bookrev: The Real Story: The Gap into Conflict by Stephen R. Donaldson

Book 1 of The Gap Cycle

I thoroughly enjoyed The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (and the Second Chronicles as The Real Storywell) by Mr. Donaldson, about Thomas Covenant, leper and unbeliever. I’d pick up this book, the first book in a new series about a decade ago, and made a couple of attempts to read it. But it didn’t strike me much as science fiction or fantasy, or much of anything.

I happened to read my friend JP from SF Signal’s article on Space Opera series that he enjoyed, and The Gap series was on the list, with the suggestion that “If you thought the first book was too cliched and simple to read, then you probably missed out on one of the most challenging rewarding space operas out there.”

The first book is indeed cliched and simple, but it sets up a triangle of characters that the reader wants to know more about. And Mr. Donaldson’s “Afterword”, where he talks about his motivations for the book and compares it to Wagner’s “Ring” opera classic is in and of itself worth the time reading the book.

The three players are Angus Thermopyle, Morn Hyland and Nick Succurso. Morn is the beautiful damsel in distress, a UMCP cop who as the book unfolds is somehow under the control of Thermopyle (great name!), a nasty, dirty ore claim jumper just one step ahead of the law. Bick Succorso is the dashing hero, who actually maybe more of a law breaker than Angus.

Angus is framed and Nick gets the girl early in the story. But, as the book says repeatedly, that is not the Real Story. Told from Angus’ paranoid point of view, the book traces back over how he captured Morn, how he decided Nick was his rival for her, what Morn’s background is and what she did in her past and many more personality traits.

The book (without the afterword) is a short, well-written, quick read 220 pages. But Donaldson gives just enough background on their three separate stories and the world around them that you want to learn more: what is in Morn’s past that made her make her “big mistake”? what is the Gap? are the UMCP good guys or bad guys? how bad of a bad guy is Nick, and who does he work for? where do Nick and Angus sell what they steal and who do they buy the illegal items they need?

It is definitely a “setup book”, and Donaldson’s excellent Afterword admits as much. The series has five books in all, all of them quite a bit longer than this first one. They are:

  • Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Into Vision
  • A Dark and Hungry God Arises: The Gap Into Power
  • Chaos and Order: The Gap Into Madness
  • This Day All Gods Die: The Gap Into Ruin

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6 Responses

  1. John D. says:

    FWIW…I read these books over a decade ago and remember liking them.

  2. admin says:

    John, thanks. Yeah, this is one of those series I missed. While I enjoy reading new series that are “just coming out” (like GRRM’s) rediscovering an already published series (this one is from the 1990’s) is a lot of fun. Lots of pages to commit to though!

  3. Bob says:

    Just thought I should point out that Gollancz has now republished the whole series (on better quality paper than the old ones!) which may make it a bit easier for some of you out there to get your hands on.

    I didn’t like The Real Story a great deal- it was a bit cliched and flat with a poorly-plotted storyline, and I was very neally not going to buy the rest. I’m very glad that I did. The rest of the series is light-years ahead of the first one in quality.

    • admin says:

      I agree, big difference between The Real Story and the rest, from the way it is told to the World Building (which was mostly left out of the first one). Donaldson’s explanation at the end of the paperback puts it in perspective though.

  4. Sean McMahon says:

    The Gap and Thomas Covenant series were amazing. For the first on each.

    It got dumb afterwards for the white gold wielder.

    The Gap held up through all books though.

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