bizarre world of Hela (a third describes the discovery of this world). Hela is an icy moon, home to a really strange religious movement. Many satellites have synchronous orbits, keeping one face towards the planet they orbit, as the Moon does to Earth - nobody could see the far side before the days of space travel. Hela nearly does this, but not quite, so the planet of Haldora appears to slowly move through the sky. On the equator is a route travelled by the strange cathedrals, slowly moving, huge buildings; their aim is to keep the planet directly overhead, under constant observation. (Of course, only one can do so at a time, causing a great deal of rivalry.)

Absolution Gap is a long novel, and to start with moves too slowly. Even though I had enjoyed Reynolds' other writing, I seriously considered giving up on this story. The depiction of Hela is a serious problem; although the cathedrals are a fascinating idea, with a great deal of scope for baroque description in the manner of Peake or Moorcock (they're easily the best thing in the novel), we don't actually learn very much about them. This is because Reynolds doesn't want to reveal twists in the plot beforehand, but it means that the reader's interest isn't sustained. Basically, Absolution Gap could have been better constructed; it is a lengthy wait for things to start to get interesting. Read it if you want to find out the end of the story of the Inhibitors; otherwise, it's not really worth the effort.

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