The Abyss Beyond Dreams – Peter F Hamilton (2014)
This is Hamilton’s sixth ‘Commonwealth’ novel. The series began with the wonderful two-part classic depicting the events of the Starflyer War, ‘Pandora’s Star’ and ‘Judas Unchained’.
The Void Trilogy, which picks up some years after the Starflyer books, followed. Now we have a new two-parter set just before the events of the Void trilogy and again (my heart sank a little when I first realised this) following another planet trapped within the Void.
Before I go any further one should realise from my previous reviews that I am a big fan of Peter F Hamilton. Not only has he helped to revitalise the British SF scene and spearheaded the New Space Opera movement, revival, or whatever one chooses to call it, he has revived my own faith in SF and given me back that ‘sense of wonder’ when I first read ‘The Reality Dysfunction’ back in the late 90s.
In retrospect I think his Magnum Opus was the Starflyer War duo; a magnificent and densely written epic which (as is Hamilton’s style) combined a huge cast of characters with multiple storylines, beautifully detailed societies, edge of the seat action, strange alien mysteries, conspiracies, terrorists, artificial intelligences etc. etc.
Then came the Void trilogy, the premise of which being that for at least a million years the Raiel have been watching an anomaly called The Void which threatens to eventually engulf the galaxy. In essence, it a separate universe with its own laws of physics. Intelligent life has been captured and taken inside where there are stars and planets. Technology does not work there but humans are telepathic and telekinetic.
I had a problem with the Void trilogy in that the Commonwealth sections featured the Hamilton I was used to, with complex politics, human immortals, and all the features from the Starflyer books. The sections set on the Void planet of Querencia, however, are achingly deadly dull; a mind-numbing bit of pre-industrial Romanticism where a lowborn hero rises to take on the corrupt rich oppressors. I have promised myself that if I ever read the Void trilogy again I will simply skip past Inigo’s telekinetic Catherine Cookson dreams and keep to the Commonwealth sections. If you haven’t read the Void trilogy I would suggest you do the same. You miss nothing. Trust me.
And here we have a new two-part Commonwealth adventure, the first part of which is very promising until we return to the Void, to another pre-industrial world where strangely enough a lowborn hero, Slvasta, rises to take on the corrupt rich oppressors. It’s all sounding a bit familiar.
Regular readers will also recall that in the Nights Dawn trilogy humans were forcibly possessed by souls escaping from another continuum and became immensely stronger with odd new powers.
Here, humans get absorbed by alien eggs and are reborn… immensely stronger with odd new powers. It’s all sounding a bit familiar. (There are alien technobiological artefacts in space which grow eggs and seed them on the planet. The possessed/cloned humans are called ‘Fallers’)
Much like Querencia, this new world of Bienvenido is far too entrenched in a class war battle. All the rich people, it appears, are uniformly evil and corrupt. The eldest son of The Captain (a hereditary title from when the ship first landed) being the First Officer has to be wickeder than everyone else and is a sociopathic serial rapist torturer and murderer.
Yes. Rich people with no technology are always evil.
Having said that, the narrative receives a boost about halfway through the book when Nigel Sheldon (or a clone thereof) appears – having been injected into the Void by the Raiel in a largely organic ship.
From here on the story fairly cannons along with Nigel pulling strings in the background to help kickstart a revolution, while planning to steal technology from the original ship to enable him to destabilise the Void and hopefully destroy it.
We know from the Void trilogy that the issue of the Void was dealt with by others, so it is clear that Nigel’s plan to destroy the Void does not succeed.
However, the Void does expel the planet, its sun and some attendant worlds into intergalactic space, along with the ‘Faller’ forest of egg-producing artefacts.
The denouement leaves us with Bienvenido entering an Industrial revolution, still facing the ongoing threat of Faller eggs on their world.
Another minor grouch here is that most Hamilton novels weigh in at about 1200 pages while this is around 640. This and the sequel should really have comprised of one book then, surely? Given that this is about twice the size of an average novel anyway maybe that is a little churlish, but it kind of adds insult to injury seeing as the first half of this book was merely a reworking of old ideas and really not that exciting.
Hopefully, now that we’re rid of the flaming Void and its planets of Hallmark Channel Costume Drama, Hamilton might get his mojo back and do what he does best.
I really really really hope so.