Absolution Gap (spoilers!)
Warning: this page has many spoilers for Revelation Space,
Chasm City, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap by
Alastair Reynolds. If you haven't read them you probably don't want to read
this page yet.
By the end of Absolution Gap, the war between the humans an Inhibitors has
run its course, and new dangers have arisen. How does it all fit
- Humans. A star-faring race, and a target for Inhibitor
destruction. Responsible for defeating the Inhibtors and (possibly)
accidentally unleashing the greenfly.
- Conjoiners. A high-tech human faction.
- They have received messages from the future via Exordium:
- The first taught them how to build starship drives (RA29).
- The second warned them that the Inhibitors could detect the drives
(RA13) so they stopped building them.
- Instead they started researching stealth versions, again using
Exordium information (RA29). They learned the theory of the
intertia-suppression technology from Exordium, and acquired alien
technology to implement it from a captured Grub in Chasm City, but in
turn were infiltrated by the Mademoiselle (through Skade).
- Hints of the Nostalgia For Infinity on Ararat (RA28 and RA
epilogue), implying that someone who was on Ararat sent the Exordium
- How to build the cache weapons aka "hell-class weapons" (Remontoire
- Possibly the most important conclusion, though, is that
post-Inhibitor-war humans can transmit messages backwards in time.
- They made the hell-class weapons ("cache weapons").
- With assistance from Hades/Aura they build advanced weapons and for a
while fight the Inhibitors as equals.
- Inhibitors (aka "wolves" or "eaters").
- Survivors of the Dawn War 109 years previously, initially
"organic, spined, warm-blooded land-dwellers with bicameral minds" (RA17),
later a "hybrid machine-chimeric species" (RS12) and ultimately the purely
mechanical inheritors of that species (RA17, RA9).
- They exterminate any species that develops interstellar travel; and
are becoming less effective over time (RA24). Clavain speculates (RA38)
that their reduced effectiveness is the cause of their extreme brutality,
and that they are not supposed to be quite so destructive.
- They are not out to kill life in general (RA37), but to keep it
suppressed until after the collision 3x109 years in the future
with the Andromeda Galaxy, the theory being that they (the Inhibitors) can
ameliorate the effects of that collision but that multiple non-cooperating
species will fail to do so (RA38).
- The Melding Plague. A nanotech plague that merges flesh and
- "They say the Melding Plague corrupts our implants, blends them into
the flesh, by subverting their replicating machinery. I think it goes
beyond that. I think it tries to hybridise - tries to achieve some
harmony between the living and the cybernetic." (RS21.) Calvin turns out
to be right.
- The effect is also suggestive of the merged Inhibitor/Galiana (RA26).
Combined with the coincidence of timing, perhaps then there is some kind
of relationship between the Plague and the Inhibitors.
- Brought to Yellowstone by the Grub Gideon (CC36).
- Greenfly. Rogue self-replicating machines that convert solar
systems into shells of life-supporting rubble, regardless of the wishes of
their inhabitants. Probably created by humans, and supposedly only able to
proliferate due to the removal of the Inhibitor threat.
- Amarantin. Bird-like inhabitants of Resurgam attacked by the
Inhibitors about 106 years ago. They made the Shrouds (RS31), to
escape the Inhibitors, and tricked Dan Sylveste into entering an Inhibitor
trap, so they could determine whether the Inhibitors were still active.
Others hid in Hades.
- Hades. Superficially neutron star near Resurgam. Actually a computer
and cross-time signalling device. Runs a complete simulation of Dan
Sylveste and others including surviving Amarantin. Assists humans with high
technology weapons via Aura. Why don't the Inhibitors destroy it? Part of
something larger "with a name" (RS) - probably the signalling system
invented by the Jumper Clowns.
- Shadows. Mysterious but powerful entities represented by a
simulation held on Hela by Horace Quelch.
- They claim to be from another universe or a very distant part of this
one; they communicate with the Scuttlers and Humans using gravity waves
via the "divine machinery" of Haldora (AG25). But, the exact nature of
the divine machinery is never investigated in detail, and Aura speculates
(AG epilogue) that they are lying about their location.
- They claim to have colonized most or all of their universe (AG35, from
which most of the information about the Shadows comes).
- They claim to be fleeing something much like the Greenfly, and have
been fleeing it since their earliest space-travelling years, and to have
created it themselves (compare AG35 with AG epilogue).
- They hide the relationship between their universe and ours from
Rashmika, or do not know it.
- They claim to be able to defeat the Inhibitors, and to want only
modest living space in return.
- They claim that they are now machines, but were formerly "a lot like
us once, closer than we realize" (AG46).
- Grubs. Worm-like starfaring species, hundreds of millions of
years old, who attempt to evade Inhibitor attention by hiding in deep space.
