Those “real-people” reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have difficulty finding themes in The Gap Cycle; imagining a more clueless lot is difficult for me. At the end of The Real Story Stephen R. Donaldson summarized his intent, his themes and—in broad strokes—outlined the story he prepared. The Gap Cycle is not an attempt to mimic the Wagnerian epic of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but it is about the moral conflict between humanity’s desire to survive as an individual or as a group. From The Real Story:
My original intentions were explicitly archetypal. What I had in mind was an aesthetically perfect variation on the basic three-sided story: the story in which a Victim (Morn), a Villain (Angus), and a Rescuer (Nick) all change roles. (This, incidentally, is the essential difference between melodrama and drama. Melodrama presents a Victim, a Villain, and a Rescuer.)The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson
But that was not the real story, that intent needed to conflict with another, earlier desire of Donaldson’s:
My intentions were conceptual rather than literal. I wasn’t interested in simply retelling the story of Wotan’s doomed struggle to preserve the power of the gods in the face of pressure from giants, dwarves, and humankind. Rather I wanted to create an analogue which would allow me to explore the same themes and exigencies on my own terms. Most particularly, I was fascinated by Wotan himself, who finds that an understanding of his own power leads to the destruction of that power, as well as of himself and everything he represents; even more, that an understanding of his power leads him to will his own destruction.The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson
And still the suffering author did not have it, but then:
As soon as I began to think of the UMCP as legal gods threatened by the science fiction equivalent of shape-changing dwarves, I could hardly stop before I reached the wonderfully perverse notion of Angus and Morn as Siegmund and Sieglinde. And after that, as I’ve already indicated, my story became a gusher.The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gap Cycle is not The Ring Cycle, it is its own story, with its own gods, dwarves, giants, and Gibivhungs.
Of necessity, every valence of The Ring is transformed. The most obvious result is that the onus of the story shifts from gods and dwarves to human beings. If human life in space is to be preserved, it must be preserved, not by All-Fathers and Valkyries, but by the descendants of the Gibichungs. … The consequences of this transformation are everywhere. Just to mention a few examples. My “gods” derive their ability to endure, not from immortality, but from their control over information.The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson
Which brings us to Hashi Lebwohl. In Chaos and Order: The Gap into Madness we meet Hashi Lebwohl and chaos ensues. Where Warden Dios and Min Donner are the order of the story Universe, Hashi is the chaos. As head of the Information Division of UMCP, his job is to collect facts and present them to other divisions. Except Hashi is not sure what a fact is, or he has a better understanding of facts than the rest of us.
Hashi Lebwohl was not a dishonest man. It was more accurate to say that he was a-honest. He liked facts; but truth had no moral imperatives for him, no positive—or negative—valuation. It had its uses, just as facts had theirs: it was a tool, more subtle than some, cruder than others.Chaos and Order by Stephen R. Donaldson
For Hashi truth and fact are not the same and it is his struggle with this paradox versus his loyalty to Warden Dios that trips up the story and puts the salvation of humanity in jeopardy. Believing Angus a threat to Warden’s plans, Hashi conspires with another pirate to destroy Trumpet. When Trumpet rockets into human space over an UMCP listening post, more than the Amnion Defensive pursue her, and she has no clue who are her friends.
Meanwhile, Min Donner (head of the Enforcement Division) is struggling with her loyalty to Warden Dios and the command he gives her. Relieved that Warden conspired to rescue her UMCP Ensign, she is horrified at Warden’s command to give control of his cyborg to the a-moral Nick Succorso.
Captain Sheepfucker—as Angus calls him—does not waste his opportunity. With Angus as his weapon, he nearly kills most of Trumpet’s crew. But Nick’s motives have gone from greed, too immoral, too mad. His actions at Enablement Station and Billingate have ruined his reputation as the daring, never-looses, womanizer. Revenge against the women who beat him is a motivation that leads to the last thread of the pirates a-moral past; Sorus Chatelain.
Through Sorus’s viewpoint we get a closer look at how active the Amnion are in human space; at the threat they pose to humanity. The stakes of Warden Dios and Holt Fasner’s conflict manifests itself in the mutagen blackmail Sorus lives under. A blackmail (another rape) she commits against Ciro.
With so many actors in play, we must suffer brief visits to minor players before the story descends into its final chaos. Like Liete’s exit in A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Sib’s farewell is a scene that we could have witnessed through the familiar eyes of Nick. But Nick is lost, and Donaldson all but ignores him. Like Captain’s Fancy, Liete, and Sib, Nick’s time is over. The gods of have entered the stage, and we are at the penultimate conflict of the series. Angus and Morn are trapped on all sides. An Amnion Defensive, two pirate ships, and an UMCP cruiser descend on Trumpet as she tries to escape the VI system. The narrative of the conflict that ensues is the best you will find in a space opera. Ships appear in inky darkness, silent behemoths intend on another’s destruction. Weapon’s fire, gravity stresses, and unexpected damage ratchet the tension to eleven, while satisfying the subplots that brought the characters into this madness. Only one book remains, and like Wotan before him, Warden Dios has only one out for his dilemma and the salvation of humanity.