Book Review: The Real Story (Book 1 of the Gap Cycle) by Stephen R. Donaldson

TL;DR – a sci-fi space opera that started off as a novella and became a pentalogy. The Real Story is book 1 in The Gap Cycle Series and essential reading for adult sci-fi enthusiasts.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Angus Thermopyle is the worst of the worst in Delta Sector (DelSec). A pirate and murderer who cares about only one thing other than himself and that’s his ship, Bright Beauty.

Morn Hyland is an ensign for the United Mining Companies Police (UMCP) and undertakes her first mission with her family aboard the UMCP destroyer, Starmaster.

Nick Succorso is a star captain with a reputation that rivals Thermopyle except his is one that everyone views as a hero. Or anti-hero as it may be. After all, he is still a pirate. Even among the riff-raff, Nick is considered the most desirable man in DelSec. He captains a sleek frigate, Captain’s Fancy.

When Angus and Morn waltz into Mallorys Bar & Sleep together, the crowd can’t make sense of what they are seeing. Morn stays by Angus’s side even though her expression is one of deep hate. The simple conclusion by most was that Morn was being held against her will by Angus.

So, when Morn and Nick make eye contact, the electricity is palatable. As much as everyone else in the bar would like to swoop in and take Morn from Angus’s clutches, no one dares take on the notorious pirate. No one except Nick.

And two weeks later, when Angus is arrested on a crime that will actually stick, and Morn rushes into Nick’s arms and they disappear, no one was surprised. Morn with Nick made much more sense than Morn with Angus. Everyone went back to their own schemes and drinking away their dreams.

But as Stephen Donaldson reveals, that is not the real story.


When I first read, what is considered, Donaldson’s most successful series – The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – I was blown away, and I thought there would never be a series that he could write that would be as good.

I was wrong.

The Real Story is the first book in The Gap series that follows three central characters – Angus, Morn and Nick – in a space opera of epic proportions.

What is brilliant about this series is Donaldson’s first book is one massive hook. What is mind-boggling is that Donaldson intended this first book to be self-contained, a novella that would stand on its own. But for reasons he explains in the afterword of The Real Story, he was driven to deep dive into this world he created and tell the full story resulting in four more books. We should all thank German composer, Richard Wagner, for his masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is a set of four operas based on Norse mythology. It was these pieces of music that ignited the fire in Donaldson to expand from his initial novella.

Further, The Real Story being of novella size, it is easy to digest and if you find that it does not appeal to your sense of taste, you won’t have wasted much time. But if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself launching into the much thicker volumes two to five in the The Gap series with relish.

In Donaldson’s own words, his original intentions were ‘explicitly archetypal’. He goes on to explain the difference between a melodrama and drama. That is, a melodrama presents a victim (Morn), a villain (Angus), and a rescuer (Nick). A drama seeks to take these archetypes and have them change their roles. In this way, Donaldson cleverly flips things around so that Nick victimises Angus and Morn ends up being Angus’s rescuer.

This is an incredible feat given Angus captures Morn and puts a zone implant in her brain that allows him to control her every emotion and action. The abuse she receives is graphic and not suitable for young readers. Donaldson is a master at delving into the complexities of his three main characters and somehow portrays them in a different light by the time you reach the last page.

When you read the final words of the last chapter, you will realise that the stereotype portrayals at the beginning have gone through a freakish transformation: Nick is not a rescuer, Morn is not a victim and Angus is not a villain.

Donaldson take a bow. Cue applause.

5 out of 5.

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