The Gap Cycle

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The Gap Cycle (published 19911996 by Bantam Books and reprinted by Gollancz in 2008[1]) is a science fiction story, told in a series of 5 books, written by Stephen R. Donaldson. It is an epic set in a future where humans have pushed far out into space in the name of commerce and follows two concurrent story arcs. The first concerns an ensign in the United Mining Companies Police (UMCP), Morn Hyland, who is attempting simply to stay alive after being captured by a marauder named Angus Thermopyle. The second follows the fate of three people who are affected by the Byzantine political maneuvering of the head of the UMCP, Warden Dios, as he attempts to thwart the machinations of his boss, the CEO of United Mining Companies (UMC) itself, Holt Fasner.

Books in series[edit]

  1. The Gap into Conflict: The Real Story, Bantam/Spectra, 1990
  2. The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, Bantam/Spectra, 1991
  3. The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Bantam/Spectra, 1992
  4. The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order, Bantam/Spectra, 1994
  5. The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die, Bantam/Spectra, 1996

Note: the recent Victor Gollancz Ltd (UK) reprints of the series combine the first two books into a single volume. According to Donaldson's website, this was done at the author's request.[citation needed]

As explained in the author's afterword in The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story (1990), this series started life as a novella in which characters representing villain, victim, and rescuer would switch places during the course of the narrative. He found the result unsatisfying, and the book was shelved until he had the idea of setting a retelling of Wagner's Ring Cycle in the same universe and casting the characters from The Real Story in roles from Wagner's opera.

The Real Story novella became Volume 1, and the rest of the series explores the Wagner theme. The series is not the Ring Cycle explicitly retold, but more an interpretation set in a future universe.

Like the author's other major series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, The Gap Cycle is characterised by a dark and bleak atmosphere. It is intended for adult readers.[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

The Real Story

On her first mission, Morn Hyland, an ensign in the United Mining Companies Police (UMCP), discovers that she suffers a rare psychosis called "gap sickness." Whenever her ship comes out of an FTL jump through "the Gap," she falls into a trance and feels compelled to activate any self-destruct or other sabotage within her reach. The first time her ship jumps, she destroys the police ship, killing the entire crew, including her own family. She survives the wreck only because a vicious pirate named Angus Thermopylae finds her when he boards looking for salvage. In order to neutralize her gap sickness and exploit her for his own ends, Angus places a "zone implant" in her brain -- a remotely controlled electrode which allows Angus to control Morn's every feeling and action. Angus uses the zone implant to repeatedly rape and abuse her. Misuse of a zone implant is a capital crime, Angus risks execution if he is discovered, but hopes the zone implant itself will prevent Morn from exposing him. When they arrive at Com-Mine, the nearest space station, Morn makes contact with another pirate — Nick Succorso, captain and owner of the ship Captain's Fancy, who she sees as a potential rescuer. Morn and Nick collude to frame Angus for stealing station supplies. However, before he is arrested, Angus asks Morn to smuggle the implant's remote control off the station. During her captivity, Morn has become addicted to the artificial stimuli only the implant can provide; because of her addiction, she is unable to turn down Angus' offer. Rather than turn herself in to the police for treatment, she conceals the existence of her implant. With her own controls in her possession, Morn is effectively a superwoman and is able to disregard fear, pain, or fatigue; however, by continuing to use the zone implant on herself, she, like Angus, breaks the law against unauthorized use. Morn joins Nick's pirate crew to escape from police oversight, even concealing her implant from Nick himself. Because she left no evidence of Angus' real crimes, he is imprisoned for the theft of which he was framed, but is not executed for what he did to Morn. Although the series has at least one chapter each from over a dozen narrators, Morn, Angus, and their son Davies are main protagonists of the entire series.

Forbidden Knowledge

Morn's story picks up when Nick's pirate ship leaves the station. Morn secures her place on his ship by becoming Nick's lover, using her zone implant to conceal her disgust for him and her rapidly escalating grief. Already mourning her lost family and her lost position in the UMCP, she also loses her faith in the institution when she learns that Nick is actually a secret UMCP agent, whose thefts and murders are overlooked in exchange for deniable operations in alien space. After this, Morn quickly discovers that despite his dashing reputation, Nick is almost as cruel as Angus. When Morn discovers that she is pregnant, he pressures her to abort the fetus. But she opts against it because she has been the last survivor of her line ever since she killed her family with the self-destruct. Although she knows that Angus is the father, she convinces Nick that she is carrying his child. He appears to relent, but is unwilling to tolerate her pregnancy or raise a child aboard ship. Instead, he takes Morn to Enablement Station, a station run by an alien civilization called "the Amnion," who possess biotechnology far beyond anything humans understand. The Amnion are engaged in a cold war against the United Mining Companies; the Amnion hope to control humanity by injecting "mutagens" which can convert any non-Amnion life-forms into Amnioni; Earth is defended only by the UMCP that keeps them at bay. Nick asks the Amnion on Enablement to "force-grow" Morn's fetus, producing a physically mature 16-year-old within a matter of hours. She names him Davies, after her late father. The humans learn that the force-growth procedure has a significant flaw: although the Amnion can create a mature body, they have no way to create a functional adult personality or mind. Instead, they copy the mother's memories onto the child, typically destroying the mother's mind in the process. However, Morn's zone implant allows her to preserve her sanity.

