Before the Internet, I did not read book reviews. Professional reviewers—those paid to churn out a weekly summary of the latest media—tend toward promotional hype—when the product is from their corporate overloads—to sanctimony—when the product is from a competitor. For science fiction, professional reviewers are especially complicit. The dullest, drawn out, un-stories get five-stars while the exciting, mind-bending stuff is never reviewed. The Internet has magnified the disease to a condition as accepted as pimples.
I used to choose books by their dust jacket summary and scanning the first, middle, and last chapters. A “New York Times Bestseller” sticker never swayed me to read a book. Most of the “sold” copies required to get such a sticker are sitting at the bottom of bargain-bins, unread.
My reason for scanning the middle and last chapters of a book is to identify the writer’s style, and to determine whether an actual story lies between the covers. Given a six-foot shelf of books, most are aimless blather. Those are easy to identify when you can scan the middle and last chapters. If you can’t spot a plot progression from ten or so paragraphs in the middle and end of a book, it is not worth reading.
The way we purchase digital books makes avoiding reviews impossible. The dust jacket summary and first chapter are still available for previewing, but technology’s tyranny prevents me from reading the middle and last chapters. Real (yea right) people have replaced the professional reviewer. Their collected opinions of a book are impossible to ignore. The review stars are squatting under the title and next to the cover like trolls. Unable to scan the end of a book, I am forced to these real (yea right) person summaries to discover if the book has a story worth my time.
As I am rereading Donaldson’s work, there is a trend in the real people (only a real person would be foolish enough to review something wrote decades ago) reviews: rape.
For some reviewers, the rape is too much. They hate Donaldson and his work. Follow their profiles, however, and you will find praise for A Game of Thrones, and the subsequent works in A Song of Ice and Fire. An epic that starts with incest (rape) and a young boy’s not-death when he discovers the incest. The minor stories in A Song of Ice and Fire are predicated on rape; rape through prostitution or slavery, rape through religion, and the old accepted standard of rape through arranged marriage. They give similar praise to Dianna Gabaldon’s Outlander series, where the rape (but they call it rough-sex) of the male and female protagonist is a sadistic and masturbatory pleasure.
The Gap Cycle started with the physical and psychological rape of its female protagonist. In Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Into Vision, that rape is transferred to its male protagonist. Metaphysical rape is everywhere in The Gap Cycle. The crew of Captain’s Fancy are all victims of a form of rape, and like the hostages of a Stockholm bank robbery, defend the man responsible for most of it. Even Nick Succorso was raped once, his manhood taken by a woman who left physical scars to complement the psychological harm.
I argue that in Martin’s and Gabaldon’s books rape is titillation, then forgotten. The women or men pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on to the next plot device. They forget the trauma of their ordeal until it can be redemptive. Sales and television rights go a long way toward forgiving an author for their smut.
Donaldson’s depiction of Morn’s abuse and addiction is more personal, therefore more troubling. Finding sympathy for a character that uses the instrument of her rape to rape another is difficult. The conditions Morn finds herself in are impossible to imagine. She is trapped on a spaceship that cannot cross the gap. She is alone, a bargaining chip for the life of Captain’s Fancy and the ship’s crew. Then she discovers she is pregnant.
There was no way out. The gap between what she needed and what she could do was impassable.Forbidden Knowledge by Stephen R. Donaldson
Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Into Vision fleshes out the wider Universe of The Gap Cycle. Through Angus Thermopyle’s interrogation and transformation into a cyborg we meet the gods of Donaldson’s Wagnering epic. Hashi Lebwol from Data Acquisition, Min Donner the director of Enforcement Division, and Warden Dios the Odin of United Mining Corporation’s Police.
We learn why Morn joined UMCP, and how the events since have opened her eyes to the Universe she lives in. As an officer in UMCP she thought the organization essential to humanity’s survival, she learns that the UMCP has been raped of its creditability, therefore its capacity to save humanity. With the zone implant control in her possession, she becomes superhuman and a suicidal addict. She uses the zone implant’s ability to manipulate her body to manipulate Nick Succorso. The result is little more than the rape Angus subjected her to, but she is hardened now and prepared for the consequences. Of course, she is not. As Nick’s damaged spaceship rockets ever closer to forbidden space and the Amnion, Morn’s control becomes despair, and when Captain’s Fancy escapes the Amnion with Morn’s artificially grown son aboard, she descends into insanity.
Meanwhile, Angus Thermopyle is losing everything that made him Angus. Bright Beauty is destroyed, taking his last chance at freedom, the only thing he ever valued. At UMCP headquarters he is transformed into the cyborg Joshua, a tool, a demigod, for the gods of this Universe. At the end of Forbidden Knowledge Odin himself (Warden Dios) visits his creation and the first real hint at the larger story is revealed. Humanity is on the verge of extinction at the hands of the Amnion, but intrigue inside UMCP has hidden or destroyed the defense against the Amnion mutagens. Warden Dios does not like this and he intends to do something about it through his new tool; Joshua, Angus Thermopyle, the only character in the story capable of altering the unalterable data cores.
“But I’m not talking about technical questions. In every other way, we’ve committed a crime against you.” As he spoke, his tone became more and more like his earlier smile—the tone of a man who couldn’t begin to express how intensely he loathed his power, or perhaps his obligation, to inflict condemnation. “In essence, you’re no longer a human being. You’re a machina infernalis—an infernal device. We’ve deprived you of choice—and responsibility.
“Angus, we’ve committed a crime against your soul. You may be ‘the slime of the universe,’ as Godsen says, but you don’t deserve this.Forbidden Knowledge by Stephen R. Donaldson