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on 25 July 2015
Just so you know, this is effectively a review of the whole Gap series not just the double issue "The Real Story" and "Forbidden Knowledge". I've re-read the whole sequence over the past few weeks and, in spite of the fact that the individual books do have individual end-points, they are so tightly interwoven that it serves little purpose to discuss them in isolation.

There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect science fiction series. Or even a perfect novel. And even if I thought were, I would not be trying to argue that the Gap Sequence is it. As a long-term SF reader, I found that reading this book (and the others that go with it) was like having a conversations with my parents: there are lots of things it's better to ignore, skip over or not think about.

In the case of the Gap books these include Donaldson's habit of liberally filling his text with terms like "relativistic", "quantum discontinuities" and "nucleotides" in a way which creates the strong impression that he either does not know or does not care that these words do actually have well-defined meanings; his way of arbitrarily introducing new technology into the plot whenever it happens to suit him; his cavalier attitude to physics, especially when it comes down to the composition of asteroid belts, the effects of explosions in space, the behaviour of bodies at relativistic velocities and the nature of black holes; and his apparent assumption that xenophobia is a natural, universal and inevitable human reaction to an alien species.

Then there's the sex. It's not that I feel moral outrage about using sexual violence as a plot driver. The books are what they are. The characters do what they do. But it does trouble me that the depictions of sexual violence and sexual deception mostly fail to sound true. Particularly in the "Forbidden Knowledge" the text simply fails to convince me that the kind of sex on which the plot critically hinges could actually occur. Basically, I don't believe that sex can have the effects that Donaldson needs it to have and the writing about the sex is not strong enough to change my mind.

So, quite a lot to overlook then. And yet, I'm still going to give these books a maximum mark.

How come?

Because in terms of what they set out to do, I can't think of anything which comes close to doing it as well as The Gap Sequence. And what the Gap Sequence does his high-octane action fiction in space. These books are maybe best read as expansive noir thrillers rather than pure SF. I read them initially when they came out and recently set out to re-read the entire sequence and can safely say that they are every bit as good as I remember.

In spite of being the shortest book by some considerable distance "The Real Story" is actually the slowest read. It does take a certain effort to get through it. But it's worth persisting with because you get into "Forbidden Knowledge" you'll find yourself at the top of the Cresta Run with no way to get out until you hit the bottom.

From here onwards (about 25 percent of the way through the first volume) the books expand in scope and tension, revealing layers of complexity and conflicting agendas. The ride just gets rougher and faster and wilder and more intense.

These books are insanely gripping. Yes, many of the characters are deeply unpleasant. Yes, they do some truly awful things. Yes, Donaldson takes the concept of the morally ambiguous hero and cranks it up to eleven. And then some. But the capacity of the series to push its heroines and heroes into unwinnable situations, let them fight their way out then dump them into even more of a mess than before kept me turning the pages long into the night.

As ever with Donaldson there is a surprising amount of moral complexity underneath the sex, the violence, the bad physics and the dubious psychology. You may not always agree with the morality the books espouse but it's hard to ignore it and it does force you to think, and that increases the overall emotional engagement with the story.

The organisation of these books is phenomenal. Puzzles revealed at the start of the "The Real Story" are only full resolved two thousand pages later in "This Day All Gods Die". Characters are thrown through a mill of conflicting plots and shifting alliances. It's dizzying stuff and it's a tribute to the author's organisational skills that the only confusion you feel as a reader is confusion he wants you to feel. The books do an exemplary job of letting you understand what is going on in the various plot threads and just keeping the multiple plates of action happily spinning.

Donaldson is an author who seems guaranteed to provoke strong reactions, either positive or negative. You'll have guessed by now that I come down strongly on the positive side of the ledger. I can't and don't recommend them to everyone. As I suggested at the top there are many reasons why you may not like these books. But I suspect that if you're not one of those who throws them away in disgust you're probably going to like them a great deal.
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on 27 April 2017
I was hoping for a rip roaring space opera what a disappointment sorry its weird and in my opipion rubbish .read Alister Reyonlds or Peter Hamilton i have been a science fiction fan for over 60 years when books like these become best sellers i dispair
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on 28 July 2010
The Real story & Forbidden Knowledge grips from the very first and doesn't let go until the very end. It's without a doubt a more accessible work than Stephen Donaldsons 'Chronicles of Thomas Covenant', I have seen previous reviwers complaining about the fact that the book has excessive violence and disturbing scenes but frankly I disagree. The Rape and 'disturbing scenes' are there for a reason namely that they help us to understand the characters and the world which Stephen Donaldson has created, it's not a pretty world but it is a realistic and enthralling one.

Unlike many other sci-fi stories this book isn't primarily about aliens it's about the relationships -whether they be twisted or normal- between the various characters, the reasons why people have come to be as they are and the ghosts of their various pasts' coming to haunt them. Stephen Donaldson does not like some other sci-fi writers use stock characters or cliches for his characters e.g the knight in shining armour who's like that because he was raised right or the villain who was abused by his parents but explores depths of characterisation that most other sci-fi writers don't. In short by the time you've finished reading this book it's characters will feel as real to you as any 'real' person you know and not just fictional characters.

