S&M Fantasy as Space Opera,
This review is from: The Real Story: The Gap into Conflict (Paperback)This series is a straightforward space opera (interplanetary traders, pirates, space police, icky aliens) with a nod to high opera--Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen cycle, to be precise. Unfortunately, Donaldson, whose writing sparkles here as it has in his other books (particularly the first Thomas Covenant series) has latched on to a genre that is stale and leavens it with touches that are creepy at best and at work downright unpleasant.
This volume (which is the best in the series) follows the misadventures of a young space cadet named Morn Hyland. She's a junior pilot on a huge family-owned freighter. When her ship comes out of 'the Gap' (read warp/lightspeed/whatever), everyone on the ship but her is killed. A pirate/scavenger named Angus Thermopyle, a sleeze-ball of the first order, take her aboard, has his way with her, and is eventually arrested when he pulls in to a space station for repairs. That's the "Real Story".... or is it? Donaldson plays a Rashomon-like game, going back and retelling the story in greater depth, more close to the character's point of view, revealing that what really happened may have been something quite different. We get to watch Morn raped and degraded. And Morn raped and degraded. And Morn raped and degraded. Angus displays all sorts of neurotic soul, so we're supposed to come to sympathise with him--that we almost do is a tribute to Donaldson's writing skills, which is why I even give The Real Story 2 stars--but the fact of the matter is that this is a book about abusing a woman who never appears as more than a victim or a cypher. I read, somewhere, that Donaldson wrote this series during and immediately following his divorce. If so, I feel his pain, but I really would rather that I hadn't read the book. I went on to read the rest of the series, waiting for some kind of redemption, but aside from the fun of identifying characters from the Ring cycle in various spacers and magnates, it's more scenes of Morn being raped and degraded, literally or figuratively.
As science fiction, it's stale; as softcore S&M porn (a genre I must admit to being much less well read in) it's flat. For either, go elsewhere.