Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Review: The Dreaming Void by Peter Hamilton

As a long time admirer of English science fiction writer Peter F. Hamilton, I try to keep up with his work as best I can.  The problem is that with all of the books I have to read for SFSNNJ events, I have found myself falling behind.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, mainly it is to explain why I am reviewing an older book instead of a newer one, but it is also an attempt to give you a bit of background to this particular review.

Now, a little bit of background about the book.  To start off with, The Dreaming Void is a second series set in the Commonwealth Universe.  While you do not need to have read Misspent Youth, Pandora's Star, or Judas Unchained, they will help to enrich the story if you have the time to read them.  All of the technology, philosophy, and history of those books is handled in The Dreaming Void as commonplace (i.e. it is a fact of life and handled through conversational exposition rather than tedious info-dumps).  Still, I highly recommend reading them as they will definitely give a depth of philosophical and historical content to the events chronicled in this book.

Moving along to The Dreaming Void itself, here we have an excellent example of why I love Peter Hamilton.  Brilliantly written, with a panoply of distinctive and interesting characters, The Dreaming Void picks up 1200 years after the conclusion of Judas Unchained.  In this time, humanity has begun to transcend into post-physical status (if you are unfamiliar with the concept of transhumanism or the Singularity, let me know and I will devote an article to it at some point), and have been studying the universe for quite some time.  In the midst of all of this, a researcher named Inigo, who was assigned to Centurion Station and is watching a bizarre phenomena called the Void at the center of the Milky Way slowly expand and swallow stars, begins dreaming of life forms inside of the Void.  After sharing his experiences through networked neural processors called the gaianet, a religion springs up with the desire to enter the Void and join the humans already there in their blissful existence.  When Inigo disappears, and the religion starts to prepare for its pilgrimage into the Void, agents from around human and non-human space begin their attempts to stop it, for they fear this Pilgrimage will trigger a cataclysmic expansion of the Void, causing it to devour most of the Milky Way.

What makes this book so great is its massive complexity.  Characters both inside and outside of the Void are separated by vasts gulfs of space, society, and philosophy, so as we progress find ourselves confronted with an almost prismatic array of diversity, with every character being equally memorable and understandable.  One complaint I have in this book is that there is no clear cut 'villain' presented (with the exception of the Cat, who is just a plain old vanilla sociopath following orders).  Realistically, you can understand and sympathize with all of the groups and characters in the story, and though the Living Dream's leadership and the Accelerator Faction of A.N.A. seem like they could be the 'bad guys', their motives are not in any way 'evil' and their methods are no less distasteful than the agents of other factions.  I suspect that as the story evolves in books two and three we will have a real villain to contend with, however The Dreaming Void is effective as it stands without the presence of a major foil.

THAC0: 9
While this is an intelligent and exciting book, with a lot of character development and action, it does require a great deal of patience and a desire to trek along for the long haul.  Those who love Hard Science Fiction will love the technological aspects of the story, but even if that is not quite your thing, the characters and action will keep your interest, as will the mystery and exploration.

No comments: