Absolution Gap, Alastair Reynolds (Orion Publishing, 2003)

Cover of "Absolution Gap (GollanczF.)"

Cover of Absolution Gap (GollanczF.)

Grade: Γ — A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre. 

In brief:

Absolution Gap, by Alastair Reynolds, is the final installment in the Inhibitor Trilogy set in his Revelation Space universe.[1]  As with the previous two books in this trilogy it almost stands alone, although much of the enjoyment would be lost if you were not already invested in the series.  Perhaps more to the point, however, is that while this does in one sense bring to a close many of the storyline threads that existed, it does not quite give me the sense of closure that I had hope for in a trilogy.  Even so, it remains a very good read and I recommend it to anyone who likes thoughtful and imaginative Science Fiction


Set in the 24th to 25th centuries, this is a Hard Science Fiction setting where interstellar travel exists, but is limited by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. To that end, space travel takes huge amounts of time, and is only endurable through stasis and time dilation. Nanotechnology has reached Ultratech levels, but has become limited by the horrible Melding Plague that causes it to effectively become cancerous in its growth. Added to this is a more drastic problem, the encroaching doom of an alien technological that threaten to wipe out humanity (to say more would spoil the previous volumes).

In Depth:

I enjoyed this book.  I really did.  As with so many of Reynolds’ works, there is some brilliant ideas, great imagery, wonderful characters and most importantly, a deeper ideological exploration of philosophical thought.  Having said that, I felt a bit disappointed at the end of this book. 

Absolution Gap is told in two different time frames.  One picks up shortly (well 27 years, but relatively speaking it is short)[2] after the conclusion of Redemption Ark, bringing us up to date with the characters we know and love from the previous books in the series.  The second time frame begins much earlier, and follows other characters whom we have never met before as they become involved in strange events on a remote planet. Before too long (okay, it’s over a hundred years in the storyline, but only about a third of the way into the book for us), the stories converge, but what is most interesting is that even as they intertwine, we are not exactly certain how they are coming together. 

To this end, the form of the story is brilliantly written, and kept me not quite sure what was going on (in a good way) right up until the closing of the book.  What is more, the storyline itself is so tense I couldn’t put it down.  This was especially the case because Absolution Gap was the last in the trilogy and so should have brought the stories to full closure. Yet, when the story ended, I was… well, disappointed.

While most, if not all of the trilogy’s individual character arcs were brought to a close, and the story arc of this volume was clearly concluded Absolution Gap did not really bring the trilogy as a whole to a solid conclusion. Indeed, the whole Inhibitor plot line was more or less resolved ‘off screen.’ That was extremely disappointing.  Furthermore, there were some character arcs that existed in the first book that really should have been brought back and concluded more fully in this book that were never really solidly addressed. 

To that end, I did not quite get the satisfaction that I expect at the end of a series, particularly at the end of a Trilogy.  Oh don’t get me wrong, Absolution Gap and the whole Inhibitor trilogy remains among some of my favorite Science Fiction books.  I will no doubt read them again in the future.  Having said that, this story just didn’t leave me with the fulfilled sense of completion that I really expect in a trilogy; particularly one that inspired the after the intellectual and emotional investment that Reynolds’ skills stirred.  Of course, if you read my reviews of the other two books in this series, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.

So, I recommend this with mixed blessings.  It is good story and brings the Inhibitor trilogy to a thematic conclusion and definitively shows which character the trilogy was really about,[3] but does not quite so handily bring the series as a whole to a true conclusion.  The plot of the book ends nicely, but while the plot of the trilogy is ended, it was done so abruptly and without the skill that Reynolds’ has shown in some of his other works. 


[1] The Inhibitor Trilogy is often referred to as the Revelation Space Trilogy, which confuses the matter since that is the name of both a book and his World.  To clarify: the Inhibitor trilogy consist of the novels (in order): Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap.  They all take place in the Revelation Space universe, in which the books Chasm City, Diamond Dogs/Turquoise Days (two novellas collected into a single volume), Galactic North (a selection of short stories set in the Revelation Space Universe) and The Prefect are also set.

[2] Get it?  Relatively speaking? This is a world where Einstienian physics are…okay.  I’ll shut up.

[3] I won’t give away the answer, but it wasn’t any of the protagonists.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Cycle, Hard SciFi, Identity, New Space Opera, Post Modern, Saga, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Trilogy, Ultratech, Unique or Imaginative World, World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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