Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds

Another big science fiction trilogy in the bag!  This is the conclusion to Revelation Space and Redemption Ark, and it's a bit of a funny end.  It's fantastic, certainly, but curiously not entirely satisfying.

Here are the good bits - the main protaganists change again in this one, and I'm glad to say the focus is now on the two most interesting characters.  Scorpio, the hyperpig bandit turned good, and the mysterious and ancient Captain John Brannigan/Nostalgia for Infinity.  This is a masterstroke by Reynolds.  All sci-fi books should have enigmatic and depressed spaceships and borderline psychotic farm animals front and centre.

Scorpio's a great lead because he's your Han Solo Mal Reynolds straightforward gung ho type, which is always fun when done right.  Plus, he seems a lot more human, ironically, than people like Sylveste or Clavain.  Getting the know the Captain is even more enjoyable.  There's one sequence when he morphs through his own history - from an astronaut on Mars which we would recognise, through increasingly bizarre sections of his history.  You begin to appreciate the depth of the world that's been put together by the author, and understand Brannigan's growing disconnectedness with the rest of humanity.  Both characters have really good arcs in this book, and one particular bit at the end actually had me punching the air in joy.

I also loved the new setting for much of this book - an obscure moon which is dominated by a strange religion.  There are massive mobile cathedrals which creep around the world, so as always to keep the gas giant they're circling in sight.  It's very gothic and steampunky with lots of intruige and world exploring.  Quite different to the rest of the series, but it complements it well, although I suspect this may have been intended as a plot for an entirely different novel.

There are a few niggles throughout the book -  a superhuman baby who's only really there to move the plot along.  Pretty clunky I thought. And I was a little confused by one character arc - someone who's being set up as a new leader for the future.  It's handled really well, but just seems to fizzle out.  But it's the ending which doesn't sit right with me.  It's one of those when you realise you're 97% through the book (you can be more exact about these things on the kindle) but there's simply no way everything's going to tied together satisfactorily.  Instead the author throws a whole bunch of new things at us and takes a sideways step.  It's certainly clever, but I can't be the only one who felt just a little shortchanged.  Anyway, can't grumble too much.  A brilliant, exciting and thought provoking end to the trilogy.

Right, I've been busy and my internet was down for a bit, so I have three other books I've already finished which I need to get reviews done of soon before they disappear into the aether - a strange quasi-history of the golden age of Soviet Russia, a book on an unknown legend of Italian cinema and a brutal hatchet job on a widely admired political figure.


Ed said...

One question - what's Steampunk?!

Joe said...

You're steampunk, Ed. You're so steampunk and you don't even know it.

yarb said...

Just finished this. I was so happy that the Cap'n got a starring role. He (and the ship) were the highlight of the whole series, a memorable character and expertly-limned. You're right, the spacesuit-manifestations were great. I will remember JB/NfI.

Scorpio I liked in small doses but not as a main character. His obtuseness didn't seem natural - how could anyone so one-dimensional, so unpolitical, maintain such a position? But more than the character it was Reynolds' way of writing him that bothered me. The author deploys a kind of faux empathy throughout. He writes from the pig's point of view but in the 3rd person, clearly as a human. Those constant laboured references to his trotters. I thought the text sort of encouraged me to laugh at the pig, and laugh I confess I did, almost throughout. I did like it when he went all Rambo at the end, as I always knew he would of course.

Wasn't upset by the open-ending, which was pretty conclusive compared to many of the novels I find myself reading.

Ed, steampunk is people who work in IT but aren't on facebook.

Joe said...

The pig got to me. I felt all the stuff about him not being as intelligent as humans, his unwieldy trotters and his funny walk were all from Scorpio himself. His inferiority complex was really convincing to me, especially as you can see it develop from trying to kill humans to trying to lead them. And occasionally throwing knives at them. That's one damaged pig.

Ed, steampunk could also be working in IT and not having an iphone. You may as well buy yourself a top hat and a pair of goggles.