The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Chronicle of the Fallers I) – Peter F. Hamilton

chronicleofthefallers1theabyssbeyonddreamsLaura Brandt is in stasis as her dynasty is journeying outside the Commonwealth to set up a new society. The Commonwealth is thriving, but the enigmatic and sinister Void casts its shadow as it continues to expand, devouring the galaxy sun by sun. Through happenstance, the Brandt fleet is caught in the Void, trapped in proximity to a planet surrounded by what look like huge orbiting trees, but which house a terrifying alien race.

Thousands of years later, on the planet, now known as Bienvenido, a young soldier called Slvasta is patrolling after a Faller incursion, as yet again “eggs” from the orbiting Trees have fallen. Many generations after colonization by the crippled Brandt fleet, society is at a low industrial level. The eggs are biological weapons which attract and consume humans. Slvasta survives an encounter but loses an arm, leading to his reassignment to the capital. Here, he and his girlfriend Bethaneve set in motion events that will transform Bienvenido society, with more than a little nudging from Nigel Sheldon, who entered the void on a mission to the planet Querencia (from the Void trilogy) but was waylaid to Bienvenido.

This book is the first of two in the series. The larger story of the Void and the Commonwealth is continued from Commonwealth Saga and the Void Trilogy, but the story on Bienvenido is relatively self-contained. Unsurprisingly for a Hamilton book, the hundreds of pages fly by, populated by vivid characters and settings. While some might find it disappointing that Mr. Hamilton is focusing on stories set in societies that are not representative of the super-high-tech Commonwealth, I find that he could write any story and I would still read it. Bienvenido is a fascinating setting, and its detachment from greater human society makes the story all the more poignant.

4½Rosbochs

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

SevenevesIn a very near future, the Moon is destroyed, suddenly and without warning. Within a few days, scientists figure out that the seven pieces will impact each other again and again, breaking into ever smaller pieces until after two years the process reaches a sort of critical mass. Then, so many large meteors will impact the Earth’s atmosphere that it will broil, annihilating all life on Earth in an event named the “Hard Rain”. Desperate measure are implemented to launch as many people as possible into space before the end. It is estimated that it will take 5000 years until the Hard Rain abates and Earth can be made inhabitable again.

Seveneves is a very long novel divided into three parts. Part one details events from the destruction of the Moon to the Hard Rain. Part two chronicles the struggle for survival after the Hard Rain and the nadir of human population, as well as the momentous decisions at this point. Part three jumps five thousand years into the future, with Earth being repopulated and the human race split into seven races. It is an epic story focusing on themes of resilience, survival and most of all what it is that makes us human. What are the traits that make us who we are? What drives us to conflict, cooperation, competition and rationality? Seveneves asks the question: Can such traits be altered in the human race through genetic tinkering, and what would happen if they were?

In the beginning of part three, there is a feeling of disjointedness with the rest of the story, but after a while this somewhat separate story with entirely new characters starts feeling like an appropriate bookend to parts one and two, with a perspective on ancient events down the long lens of history, and with the results of the experiment at hand.

The text is littered with info-dumps, mostly about space technology. Detailed explanations about orbital mechanics and the physics of free-falling chains abound. I personally found this content very interesting, but I can understand that not all would. The prose flows easily from page to page, filling the reader with a real desire to find out what will happen on this great odyssey. For it is truly an odyssey, an epic of monumental proportions drawing the entire human race, with all its history and heritage, down to a single point, literally a single room, and then chronicling its resurgence.

4½Rosbochs

The Accidental Time Machine – Joe Haldeman

TheAccidentalTimeMachineIn the not-too-distant future, MIT graduate student Matt Fuller has just completed a graviton generator for his professor. He tests it and it disappears, only to reappear a second later. Further experimentation shows that the generator has, quite by accident and unexplainably, acquired the ability to jump forward in time. Matt figures out a way to go with it. There’s a catch, though. Every jump is longer than the previous one in a geometric progression, and Matt calculates that the jumps will very soon be hundreds of thousands of years long, then millions, and ever growing. Wanting to escape his personal circumstances at the time, Matt starts jumping forward.

As usual with Mr. Haldeman, the tale takes an unexpected turn somewhere down the line, in a good way. Matt travels to future societies both regressed and far progressed from our current one. This is not uniquely a touristic exploration of possible futures, however. At the core there lies a logically carved out path, interestingly ambiguous in its treatment of predestination and free will. The personal story and growth of Matt, a down-on-his-luck and rather lazy graduate student, adds a charming and personal dimension to the tale, and ensures that despite the subject matter, the novel is softer than the rock-hard science fiction of classics like The
Time Machine
or A World Out of Time.

