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Literature / The Gap Cycle

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The Gap Cycle by Stephen R. Donaldson is a five part Science Fiction Epic, borrowing heavily from Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle. The setting is in a dystopian future where Earth is dependent on the resources of deep space and governed by a man who is in control of both the police [UMCP] and the biggest company in human history [UMC]. Most of the plot is driven by an Evil Plan of the UMCP director, seeking to undermine the control of the UMC CEO. The storyline follows several branches and perspectives which are brought together as more and more information is revealed about what is going on behind the scenes.

Contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • After Warden frees Angus from all control and gives him everything in his secret database, Angus goes into a laughing fit, realizing the Irony.
      “It’s got to stop,” he croaked at Davies as if that were the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “It’s got to stop.”
    • Warden chuckles at Hashi's choice of code word to free Angus' will as "vasectomy", finding it weirdly apropos.
  • And Show It to You: Angus apparently takes Warden's instruction "tear his fucking heart out" to heart when hunts down Holt.
  • And This Is for...: Davies punches Hashi in the face, breaking his jaw in three places.
    Davies: That’s for Angus. He wanted to do it himself. But he was afraid you would fry his brain.note 
  • Asteroid Thicket: A pirate moon is surrounded by large rocks. Justified in that they're not actually asteroids but parts of the moon blasted off by some recent collision with another body. The base is built in the gap of the moon where the chunks were blasted from, and a large gravity well nearby prevents the rocks from re-accretion.
  • The Atoner: Warden. His Catchphrase of "It's got to stop" is sincere. He acknowledges he's as responsible for the fucked up state of space exploration and mining as Holt. He even refuses to be completely cured of the mutagen, and tells Angus before he dies in an explosion to "tear [Holt's] fucking heart out", the only time he's not The Stoic. Angus naturally approves.
  • Axe-Crazy: A small percentage of the population experiences mental disturbances called "Gap sickness" after going through hyperspace. Symptoms vary from individual to individual, but they usually add up to Axe-Crazy.
  • Bad Santa: Cleatus Fane, Holt Fasner's trusted proxy, reminds Hashi of "Santa Claus with fangs".
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Morn starts out as gorgeous but is a complete mess by the end of the books. However, she's moved beyond her looks by then.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Amnion are appropriately alien with a Hive Mind. They can't understand why humanity would reject their Body Horror gifts.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Min Donner, though she manages to avoid being Lawful Stupid.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: How the heroes strike humanity's greatest blow against the Amnion. They broadcast the formula for the mutagen immunity drug.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: The Amnion. They find it literally incomprehensible. Humans turned into Amnion, however, understand dishonesty even though they themselves can't lie. They do get around it by being a Rules Lawyer or using Exact Words.
  • Central Theme: The entire series is about "Rashomon"-Style storytelling, how events and actions can be misconstrued by even the smartest people. There's a reason the first book — which is also by far the shortest — is called The Real Story, as it gives an unfiltered look at what happened between Angus, Morn, and Nick. In fact, the book even states that it seemed to others the classic story of Nick The Hero saving Damsel in Distress Morn from the Card-Carrying Villain Angus, but nothing is as it seems.
  • Consummate Liar: Hashi Lebwohl makes no psychological distinction between saying true things and false things.
  • Corrupt Cop: An unusual case. The UMPC is divided by those truly dedicated to justice and law (led by Min Donner), and the fact that it's not a governmental agency leaves it wide open for abuse by the higher ups in United Mining.
  • Creepy Good: Hashi is considered this. Despite having the best interests for humanity, he is a person with incredible power who is an unreadable toady with a fake smile always planted on his face.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Morn gives her son the name of her father, because she's more than partly responsible for his death.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ciro, out of guilt of nearly killing everyone including his sister. Angus puts that self-destruction to good use in the climax.
  • Explosive Leash: Sepulcher is the command Warden could have used to fry Angus' brain.
  • Fantastic Drug: If a person with a zone implant gets the controls to their own implant, they quickly become junkies to being able to give themselves pleasure and power anytime they like. Morn quickly finds that pleasure + pain = sexual ecstasy, which allows her to be attracted to anyone, no matter how disgusted she is by them. Turning off the implant is akin to the crash after a drug high, only more intense.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Bio-retributive cyborgs are people not only enslaved with zone implants, but Body Horror cases where they've been completely altered. One poor woman has massive breasts that she cuts off against her will with a dull blade - on a nightly basis.
  • Fiction500: Holt Fasner owns most bigger Enterprises, the Police and buys the World Governments' support whenever he needs it
  • Freudian Excuse: Angus Thermopyle's childhood was not pretty, and he'll do anything to avoid being in a position of being helpless again.
  • FTL Travel Sickness: The jump-style "gap drive" induces bursts of homicidal psychosis in a tiny minority of people who go through FTL transit, which led to the destruction of several ships until the problem was tracked down; sufferers of "gap sickness" are treated by receiving zone implants, neuro-electrical devices which can be activated to place them into hypnagogic trances, neutralizing them during the transition and afterwards. Unfortunately, people with zone implants can also be controlled remotely, which kicks the plot off when heroine Morn Hyland (who discovers too late on her first star cruise that she is one of the vulnerable few) is captured by space pirate Angus Thermopyle and implanted against her will....
  • Gambit Pileup: And how. Everyone has their own motives and secret plans. Much of the fun in the books after The Real Story is about how people wrongly interpret the actions of others, especially after the reader knows the real reasons for their actions.
