Book Review: Absolution Gap

Recently, I read the Absolution Gap, the third book in Alastair Reynolds’ trilogy (the previous two were Revelation Space and Redemption Ark, and have been complemented with several novellas and short stories set in the same universe). I quite enjoyed it, but reading it reminded me of why I can only take Mr. Reynolds’ writing in small doses.

The Revelation Space trilogy is grand space opera, writ large. Where many modern authors shy away from expansive galactic civilizations, alien races, and stories encompassing centuries, perhaps in hopes of retaining shreds of believability, Reynold’s writing has all three in spades. And that, perhaps, is the greatest draw– his stories paint a conflicted universe in very broad strokes. Reading them, you will care more about the societies than about the characters; more about what happens each century than what happens each day; and more about the fate of the universe than about the fate of the world. That can be a refreshing change of pace: his stories are gripping, exciting, and believable; he’s one of the few authors who can make a coherent story that passes over centuries (made even more challenging since there is no faster than light travel in his stories, so relativistic effects have major consequences).
The story went more or less as I expected, but it was engaging enough that i read it in two days, unable to put in down. If you like epic plots, incredibly fleshed out and detailed worlds, desperate struggles against incredible odds, and heart-rending dilemmas, you won’t go wrong with Absolution Gap.

So why only once in a while? Well, the grandiosity of his writing cuts both ways– you never real empathize with any of the characters, the books are bone-shatteringly depressing for most of the characters, and sometimes the coincidences seem rather forced. The worst example in Absolution Gap was the new male protagonist, who was introduced as an inexperienced newcomer in the first few pages, and within a chapter (which, amazingly, only represented something like 4 months in-story) had become a powerful leader who subsumed the role of the greatest leader of human society– mainly because that leader needed to die for story reasons, and the author needed a new mouthpiece for “grizzled veteran who makes hard decisions”. The incongruity of the greenhorn making the “hard decisions” for peers who have centuries more experience than him continues throughout the book, and is very off-putting.
By forced coincidences, I mean that it sometimes seems absurd the lengths the books contort to keep the accessible assumption that one character equals one society. One of the largest factions in the galaxy is the Conjoiners– and you can bet that no matter which ship of thousands the characters happen to board, the signature Conjoiner character, Remontoire, will be on board. Hell, Remontoire, a retired and arthritic politician, was for some reason the pilot of the dangerous, experimental star-fighter in the epic final battle. What?!? Alastair Reynolds wants to paint his societal story, and the characters are mostly convenient cardboard cut-outs to fill needed roles. And when you do start to empathize with them, you can be sure it’s only because some truly terrible torture (and the books can be quite graphic) soon awaits them. Some of the images from these books still give me shivers.

But, overall, it was quite a wild ride, and I’d recommend the book (and the series) to any fan of plausible but epic science fiction.

3 Responses to “Book Review: Absolution Gap”

wow, you really had me interested in picking up the first of the trilogy until I got to the “truly terrible torture (…quite graphic)” part! That gives me pause….

Meg - March 10th, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Looking back at my review, I worry I focused too much on the negative. It really was a fun book, even if the depressing ending was a little unsatisfying.

Meg- The books only have one or two gruesome events; but they definitely have them. Then again, I really see the “movie in my head” when I read, so visceral descriptions can really haunt me. If you’re a more detached reader, it may not phase you at all. One from Absolution Gap: the specter of being locked into an immobile spacesuit that maintains your life and prevents any sleep or rest, embedded inside an asteroid with no sensory input… for decades. Ick.

Paradoxdruid - March 10th, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Thank you for sharing that!!

Meg - March 11th, 2008 at 8:41 am

Leave a Response (or trackback on your own site)

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Welcome to Paradoxdruid's Rants... a community based webblog. Feel free to snag an account and post.

Contributors Login


My first first-author paper!

Just wanted to share that my first first-author paper is now online! In the journal Stem Cells and Development, here’s my paper on “Roles of Integrins in Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Growth on Matrigel and Vitronectin.”

The Future of Scientific Publishing

Just read a fascinating (if lengthy) essay on disruptive technology and the future of scientific publishing. Well worth the read!


Just wanted to share’s Visual Guide to Deflation, which is quite explanatory.

All Things Stem Cell

Hey all Paradoxdruid readers! I recently started up a blog on stem cells that I’d love you all to take a look at:

Barely Literate: The Fermata

I participated in another Barely literate book review podcast, this time on Nicholson Baker’s “The Fermata”. Give it a listen!

Time for Change

Obama has outlined a strategy for America, in great depth. Read all about!

Free Rice

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible that I am the last person to learn about this website*, but it’s really addictive. 


Site best viewed in Mozilla Firefox. Site CSS template by Andrea Pitschmann. Banner photo by photocase.