(2008) Peter F Hamilton, Pan Books, £8.99, pbk, 796pp, ISBN 978-0-330-44302-9
The first thing that hits you about this book is the sheer size of it, but then, this is not surprising when considering that this is a Peter F Hamilton book (he has got 'previous'!). I won't dwell on the matter...
To start with, it should be noted that this is the start of a sequel trilogy to Hamilton's 'Commonwealth Saga' (Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained), but it is not necessary to have read the previous books to follow this story. Having said that, in some parts you do feel like you would benefit from knowing more of the backstory. The action here takes place 1,500 years after the Commonwealth Saga and much has changed (although, thanks to some life-extending technology, several secondary characters haven't). ANA:Governance, a vast electronic repository of uploaded human minds, governs the Commonwealth. At the centre of our galaxy it studies the massive Void, an artificial universe inaccessible by our own, but slowly consuming the mass of our galaxy. Religious messiah Inigo receives 'dreams' from inside the Void and forms the Living Dream movement to lead his people to a better life inside. The problem is that such a 'pilgrimage' is predicted to cause the Void to expand massively and consume the entire galaxy. Matters have gotten completely out of hand when we start the story; Inigo has disappeared, seemingly abandoning his followers. Aaron is the agent sent to find him, but with no clue for whom he is working. Members of Living Dream have taken it upon themselves to finish what Inigo started, to the horror of some factions in the Commonwealth; yet others are keen to accelerate events. Alongside this, a young man living inside the Void gradually develops the abilities that will inspire Living Dream to make their pilgrimage.
If that seems convoluted, just think what it was like to summarise it! Hamilton does a very good job of keeping events in check and not letting the story run away with itself, but at the expense of brevity... Such a complex plot requires plenty of room to make the novel remotely readable. Despite which, after a while it becomes difficult to keep up with the multitude of sub-plots, the varied character allegiances and who's double-crossing whom, and it's just easier to let yourself be hauled along by the gravity of events. Perhaps the book would benefit from a second reading?
Hamilton is adept at keeping the story readable and rarely feels like it's dragging, and that is a saving grace. But the various sub-plots, many only tenuously related to the main plot strand at this early stage of the trilogy, seem superfluous. For some, it is pretty obvious what Hamilton intends, and it is slightly disappointing because of that. Despite some attempts to flesh out characters with some backstory, most are fairly two-dimensional with only basic motivations to push the plot forward. This book is difficult to come to a firm decision on, not least due to the rather sudden ending that offers little-to-no resolution to the story, and one feels obliged to read the rest of the trilogy to make up for that. And it is not that The Dreaming Void is difficult to read at all; on the contrary, the prose is accessible without seeming simplistic, and though dense, the plot is laid out well, but I can't help thinking that this kind of thing has been done better by others, and with more style. Hamilton spins an exciting yarn, but I don't feel that it is anything special, though curiosity hints that I should read the next volume. However, I have the feeling that it will be fighting with other, more exciting, novels for my attention.
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