Visions of Paradise

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Absolution Gap

Absolution Gap is the concluding volume in Alastair Reynolds’ Galactic North trilogy (the earlier two which were reviewed here on 8/16 and 8/27). Almost immediately at the novel’s outset I was impressed again, as I was at the start of Redemption Ark, at Reynolds’ ability to create exciting new scenarios that seem totally unrelated to the previous novel, yet ultimately flow naturally into it. Each successive novel in this trilogy begins with new outbursts of creativity, preventing this trilogy from being a “same ol’ same ol” sequence of comfortable familiarity.

Absolution Gap begins with three scenarios which are explored in alternating sequences:

1. An explorer named Quaiche discovers an uninhabited world whose moon Hela contains a strange nonhuman bridge which, when Quaiche tries exploring it, attacks him with hidden defenses

2. a century later Hela is the home of one of the strangest religions ever developed in sf as caravans of cathedral trains travel across its surface at a speed slow enough that observers lying on the roofs can keep the planet itself constantly in view

3. the survivors of the war in Revelation Space have settled on a planet which itself is now under attack itself by the “wolves”

Some of the characters from the previous two novels return, including Khouri, Clavain, Scorpio (who has grown from a human-hating pig to one of the leaders of the colony settled by the survivors of the space war) and the captain of Nostalgia for Infinity who by now has evolved into a mostly nonhuman entity.

New characters include Khouri’s daughter Aura, Quiache himself who is the prophet of the new religion on Hela, and Rashmika, the viewpoint character in that latter sequence on Hela.

I found more visual sense of wonder in Absolution Gap than in either of its predecessors, especially a scene in which one caravan passes through an immense canyon, and another scene when Nostalgia for Infinity lifts off from the planet where it has been the past two decades.

Reynolds did fall a bit into the same trap he created in Redemption Ark by having one sequence which was more horror thriller than serious, but where those sequences were largely irrelevant in the prior novel, in this instance it was one of the most important scenes in the novel, the climactic confrontation between Clavain and Skade. Fortunately it was only one weakness in the midst of lots of good, thought-provoking and exciting stuff.

Throughout the novel Reynolds manages to keep sucking the reader in deeper and deeper with new surprises that meld well with everything that happened before: the “shadows” hoping to cross into our universe; the skrimsuit; the attempt by Quaiche to take over Nostalgia for Infinity.

The novel’s pace quickens as Quaiche’s caravan reaches the bridge and attempts to be the first cathedral to cross over it successfully almost simultaneously as the struggle to rescue humanity from the Inhibitors reaches its climactic moments.

The Galactic North trilogy may not be great literature, but it is a grand adventure filled with sense of wonder, a wild and colorful milieu filled with fascinating characters, all partaking in a series of plots which move as inexorably as Quaiche’s caravans towards fascinating conclusions. Anybody who loves classic sf adventures should love this series as well.

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