As soon as Davies is born, he and Morn are threatened from two sides. First, Nick discovers Morn's lies. Nick can see immediately that he is not Davies' father because Davies looks just like Angus. Hoping to find out why Morn survived the force-growth, the aliens run a scan which reveals her zone implant. Angry and betrayed, Nick wants revenge against Morn and her son. An opportunity arises when the Amnion demand that he sell Davies back to them. He gets his opportunity when the aliens demand they return Davies into their custody, but doesn't account for the extreme lengths to which Morn will go to protect her son. While Nick negotiates with the Amnion to trade Davies for engine parts, Morn escapes from a locked room and rigs a self-destruct large enough to destroy the ship itself and most of Enablement Station. Morn is successfully able to threaten both sides. She orders Nick to keep Davies on the ship rather than sell him to the Amnion, then forces the aliens to give them the engine parts anyway. When the Amnion hold Nick accountable for Morn's actions and declare him an enemy, he flees from their warship back toward human space. The alien ships pursue him across the border, breaking the treaties that had until then prevented outright war between the Amnion and the UMCP.

Meanwhile, Angus' alleged theft of station supplies has become a political crisis. All humans are citizens of one federal democracy, but that state has no military or police force equipped to operate in space. Instead, they delegated human interests in space to the UMCP. Although the United Mining Companies Police is a wholly owned subsidiary of a for-profit corporation, their charter grants them full police powers anywhere in open space. However, each space station has maintained its own security force with jurisdiction over the station itself. Although Angus was convicted of theft when Com-Mine security found the stolen cargo on his ship, they never found out how the actual theft was committed. This seeming incompetence provoked widespread outrage and destroyed public confidence in local security. The legislature responds by passing the "Preempt Act," giving the UMCP the power to override station security essentially at will. The truth about the theft is that Warden Dios, the director of UMCP, and his boss Holt Fasner, CEO of the UMC, engineered the crisis in order to get the Preempt Act past the legislature. Hashi Lebwohl, Warden's director of Data Acquisition, bribed a Com-Mine Officer named Taverner to steal the supplies, intentionally provoking the outrage that justified the Act. Fasner realizes that because Morn was on Angus' ship, she must know that he was framed. Fasner orders Warden to have her killed, but because she has left human territory, Warden can't send the UMCP. Instead, he uses his new power to take custody of Angus Thermopyle and ship him to UMCP headquarters. Through several months of surgeries, Hashi turns Angus into a cyborg agent, equipped with a variety of hidden tools and weapons. Angus is given multiple specialized zone implants, and an implant computer to manage them. The zone implants are so powerful that the computer can control his body completely, and the computer is so sophisticated that it can understand and react to events so naturally that no one will know Angus is being controlled. As Holt and Warden instructed him, Hashi programs Angus to go to alien space, find and kill Morn, and destroy an infamous pirate shipyard.

However, at the last moment before Angus leaves, Warden secretly replaces his program with alternate orders: go to alien space, destroy the pirate shipyard, rescue Morn, and bring her safely back to Earth. Warden explains that although as a naive young man, he helped Fasner build up the UMC's power, he now believes Fasner to be irredeemably evil. Rather than continue to allow Fasner to rule space through his private police, Warden wants the government to nationalize the UMCP, making them answerable to the state. Fasner's political influence is so great that Warden doesn't think the government can be persuaded by ordinary activism, and he fears that Fasner will have him killed if he supports a reform movement openly. Warden believes the only thing that could persuade the government to reform the police would be a scandal so devastating that it utterly discredits their moral authority and implicates the CEO, Fasner, and so Warden has decided to make that happen. His plan is to manipulate Fasner into using the police for a variety of heinous crimes -- such as bribing station security, working with pirates, or murdering witnesses-- and then deliberately fail the cover-up, without allowing Fasner to realize that he is trying to fail.