- They have met the Nestbuilders and received gravity- and inertia-
control technology from them; and use the Jumper Clown signalling system.
- They carry the Melding Plague.
- They and others exterminate races that attract too much Inhibitor
- The Mademoiselle. Demarchist human and later a Shrouder
(i.e. Amarantin) who has taken control of her. A supremely effective
manipulator based in Chasm City, at various times she influences Khouri and
- Nestbuilders. Mysterious, powerful aliens who hide in
interstellar space to evade the Inhibitors.
- They strongly disapprove of the Shadows, to the point of exterminating
cultures that attempt to treat with them.
- Allies of the Grubs (CC36).
- Pattern Jugglers. Sea-dwelling memories found on many watery
planets. They occasionally help humans (e.g. AG28) and were visited by the
- Scuttlers. Weird variable-pattern creatures found in fossil form
- They built the "divine machinery" of Haldora.
- Exterminated by the Nestbuilders for attempting to bring the Shadows
- Jumper Clowns. Race from which the Grubs acquired instantaneous
communications technology (CC36), which actually works by transmitting it
back in time from a large, far-future archive. They and other ancient
species really, really hate FTL travel (with good reason given the disasters
documented in RA). Not seen directly.
Who Are The Shadows?
The Shadows only information available about the Shadows comes from
themselevs, and should not be considered particularly reliable. Let's
consider their claim to be fleeing something identical to the Greenfly
- It could be a remarkable coincidence. I think we can dismiss this for
narrative reasons: we're supposed to draw a connection here.
- They could be lying. But they would have to know about the Greenfly to
do this. Therefore either the Greenfly are in their own past or someone
transmitted information about Greenfly back in time, which the Shadows
picked up somehow (how?) but Galiana's Exordium experiments didn't (why
- The entities they are fleeing could be the real Greenfly. Then the
Shadows would have to be humans millions of years in the future.
I think the third is the most likely. The Shadows are humans,
Nestbuilders, Grubs, Jumper Clowns (or even, intriguingly, the Greenfly
themselves). If they are "a lot like us" then from that set they were
probably humans, successful in the war against the Inhibitors but unable to
defeat the Greenfly. Aura wanders in AG epilogue how the Greenfly will react
to the Pattern Jugglers; the evidence from the Shadows suggests that,
depressingly, they make no difference.
If the Shadows are humans then it is beyond coincidence that Haldora is in
the right place for human to find it: for some reason it has to be
pre-Greenfly era humans who open the gate. The Scuttlers were useful for
building the divine machinery, but if they'd let the Shadows through that
would have been a bonus and nothing more.
Nestbuilders And Grubs
These seem to be in loose coalition (also with the Jumper Clowns). Why do
they object to the Shadows? Possibly they know what the Shadows really want,
perhaps from messages from their own descendants at the time the Shadows are
signalling the Scuttlers or others (and know that it would be bad in some
way). Some possibilities might be:
- Perhaps the Shadows are planning a large scale sterilization of the
volume infected by the Greenfly (but wouldn't that wipe out their own
ancestors too if it was big enough to threaten the Nestbuilders et
- Perhaps they know (or suspect) that the Shadows are planning large scale
colonization when they break through (possibly including the eradication of
the Greenfly). That the Shadows plan this seems a reasonable bet.
- Another possibility is that the objection to FTL travel includes an
objection to time travel (and that they have deduced that the Shadows are
from the future), and the nature of the Shadows and their plans is
It is possible that the Exordium messages were transmitted using the same
technology (or even the same implementation) as underlies the Grubs' instant
Why can't these be defeated by the Shadows? It's suggested that the
Inhibitors suppress them, yet the humans can't deal with the Greenfly (who
are apparently relatively low-tech in origin) even after pushing back the
Inhibitors. The suppression suggests a possible solution - make a deal with
the Inhibitors which involves them eliminating the Greenfly (they'd probably
be up for it).
The Shadows report that the weapons they tried against the Greenfly were
worse than nothing - perhaps by the time the Greenfly got going they simply
had too much of a head start. Or this could be a lie: perhaps the Shadows
prefer the Greenfly-modified universe, but have used it up and need to start
somewhere else. (Their own past seems a poor choice, however.)
Or perhaps the Shadows are the Greenfly, and are attempting to go
back in time in order to avert impending defeat by the humans or others. I'm
not quite convinced by this suggestion but it's an interesting idea.
However all is not lost. The Exordium discussion implies that there were
several forks of the war between the humans and the Inhibitors, the first
with the humans lacking even the Conjoiner drive, and the last seeing their
eventual success. The same technique might be applied to the struggle
against the Greenfly.
Colin Dancer says I should read Galactic North from Interzone 415
to find out more about the Greenfly plague. More here when I've done so,
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