4½Rosbochs

 

Genesis – Bernard Beckett

GenesisGenesis is set entirely within the four-hour examination for Academy admission of one Anaximander. The Academy rules the society of the future, and Anax is one of the very few chosen for examination. The examination focuses on her chosen subject, the life of Adam Forde, who committed a peculiar act of rebellion, and received an even more peculiar sentence for his crime.

The story is quite short, a novelette in fact, and is told through the examination dialogue and recreation of historical record. Society has devolved into war and plague, civilization destroyed but for one remote and isolated pocket. This pocket must defend itself against the plagues ravaging the outside, and rebuild into a new society. The second part of the book deals with the nature of consciousness, with surprising results.

The novel is explicitly a reflection and discussion on humanity, on what it means to be human, to be a thinking being. Mr. Beckett cleverly uses Anax’s examination and the history of society and Adam Forde to explore the subject from a philosophical viewpoint without making it tedious philosophical discourse. A very interesting read.

4Rosbochs

 

Manhattan in Reverse – Peter F. Hamilton

This short story collection contains mostly previously published material, among others the stellar “Watching Trees Grow“, which it was a pleasure to re-read. There are three more standalones, one of which is a very short vignette. The last three stories are set in the Confederation Universe, with the two longer ones featuring investigator extraordinaire Paula Myo. (The third is Blessed by an Angel.) Myo is a very interesting character and could easily be the protagonist of a novel two of her own. Hamilton’s treatment of clinical immortality and crimes committed in an environment with such is stellar as always.

I was left wanting more.

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days – Alastair Reynolds

This small format hardcover (almost as small as a paperback) contains two novellas: Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days. Both are set in the Revelation Space universe. Diamond Dogs is much less epic than his novels, being more of an idea piece. Although Reynolds’ prose is tight and elegant as ever, some of the passages seem just a bit too stilted. I think the short length of each novella (only about 110 pages) may be cramping the author’s distinctive style.

Even so, Reynold’s universe is still a very cold, enigmatic and frightening place which cares not a jot for humanity. I expected him to solve the riddle of Diamond Dogs, but Reynolds has chosen to let the artifact therein serve a more sinister purpose. Very elegant and more than a little spooky. Turquoise Days is more of a vehicle to give interesting tidbits of information on the Pattern Jugglers (an alien life form). Although the main character is engaging, and the story well rounded, Diamond Dogs is definitely stronger the stronger of the two.

Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Chasm City – Alastair Reynolds

Scary in it’s placing of humanity firmly at the bottom of the Universe’s pecking order, this series of books contains some pretty big concepts. Worth reading just for the descriptions of cultures and aliens. Watch out though, Reynolds is not afraid of making the Universe a scary place. I refused to read Redemption Ark close to bedtime. I would just lay awake and shiver at the thought of how huge the universe is, and how short-lived and fragile we are.

  • Revelation Space – Cool, pure SF. The last few chapters give an inkling of what is to come in future installments, but the story also stands well by itself.
  • Redemption Ark – The sequel to Revelation Space, in which many questions are, err, resolved, or then again maybe not. Several hundred years in the future, the Inhibitors are back after eons, Their objective seems to be to eradicate sentient life. Scary scary scary.
  • Chasm City – The schizo prequel to Revelation Space, which scales back quite a bit from the epic back story and gives up a very convoluted plot of a man and his quest for identity. Good reading but does lose itself a little in the identity crisis of a very screwed up psyche.

There is a sequel to Redemption Ark, called Absolution Gap, but I have never gotten around to it. While I am sure it is great, I am also sure it won’t be very cheerful.

The Void Trilogy – Peter F. Hamiton

A novel in three volumes consisting of:

  • The Dreaming Void
  • The Temporal Void
  • The Evolutionary Void

Like “Night’s Dawn” and the Commonwealth Saga before it, the “Void Trilogy” is not so much a series as one single novel, sprawling over three 1500 page volumes. That’s why it took two months to read. Set over one thousand years after the end of Commonwealth, it reintroduces many of the old familiar characters. While it can be read independently, I would highly recommend that you read Commonwealth first. The background is invaluable.

