(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Donaldson is well known as a writer of psychologically penetrating epic fantasies such as the six books in the chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (1977-1983) and the Mordant’s Need diptych of The Mirror of Her Dreams (1986) and A Man Rides Through (1987). The Gap series, his first venture into science fiction proper, was at first disconcerting to those who had followed Donaldson’s career. The highly literary and self-conscious texture of the fantasies yielded to a direct, brusque, and often lurid style. Whereas characters in the earlier books had acted from high-minded or abstract motives, the characters in the Gap books seem directed by base or seamy self-interest.

As the series proceeded, however, the grandeur and drama of Donaldson’s designs became clear. Whereas the first book of the series seems to be a simple account of the brutality inflicted on Morn by Angus, by the third book the full complexity of the political and moral sweep of Donaldson’s tableau becomes clear, and initial conclusions about the characters are vastly complicated. Donaldson successfully welds several genres: the interplanetary space romance, the sword-and-spaceship thriller, the chronicle of political intrigue on a near-future Earth, and the tale of first contact with an alien civilization.

Although the linguistic complexity of Donaldson’s earlier work is missing, the Gap series continues and intensifies his often searing...

(The entire section is 572 words.)