The Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton
648 pages (ARC Copy)
Published by TOR UK / PanMacMillan, August 2007
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Peter’s new book, the first of the proposed Void Trilogy, is set around the year 3580, 1500 years into the future of the events of Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained. (Pandora’s Star was reviewed HERE; Judas Unchained was reviewed HERE.) The Intersolar Commonwealth, seen in its early stages in Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained, has evolved and has expanded into a fairly stable state over a thousand galaxies. After the events of the previous two books, there is, after a fair degree of rebuilding, a stable space fleet once more. The InterSolar dynasties of Sheldon and Halgarth have continued to exert influences on interplanetary commerce and trade.
Although this book does use places names and events from the earlier books, the key event in this book is the notion of the Void: a black hole at the centre of the Commonwealth’s galaxy, which is not only unnatural but also expanding.
With such a jump forward from the previous books, you might expect major changes. In some ways they have; some of the characters there have reached mythological status – ‘For Ozzie’s sake!’ is a regular expletive! – and most importantly here the events of Judas have allowed the development of a new religion. Ozzie’s invention of the gaiafield, ‘to understand each other better’ (page 382), shared through gaiamotes, has meant that a group of religious zealots have experienced the Living Dream, where shared restaged experiences of Inigo’s dream (which are peppered throughout the book) hopefully will lead to a messianic Second Coming through the mysterious Second Dreamer. This Second Dreamer will lead them through a pilgrimage into paradise on the other side of the Void.
At the beginning of this new book, the state of equilibrium maintained by the Raiel (seen previously in Judas Unchained) in the years since the Starflyer War (of Pandora/Judas) is under threat. The election of Cleric Conservator Ethan by the Cleric Council leads to the declaration that the Second Dream has begun and that soon Living Dream members will be able to make a pilgrimage to the Void. Such an announcement causes concern: some species claim that such a mass-migration will lead to the void entering a devourment phase which would bring about the destruction of the whole galaxy.
What it also does is generate competition between opposing Commonwealth factions. The old Commonwealth has become a complicated stratified society. As well as being stratified through space (as the inner Central Worlds and the outer Greater Commonwealth/External Worlds), it has become a hierarchical society, with Advancer/Higher culture at one end of the spectrum (using their DNA to offer physiological enhancements known as biononics) who are similar to the Accelerators, determined to forward human advancement, and the Natural Conservatives, determined to preserve the status quo, at the other. This concern leads to the use of spies and counteragents by the Factions in order to keep their political positions throughout the Commonwealth. To illustrate this, Peter creates the character of Aaron, a character with a mysterious past, is set the task of finding the equally enigmatic Inigo, who has now disappeared, in order to stop the Pilgrimage.
Of further interest, there are also non-human concerns, as new aliens have been discovered since the previous novels. The Ocisen Empire (of which I’m sure will appear later) is taking notice, but there are also a plethora of new aliens: the hominoid Golant, the acquatic Suline, the Forleen, the Ticoth, the Kandra and the exceptionally long-lived Jadradesh. Though briefly mentioned, (and despite the fact that their influence and purpose in this story remains fairly unclear at this stage), they are interesting enough to no doubt appear later in this new series.
Inside the Void, the story follows Edeard and his young friend Salrana. At the beginning of the novel Edeard is an apprentice in a rather medieval sounding environment. He is apprenticed to the Eggshaper Guild, who use farsight to modify/enhance animals whilst still in eggs. Edeard also has the skill of training and communicating with customized animals such as ge-wolves and ge-eagles, who he’s trained to do his bidding.
Edeard’s life to start with seems to be an idyllic rural one: harsh yet simply rewarding. His obvious skills lead him to fast-tracking his apprenticeship to a point where his skills in far-seeing are better than any but his mentor, Akeem. (Again, this a common genre theme of unfulfilled destiny, which will no doubt become clearer over the length of this trilogy.) The destruction of Edeard’s villagers, possibly as a result of a previous altercation with Edeard and some local bandits, leads Edeard and Silarana to leave to go to the big city of Makkathran. There Edeard is initially frustrated in his attempts to join the Eggshaper’s Guild, so instead enlists as a constable in the rather inept and overstretched local police force. This leads to some intriguing ideas at the end of the book, which will no doubt be developed in the next book (provisionally entitled The Temporal Void.)
With such a variety of plotlines and characters – a typical Peter trademark – as the summary above indicates, though not essential, it is useful to have read Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained before this one. There is a wealth of new and old characters here - some of which deliberately haven’t been mentioned here! – although certainly a reader with an idea of the series’ past history will get a lot more from the links and reference points made here.
As this is another epic, these names from the past and events from history are intertwined with Peter’s trademarks: multi-world landscapes, a multitude of storylines and a diverse group of characters. These all create that sense of Epic, the widescreen and complex plotting liked by many of Peter’s readers.
Interestingly, and perhaps more than any of Peter’s other work, I was beginning to think of Peter’s universe as something similar to Iain M Banks’s Culture. I was also reminded of Richard Morgan’s ‘sleeving’, as here, as well as with Richard’s novels, people can be ‘re-lifed’ here.
We also have Peter’s usual great extrapolation of science and technology: there are lots of gadgets here to play with. Planet busters abound; Wormholes can be slowed down temporally in order to allow planets to become habitable; the idea of bionomics to enhance image; the cloning of people into multiple-humans (people with one personality shared through several bodies) makes future relationships unusual (and potentially exhausting!) All of these elements make Peter’s writing so entertaining and earns him his position as one of the most entertaining UK Space Opera writers around.
If I had to pick fault, I would also say that as there is no major change in style here. Though the views of the dream from inside the Void are rather Fantasy-like, which was an interesting touch, Peter is clearly preaching to the converted here; for Hamilton fans (like myself) such a point will make them want to read more, but I guess that such a statement for some will make Peter’s usual style a little exasperating. Those who were maddened by the style before will find little here to change their view. For those who love Peter’s work though, this is a very welcome addition.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, June 2007
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