Fiction Reviews

The Evolutionary Void

(2010) Peter F. Hamilton, Macmillan, £18.99, hrdbk, 726pp, ISBN 978-1-405-08894-7

This is the final book in the Void Trilogy, which started with The Dreaming Void and continued with The Temporal Void.

My review copy was the trade paperback advance edition; it has large pages and, with over 700 of them, it is also very thick and heavy. This makes it uncomfortable as a bedside book and I presume the hardback would be more so, which is a shame as that is when I do a lot of my reading.

A problem with any sort of series, be they stand-alone adventures or a continuing story, is ensuring that the reader is sufficiently aware of the necessary background details and the relevant story so far. There are various ways in which this can be accomplished; a preface, a synopsis, a foreword, or an introduction, come to mind. Alternatively, the author can fill in the required details as the book progresses; if clumsily done this can seem a bit repetitive to someone who has recently read the previous volume(s) but, on the other hand, if well written it can prove a useful reminder. Unfortunately The Evolutionary Void makes no such attempts and anyone, such as myself, who has picked up this book without having read the earlier volumes is dropped straight into the storyline with no idea of what it is all about.

So I lugged the book over to the sofa and started reading. After a hundred pages I paused to reflect on what I had read so far. I had been presented with a number of characters but had no idea who they were or their relationship to most of the other characters. I had also been presented with several organisations / authorities / factions / whatevers, but again without knowing what they were, and I had been presented with scenes both in deep space and on widely spread planets. The characters seemed quite flat and presented little personality, with their various stories being told in an almost documentary style; this might be the deliberate style of the trilogy on the lines of “this is the historical account of …”. The trouble for me was that despite being a hundred pages into the story I did not really know who the good guys were let alone why I should be rooting for them, neither was I sure who the bad guys were or why they were bad. It seemed that the Living Dream folks wanted to get to the Void at any cost, but I didn’t know why. It also seemed that there are other folk who are determined to stop them, again at any cost, but again I didn’t know why. I did not even know what the Void was. In short, in the immortal words of Manuel, “I know a naathing”.

I looked round the room. In the corner I have a bookcase dedicated to my yet-to-be-read books and the coffee table features a pile of unread or partially read magazines … and they were all seductively and sub-audibly whispering “read me, you know you want to”. I looked at The Evolutionary Void sitting next to me, with another 620 pages to go, and it was silent. Some of my books get read quickly, others can take me many months as I read a bit now and another bit then, but the list of those that I have put down without any intention of ever finishing is very, very short – sadly it is now one longer. My reading time is limited and there is simply much else that I would rather be getting on with.

Out of curiosity, I checked my three-part copy of The Lord Of The Rings. Each part started with a foreword or a synopsis to make sure you knew what was going on (even though it was a boxed set). The pages totalled a little under a thousand (appendices excluded) - and look at just how much story Tolkien packed into them compared to the 726 pages sitting there beside me.

Meanwhile, back on the pages, the writing flows well. Peter F. Hamilton is very inventive and casually utilises yet to be developed science and technology as if it were everyday. The human race has spread across the stars and yet somehow manages to cope (mostly) with the challenges of the vast distances and the changes brought about by the huge technical advances and the political impact they have produced. Almost everyone is augmented, some incredibly so. Indeed, some have travelled so far from humanity that they are hardly recognisable as human, sometimes merely maintaining a humanlike physical interface for the sake of communication whilst living mostly in other forms of space. Some even seem to be able to create and manipulate exotic matter by nothing more than their thoughts and to be able to control the very fabric of space around them. Add political and spiritual advances and differences to their technology and you get scope for massive fleets with amazing abilities and for galaxy-wide conflicts.

There was one story element that I particularly enjoyed (perhaps it is just the way I read it?). As various factions battle to capture her, Araminta, the Second Dreamer, survives the resulting massacre in Colwyn City’s Bodant Park, makes her escape from Viota, and some fifteen hours later finds herself on the planet Chobamba. This is amazingly good going - to cover that sort of distance in that time requires the very ultra-fastest of the most ultra-secret of the ultra-drive ships. However, she has not flown there - she has the ability to follow the Silfen paths and has walked between worlds until she finally arrived in the small town of Miledeep Water. It just goes to show that if you have to cover truly astronomical distances in a hurry, the quickest way is to walk!

In conclusion, I would think that if you have already read and enjoyed the first two books then you will enjoy this final part as well. If, however, you have not read the earlier books then I would strongly advise you not to start here. And if you are considering reading the whole trilogy then I wouldd check out our reviews of the earlier volumes before committing yourself.

Peter Tyers

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