The events of The Gap Cycle can be separated into twin plot arcs – those taking place out on the edges of human-occupied space; and those set on or above Earth. The characters can likewise be distributed.



  • Captain Angus Thermopyle
  • Captain Nick Succorso
  • Mikka Vasaczk
  • Ciro "Pup" Vasaczk
  • Dr. Vector Shaheed
  • Sib Mackern
  • Captain Sorus Chatelaine

UMCP (rank and file)[edit]

  • Morn Hyland
  • Captain Davies Hyland (Senior)
  • Captain Dolph Ubikwe


  • Milos Taverner
  • Marc Vestabule

Other characters[edit]

  • Davies Hyland (Junior)



  • Cleatus Fane
  • Holt Fasner

UMCP (leadership)[edit]

  • Warden Dios
  • Min Donner
  • Hashi Lebwohl
  • Koina Hannish
  • Godsen Frik

Other characters[edit]

  • Captain Sixten Vertigus
  • Maxim Igensard

The Gap Cycle versus Wagner's Ring Cycle: a comparison[edit]

At a first glance, the most obvious similarity between these two works, apart from the story, are the names of the various characters. If The Gods in Wagner's "Ring" are represented in Donaldson's cycle as the Directors of the United Mining Companies Police, Warden Dios approximates Wotan, ruler of the Wagnerian gods. The prosthetic eye that Warden wears is a dead give-away, but his surname, Dios, is also the Spanish word for God. In addition,"Warden" is seen as a variation of "Woden," the chief Norse god whose name gave rise to Wagner's "Wotan."

Similarly, Holt Fasner's name can be seen to be a conflation of Fasolt and Fafner, the names of the two giants who build Wotan's stronghold/headquarters, Valhalla. Also, "The Dragon," Warden's nickname for his boss, more than hints at Fafner's transforming into a dragon after killing Fasolt, his brother-partner and the last of his kind to challenge him in his lust for power. Appropriately, Warden cannot be seen plotting against Holt because he is his primary trusted employee; and in "The Ring," Fasolt and Fafner are protected from any direct action Wotan can take against them because of the contract they made with him in agreeing to build Valhalla. In addition, Holt Fasner's comparison to Fafner is further demonstrated by both characters' ultimate desire for immortality; Fasner by means of possessing the technology of the Amnion and Fafner by his possession of Freia's golden apples, the source of the gods' immortality.

Also, Holt's apparently prescient mother, Norna, is likely named after both Erda, the all-seeing, all-wise goddess of the Earth and her daughters, the Norse Fates, or Norns. Wotan's desire to seek counsel from the reclusive Erda on how to escape Alberich's curse is reflected here when Warden visits Norna in her seclusion in hopes to find a way to defeat "The Dragon."

Min Donner implies the parallel of two Wagnerian roles. The obvious comparison is of the Thunder God, "Donner" who wields his mighty hammer in defense of the Gods, as does the UMCP's Enforcement Director, Min Donner, defending Earth and Space against the hostile forces of the galaxy. Donaldson goes out of his way to note on several occasions that Min's impact pistol never leaves her side, creating a parallel with the Ring's Donner and his hammer. Yet, her character and dramatic use in the books suggests that she, more so, represents Brünnhilde, Wotan's favorite Valkyrie daughter/subordinate. Notably, in "The Ring," Brünnhilde, like the Gap Cycle's Min, also tries to carry out Wotan's/Warden's deepest desires, even though he has not explicitly instructed her to. Warden also has a secret love and respect for Min, not only as the master/father does for the apprentice/child but, much like Wotan's Brünnhilde, for whom she has developed on her own.

Likewise, Godsen Frik (another reference to the Gods), the Director Of Protocol's name, hints that his character parallels Fricka, Wotan's wife and Goddess of Marriage and Virtue. But, Godsen's role within the Gap Cycle shows that his purpose more closely aligns with that of Wagner's Freia: the price that Wotan/Warden must pay Holt/Fasolt and Fafner for building Valhalla/giving the UMCP almost total power. Further, the fact that Donner, Wagner's very male Thunder God, becomes Min Donner, the very forceful female head of UMCP's Enforcement Division, is nicely reversed when Donaldson changes Fricka and Freia, two rather passive goddesses, into the rather effeminate Godsen Frik the male Director of UMCP's Protocol Division.

