The Book of the Week is back! I know it’s been a couple weeks, and this has been harder to keep consistent than I thought it would. First, my computer decided to consistently freeze while I was on vacation—resulting in zero posts for over a week, and no writing done on Seeds of Sand, the way I’d planned—and then I came back to Colorado and started a new job almost immediately. It’s been a busy couple weeks.
But anyway, I’m trying to get back on schedule with things now. The Book of the Week is The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson.
Okay. So. I’m going to start with the easy stuff, here. The Real Story is a short, quick read, the first book in Donaldson’s five-book Gap Cycle. It’s science fiction, with a lot of the trappings you’d expect: space pirates and ship-to-ship battles, blasters and faster-than-light travel. It’s a story that, at its most tense, is positively pulse-pounding.
The Real Story is also a fairly experimental book. It starts in a very removed third-person POV, setting a scene and describing what casual observers think is happening. From there, it rewinds the scene and delves into the thought process of more observant bystanders, giving their more in-depth ideas on the scene. Then, again, it rewinds and goes into the investigative review of the authorities, once again giving a slightly different evaluation of the events.
Finally, the story moves into a close third-person POV and tells us “the real story”, from the perspectives of two positively incredible characters: Morn Hyland and Angus Thermopyle. This is where things get…well, they get tough. To put it very nicely.
You see, Donaldson gets intense. His most famous series, the acclaimed fantasy Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, is notorious for one of its earliest scenes, depicting the eponymous protagonist raping a young girl.
The Gap Cycle makes that look like sunshine and rainbows. This is a brutal series, with some truly horrible people as the main players. There are very, very few characters whom I would classify as genuinely good people. Of the three main characters in The Real Story, only Morn is truly blameless—from a certain point of view. This book is not for the faint of heart.
What Donaldson is so good at doing is constructing characters, deeply flawed and generally despicable, and building them into people whom you will, if not like, at least sympathize with. Think Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire, only multiply it by about ten. Defenestrating young children is one thing; what the characters do in The Gap Cycle is something else entirely. A big part of this process in The Gap Cycle is the utilization of ever-shifting roles the characters hold.
The three characters of Morn, Angus, and Nick Succorso cycle constantly through the roles of victim, villain, and hero—sometimes playing more than one within a single book. It’s a fascinating study in how perspective molds a story. Indeed, the result at the end of The Real Story is a sense that, perhaps, there is no real story. When events mean something completely different for different people, with truths and lies hidden behind promises and betrayals, nothing is concrete.
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story is a short but heavy book, ultimately most interesting as a character study, but lays the foundation for one of the most compelling and profound sci-fi series I’ve ever read. I give The Real Story 3 out of 5 stars, with a hefty asterisk that every subsequent book in the series gets better and better.