If you want a book with lots of explosions and action then look elsewhere but if you want a book with an enthralling storyline, unique characters and a dark, moody but not cliche world then you should buy this whilst I don't like this as much as 'The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant' it is one of the most unique and interesting sci-fi books I've read in a long long time.
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on 2 February 2016
Read this series before and its just as gripping as first time round.
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on 11 May 1999
The Real Story is the first volume of the 'Gap' series which comprises five novels in all. The others are Forbidden Knowledge, A Dark And Hungry God Arises, Chaos And Order and finally This Day All Gods Die. Anyone familiar with Donaldsons previous fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, will not be surprised by some of the themes being explored here; guilt, betrayal, loss and the nature of evil. Donaldson is not content to have his characters do things just for the sake of propelling the plot along. Every action by every character has a logical basis whether it's the apparently benificent act of a hero or the evil conniving of a villain. Because of this, the overturning of your preconceptions of exactly who is good and who is bad is a regular occurence through the series. This first tome is, without doubt (and by Donaldsons own admission) the darkest and bleakest of narratives. In what might be seen as a literary exercise the author creates a character, Angus Thermopyle, who is so unremmitingly amoral and cowardly that you cannot help but be repulsed by him. Donaldson then, over the remaining novels, takes the reader on a journey of exploration to see if we can re-write Thermopyle, not as an easily written off cypher for evil, but as a human being, weak and flawed, but understandable and, ultimately, worth saving. I would urge anyone to read the series but bear in mind, the pit that the reader is dropped down in the first volume can only be escaped from by reading the other four...
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on 28 February 2001
Please don't be put off by the fact that this book is short, extremely dark and ultimately just the preview of what is to come.
It's a necessary step towards one of the best science fiction series that I've read. 'The Real Story' opens the curtain to a dangerous, dark world of the future and one woman's harrowing journey through it. If you've read the Thomas Covenant books then you'll know Donaldon's penchant for awkward, unloveable characters. This series is no different and though the first two books are more background than anything else, the momentum that they provide (used to amazing effect in the last three books) is quite something else.
I can't recommend this series highly enough - if I was marking 'The Real Story' as a stand alone novel I'd probably give it three stars. The series itself goes beyond five stars. Awesome.
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on 19 March 2007
O.K I've read this series twice now & I know that I'll read them again.

I'm not entirely sure what I hope to achieve whit this review except to add my voice to the many that are imploring you to read these books.

Yes Donaldson writes intense scenes of brutal rape, yes he writes characters that seem to have no redeeming factors, but when you get inside their heads that's when things start to change. Pity, revulsion, hate, despair, anger, sorrow and more all conflict with each other over how you should embrace these people. No-one can accuse him of writing one dimensional characters.

If you're ready to set yourself on a rollercoaster ride of deep complex emotion then you NEED to get these books.

A final word of warning, make sure you can always easily get you hands on the next book because I imagine that heroin is easier to kick then this story
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on 22 February 2001
This review realy applies to the whole Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. I found his best yet (the Thomas Covenant series is good but takes far too much from Tolkien for my liking and the characterisation is a bit strained at times).
The characterisation in the Gap series is, on the other hand, excellent. The storyline initially appears quite simple but soon becomes quite bizzare in the turns in takes and all the way through you're never quite sure who's going to do what next.
Please ignore all the bad reviews, these books are well worth reading if you like intelligent science-fiction.
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on 11 October 2011
I read this series about 10 years ago.

And I've not read anything since that affected me quite as much as this series did.

So I'm going to buy it on my kindle and read it again, because it was quite simply, Brilliant !
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on 22 September 2000
It seems that this book has been previously slated by other reviewers...
I believe that Donaldson wrote this book a long time before it was actually published. He wrote it as an intended short story, which explains the lack of description and unfleshing out of characters. He wrote it on the basis of exploring role-changes, and shifting the roles between the three main characters. For example the tormentor, Angus, will later be seen as a victim, where as the hero Nick will later take the role of the termentor as the story unfolds.
Many authors set the plot of their novels and develop characters that interact and fit in. Donaldson on the other hand takes a different approach - he develops the characters first, and the plot works around them. The characterisation is fantastic, giving way to a plethora or attitudes, mood shifts and other intricacies, all of which tie in with the complexities of human nature.
I believe that Donaldson once quoted that he could relate deeply to the character of Angus Thermopile, the tormentor in the story, even though it shocked him to realise this. In a sense I could relate to this bond, and throughout the novels I felt a continued likeness to some of the darker aspects of each character.
I wouldn't recommend anybody to read this book as a one off. It is more of a yarn than a novel and proves to be a light, but fun, read. The full potential of the tale is explored in the following novels in the Gap series, which I found to be an excellent read, more so than the Thomas Covenant chronicles which I've now read twice over - which is an astonishing feat for a lazy bum like me.
Buy this book. Read it. Then move on to book II where the tale really begins... END
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