With the character of the eccentrically clever scientist, Hashi Lebwohl, who represents Loge, the cunning, trickster god of fire in the Ring Cycle, Donaldson's naming schema is less obvious. Quoting the author himself: "Some things I can explain. Others happen purely by intuition or "feel," and them I can't explain. So: "Leb wohl" ("farewell") is what Wotan sings to Brünnhilde as he puts her into an enchanted sleep (as punishment for defending Sigmund and Sieglinde against him) right before he summons Loge to guard her with fire. (All of this, of course, is from Wagner's "Ring" cycle.) Thus Loge's fire becomes the symbol of Wotan's love and respect for Brünnhilde, and of his bereavement at losing her — and at everything that follows from her defiance. So it isn't much of a stretch to see the fire (and therefore Loge) as Wotan's farewell gift to Brünnhilde, the magic which eventually enables her to bring about his destruction. But "Hashi" I can't explain. It just popped into my head—and felt right. However, it may conceivably be a reference to "hashish," and therefore to Hashi's rather dissociated (or perhaps I should say oblique) relationship with people and events. (On the other hand, I may just be grasping at straws." <grin>)

(Quote taken from here.)

Milos Taverner, the scheming coward who slyly uses his enemies against one another for his own personal gain and survival, could easily recall Wagner's "Mime". While Milos is caught between his assignment by Warden, his fear/control of Angus' powers, and his treacherous alliance with the Amnion, Mime's self-made trap between Wotan's prophecy, his fear/using of Siegfried's strengths and his lust for revenge on Alberich is comparable. Both cowards cannot sustain their game of falsehood which, in turn, leads to their ultimate doom at the hands of their targets. The threat and ambitions of the Amnion reflect Alberich's plan to enslave all life in the name of ultimate power, by which the futility of such plans are evidently purposeless upon achieving their goal.

Regarding the names of the three main characters of the story, Donaldson explains (in his Author's Note at the end of The Real Story) that he came up with the names "Angus Thermopyle", "Morn Hyland" and "Nick Succorso" while driving, and used them in his series because he liked the sound of them. While these names bear no likeness to the names of any of the "Ring Cycle" characters, the author is clear that his "Angus" and "Morn" function much as "Siegmund" and "Sieglinde".

While there are many dissimilarities, the fact that both Wotan and Warden strategically place their children/unwitting agents in harm's way in order to save humankind from total destruction is the key element which sets both dramas in motion. Angus and Morn/Siegmund and Sieglinde consummate their relationship illegally (rape/incest) and produce invaluable offspring (Davies/Siegfried) who hold the key to freeing humanity from their dependency on the UMC/Gods.

Nick Succorso's stretch of a comparison to Hagen can be made by his obsessive need for revenge directed at/serving the one who scarred/created him. But he is more observably compared to Hunding. Sieglinde is allowed to be taken by Hunding and forced into an abusive relationship/marriage with him. It is Siegmund (like Angus) who rescues her by means of Wotan's secret plan. Likewise, Warden has also allowed Nick to possess and abuse Morn only to be rescued by Angus' covert UMCP-programmed mission. Further, when Fricka demands that Wotan abandon Siegmund and Sieglinde and give executional victory to Hunding, we are closely reminded of Warden's confrontation with Holt in which "The Dragon" orders Warden to abandon Angus and Morn and turn over command to Nick, with orders to kill them.

This leads us to a hidden parallel in the naming of the UMCP's gap scout vessel, "Trumpet". Wagner's use of the leitmotif in his music dramas (a musical passage used to identify principal characters, significant objects and emotions) and his brilliant orchestrations often feature certain musical instruments in the playing of a given theme. The sword that Wotan promises to Siegmund (which is instrumental in leading him to the rescue of the shamed Sieglinde) is first identified in "The Ring", musically, by trumpets. The sword is named by Siegmund as "Needful", while "Trumpet" is a Needle Class vessel and is the essential instrument/weapon/protection given to Angus as he sets off to covertly rescue Morn. Here, Donaldson, while lacking the vehicle of music in novel form, creates his own leitmotif, if you will, thereby hinting not only at Wagner, but his compositional techniques as well.

Lastly, the most obvious parallel is the title of Donaldson's final book in his cycle, "This Day All Gods Die." Wagner's final installment of his cycle is called, "Götterdämmerung" or "Twilight Of The Gods." Both refer to the demise of the ruling power of the UMC/Gods brought about by the willing sacrifice of both Warden Dios and Wotan. Donaldson's acknowledgment of the apparent inspirational symbols of Wagner's "Ring" in his own work is, in itself, comparable to the composer's own admitted inspiration by the Norse and Volsung mythological sagas.

Scientific credibility[edit]

Books of The Gap Cycle reference terms commonly used in cosmology, physics and advanced computer technology; however, in some cases the terms used in the books are inconsistent with their currently associated concepts and scientific observation.[citation needed]



External links[edit]