bookrev: Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap into Vision by Stephen R. Donaldson

Book 2 of The Gap Cycle 

Forbidden Knowledge is the second book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Gap Cycle (the Forbidden KnowledgeGap referring to faster-than-light drives jumping the gap). As promised in Donaldson’s author’s note in the first volume (The Real Story) it is radically different than the first novel, and an excellent read (as the first one was as well).

The first novel was little to no science fiction, almost completely interaction between three flawed humans who just happen to be in space, from the point of view of one of them, space pirate and all-around nasty man Angus Thermopyle.

This second novel still revolves around the same trio, but displays how they are flawed personality-wise and modified by technology. An alien species not discussed in the first novel plays a large role, as do several pieces of tech documented in the book by “Ancillary Documentation” interlude chapters.

But the three main characters and their “Wagnerian” relationship (again, see Donaldson’s author’s note from the 1st book) move the story along:

  • Morn Hyland, former “cop”, victim of “gap sickness” which drove her to self-destruct her families ship and got her captured by Thermopyle; he puts a ‘zone implant’ in her brain, which controls her via a remote control feedback mechanism;
  • Angus Thermopyle, dirty, disgusting loner, driven by fear of death with a past of pain; he’s a space pirate, ore claim jumper, needs to win and kills people that gets in his way. He is taken with Morn, and uses the zone implant to bend her to his will (rape is a theme in these books, not YA appropriate)
  • Nick Succorso, yet another pirate but dashing and handsome, must win. Puts Thermopyle in jail in the first novel through a mole in the cop’s security force.

The second book opens with Thermopyle in jail, framed by Succorso who grabs Morn, ignorant of her implant. She been a victim of Angus’, but he gives her the remote control for the implant, a trade so that she will not tell that he gave it to her (which would mean death). Succorso, scarred under the eyes as a teenager by a woman who took much from him, as well tries to dominate Morn, who uses the implant to make him believe she will do anything for him. Morn ends up pregnant, but by Angus; she leads Nick to believe it was his, and he heads for the aliens, the Amnion, who can force grow her baby to full grown where it will be manageable in space. Meanwhile, the ‘power’ in the space cop organization have taken Angus and given him his own zone implants, turning him into a cyborg to do their bidding.

Sounds like a soap opera, don’t it?

But it’s a space opera. There is humanity’s fear of the alien Amnion, who trade with humans and have apparently done some experiments on humans. The is the UMCP (United Mining Companies Police), the space cops who run the galaxies, who Morn believes are right and true and just…but she finds out they play politics just like the rest. And there’s the three principals, each in their own way trying to use whatever they have or whatever modifications were given them to control the others and their own destiny.

Along the way are explanations of gap drive technology, zone implants, politics and policy, alien mutagens and many vehicles that turn the soap opera into a space opera.

At 455 pages (paperback), this was a lightening quick read, lots of action, lots of fun. As always, I was worried about the time investment in starting a five book series…but Donaldson has reeled me in, I want to know what happens to the trio, to the Amnion’s, and to find out what the Real Story is behind the crooks at the UMCP. Well written, just like the Thomas Covenant chronicles, on to book 3.

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