In the Commonwealth of the 3500s, humanity has split into many groups. Biggest is the split between Advancers, what one might think of as “old fashioned” humans, and Highers, who see their physical existence as a precursor to upload into the machine intelligence known as ANA. Among the Highers, there are several rival factions, from the Accelerators, who wish to speed up human evolution towards the enigmatic goal of transcendence, to the conservative Conservatives. Into this mix is thrust the religion of the Living Dream, born out of the dreams that its founder Inigo had of events inside the Void, a vast, enigmatic and (mostly) impenetrable region in the center of the galaxy. Inigo has dreamed of the life of a man called Edeard in a mysterious city on a planet in the Void. In fact, Inigo’s dreams of Edeard’s life mark a major subplot in the novel, as we follow Edeard from country boy to refugee to city constable in the city of Makkathran. The goal of Living Dream is to start a pilgrimage into the Void and there reach “fulfillment”. The rest of humanity and most alien races are more or less united against it, believing that such a pilgrimage will lead to an expansion of the Void which will engulf the rest of the galaxy, terminating all life.

As usual with Hamilton, the plot is complex, the characters are many, and the descriptions just lovely. The story is certainly gripping. However I did feel that this time, Mr. Hamilton didn’t quite grip me enough. Perhaps I now have too high expectations from him, but Void felt a bit ponderous, especially in the beginning. By contrast, the interludes with Edeard were quite the story in themselves, almost able to stand on their own as a novel. Weird as it may seem, I felt as if the novel wasn’t quite long enough. Some bits were a bit too sketchy, such as the whole Ocisen attack subplot. Yes, it was just a device used by a faction, but even so the complexities were worth exploring further. There was also a bit of a lack of action for much of the novel. People went hither and thither in their starships but there was often precious little actual plot or character development. So I wanted the novel to be longer, but in parts it was too slow? Exactly! The ending, however, was quite gratifying. Hamilton has by his own admission, often had difficulties actually tying things up. But he did it nicely here.

So what’s the verdict? If you have read Commonwealth and enjoyed it, you can’t go wrong by continuing with Void. It is not as good as Night’s Dawn or Commonwealth, but Hamilton at his worst is better than most authors at their best. It is great space opera, and few can write it like he does.

Peter F. Hamilton – The Void Trilogy

Like “Night’s Dawn” and the “Commonwealth Saga” before it, the “Void Trilogy” is not so much a series as

one single novel, sprawling over three 1500 page volumes. Set over one thousand years after the end of

Commonwealth, it reintroduces many of the old familiar characters. While it can be read independently, I

would highly recommend that you read Commonwealth first. The background is invaluable.

In the Commonwealth of the 3500s, humanity has split into many groups. Biggest is the split between

Advancers, what one might think of as “old fashioned” humans, and Highers, who see their physical

existence as a precursor to upload into the machine intelligence known as ANA. Among the Highers, there

are several rival factions, from the Accelerators, who wish to speed up human evolution towards the

enigmatic goal of trancendence, to the conservative Conservatives. Into this mix is thrust the religion of

the Living Dream, born out of the dreams that its founder Inigo had of events inside the Void, a vast

enigmatic and impenetrable region in the center of the galaxy. Inigo has dreamt of the life of a man

called Edeard in a mysterious city on a planet in the Void. In fact, Inigo’s dreams of Edeard’s life mark

a major subplot in the novel, as we follow Edeard from country boy to refugee to city constable in the

city of Makkathran. The goal of Living Dream is to start a pilgrimage into the Void. The rest of humanity,

and most alien races, are more or less united against it, believing that such a pilgrimage will lead to an

expansion of the Void which will engulf the rest of the galaxy, terminating all life.

As usual with Hamilton, the plot is complex, the characters are many, and the descriptions just lovely.

The story is certainly gripping. However I did feel that this time, Mr. Hamilton didn’t quite grip me

enough. Perhaps I now have too high expectations from him, but Void felt a bit ponderous, especially in

the beginning. By contrast, the interludes with Edeard were quite the story in themselves, almost able to

stand on their own as a novel. Weird as it may seem, I felt as if the novel wasn’t quite long enough. Some

bits were a bit too sketchy, such as the whole Ocisen attack subplot. Yes, it was just a device used by a

faction, but even so the complexities were worth exploring further. There was also a bit of a lack of

action for much of the novel. People went hither and thither in their starships but there was often

previous little actual plot or character development. So I wanted the novel to be longer, but in parts it

was too slow? Exactly! The ending, however, was quite gratifying. Hamilton has by his own admission, often

had difficulties actually tying things up. But he did it nicely here.

So what’s the verdict? Well, if you have read Commonwealth and enjoyed it, you can’t go wrong by

continuing with Void. It is not as good as Night’s Dawn or Commonwealth, but Hamilton at his worst is

better than most authors at their best. It is certainly great space opera, and few can write it like he

does. 20101123