  • The Gloves Come Off: Doubles as Wham Line, when Warden tells Angus: "I’ve heard how you justify yourself, Angus. Now I want you to hear me. We’re facing a total crisis here. An outright apotheosis... Are you listening, Angus? Vestabule has his guns aimed at Suka Bator. If we don’t do what he wants, he’s going to give us a super-light proton vasectomy.” Those words both free Angus from his programming, then gives him access to every single file in his database.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The entire series shows how someone who is utterly loathsome and seemingly irredeemable can find himself becoming a hero, even if he's more of a '90s Anti-Hero.
  • Hive Mind: The Amnion.
  • I Lied: The Amnion will change their promises if they realize it benefits them to.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every chapter is titled with the character from whose perspective it is written.
  • Incapable of Disobeying: Space travelers suffering from "gap sickness" (a form of psychosis brought on by hyperspace) can be fitted with zone implants that allow their nervous systems to be temporarily shut down. In theory, this allows someone else to stop them if they become a danger to themselves or others, but Angus Thermopyle abuses Morn Hyland's implant to make her compliant while he abuses her.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Amnion have a "super-light proton cannon". According to Donaldson, it's "mass (in this case, protons) accelerated to the speed of light."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Angus, a rapist, becomes Mind Raped and forced by others to do their will, no matter how degrading.
  • Living Lie Detector: Warden Dios's prosthetic eye enables him to read IR emissions and detect signs of stress associated with lying. (As described above, Hashi Lebwohl has no such stress, so is unreadable.)
  • Meaningful Rename: As a result of the events, the United Mining Companies Police (UMCP) becomes the Space Defense Police.
  • Mercy Kill: Angus accedes to Norna's request for euthanasia, because being kept alive and immobile in a bed is particularly offensive to him. "I wouldn't do this to a fucking Amnion".
  • Mind-Control Device: Zone implants. Originally discovered by someone who was trying to find a cure for epilepsy, zone implants offer what amounts to total mind control in the hands of someone who knows how to use them. They may only legally be used for one very specific purpose: If someone has gone Ax-Crazy from gap sickness, every member of the crew testifies that the use of zone implants was necessary to keep them alive, and the implantee themselves testifies that their will was not violated in any other way. But nevertheless, every ship carries them, just in case that nightmare comes to pass.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: A few pages of exposition explain why: Humanity's prejudices and fears (especially fear of the Amnion) have ensured that people haven't changed their biology. Holt Fastner isn't happy about this.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The invention of the FTL drive was actually a mistake, with the inventor thinking it involved tachyons and tardyons. Even though it was discovered quickly that it didn't, captains still use "going to tach" and "going to tard" as shorthand for entering and leaving FTL travel.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Most of humanity's corporations and half of the government are ruled by the United Mining Companies.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Only twice in the series does Warden lose his cool: when Hashi sends Free Lunch to kill Mornnote , and when Warden finally let's his true anger show to the one person who would understand it: Angus.
    • The normally placid Amnion become obsessed with finding out how Morn was able to survive having her mind copied into her force-grown son, because that would enable them to have Amnion agents who were completely indistinct from humans, allowing them to conquer the entire human race.
  • Power of Trust: Because Morn trusts Angus, her rapist, Warden decides to trust him too.
  • Quantity vs. Quality: Amnion technology is, by and large, superior to that of humans. But their Organic Technology manufacturing processes are so inefficient that humanity can massively outproduce them. This is why the Amnion do not seek a conventional war with humanity: they know they would lose.
  • Rapid Aging: The Amnion force-grow Davies into a sixteen year old. In order to make sure he has a working mind, Morn's mind is copied into him.
  • Recycled In SPACE: In the Author's Note at the end of the first book, Donaldson says that the books after the first one are a retelling of Wagner's Ring Cycle.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Warden believes this wholeheartedly. See The Atoner.
  • Reforged into a Minion:
    • After the events of the first book, Angus Thermopyle is turned into a mind-controlled cyborg.
    • The Amnion do this to several characters using a mutagen.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Once Nick discovers that Soar is captained by Sorus Chatalaine, all bets are off. Everything, everything he does is aimed at taking Sorus down, and everyone is expendable.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The economy of the world seems built on mining deep space, despite the fact that the asteroid belt in the solar system alone would fulfil Earth's needs for millions of years. An asteroid belt is not a place where you actually have to manoeuvre between rocks to avoid collision, since it's still pretty damn empty. The world was clearly built to allow for the plot, not to be logical from the logical point of view. It's also justified in that most of them want to be far, far away from Earth for various reasons. It's further justified in that the planet was recently cracked open, so the debris hasn't had a chance to re-coalesce.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money! / Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Holt Fasner literally owns the police, and is the most powerful man in the human race.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Not to the extent as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and it varies depending on the current viewpoint character. Hashi's chapters are full of it, while Davies's or Morn's are comparatively simple.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Also asteroid fields are dangerous reefs and starships manoeuvre much like sea vessels. Averted with hyperdrives and g-related issues.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Amnion. They find humanity just as incomprehensible as we find them. In fact, they constantly change their form at will through genetics to suit specific tasks.
  • Subspace Ansible: Averted. Much of the story deals with the fact that vital information can't travel FTL unless using an unmanned vessel that goes FTL itself. The Amnion do briefly try to use some sort of experimental "symbiotic crystalline resonance device" as an FTL Radio, which becomes an important Plot Point.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Min Donner struggles with this the entire series. She eventually sides on "good", since that will lead to better law.
  • Wham Line: "We're facing a total crisis here. An outright apotheosis... Are you listening, Angus? Vestabule has his guns aimed at Suka Bator. If we don't do what he wants, he's going to give us a super-light proton vasectomy."note 
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Inverted. Holt's main motivation is immortality, and everything he does in the books is to unlock the Amnion's secret to it.