Monday, October 31, 2011

The Dreaming Void

Peter F. Hamilton
MacMillan, 2007 (my copy is from Pan Books, 2008)
Size: Long (my copy has 796 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Edeard (and others )
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The Dreaming Void starts another epic futuristic space opera (currently my favorite sci-fi theme). It actually takes place in the same universe as Hamilton’s Commonwealth saga (Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained), although I have not yet read either of those two books. Similarly to previous novels by Hamilton (e.g. the Night’s Dawn trilogy), there is a huge cast of characters, in an equally large universe, where we actually follow events spanning many light years. The plot switches between key characters at every sub-chapter, sometimes following a particularly important thread for an extended period when warranted. Some people complain terribly about this, whereas I enjoy it and find it prevents boredom. But unlike other novels I read from the same author, it features two major stories in the same book. A core story, which takes place in real time, and a secondary story concerning the events of Inigo’s dreams, which supposedly took place in the far past and inside the void universe.

The basic premise of the core story is the existence of a void in the center of what we would call the “normal” universe. That void is actually a pocket universe, a construct created by a very advanced alien race billions of years ago, for no currently discernible purpose. However, the expansion of the void takes place at the expense of consuming the outside universe, something its current inhabitants are not particularly fond of. Thus, not only humans (which are not exactly the most advanced race in existence), but also alien species study the void expansion and attempt to counter it. The core story takes place around the 35th century, and multiple characters, and reads much like the Night’s Dawn trilogy. There is adventure, mischief, plotting, military strategy, politics, romance, interstellar travel, and – as expected – considerable technological capabilities and human enhancement. The core story delivers as much science fiction as any aficionado would expect. Inside the void, we know only of one inhabited planet, and the story is focused on Edeard, a powerful young apprentice of one particular type of arcane magic, as he deals with terrible events around him. It is a world of mysticism, ancient lore, and psychic prowess. I have always seen Edeard as the main character, only because he is clearly so in the void universe. There are too many main characters in the outside universe to identify a single individual as such.

The link between the two universes is clear from reading only about the first third of the book (or less), and I find quite disturbing that I have seen reviews about this book where people claim there is no understandable relation between them. And if a lot seems to be happening simultaneously, it is only because indeed there are lots of characters doing different things, but all of them are linked in some way. As the plot develops, we keep finding how they relate to each other.

Even if the storyline may not be exceptionally deep to the point of leaving you pondering life as a George Orwell novel would, Hamilton delivers a fast-paced thrilling story, where characters are well developed, do not fit absolute stereotypes (although a couple are very cardboard), and that will keep you reading way past your bed time. Although each chapter is quite large (30-70 pages), you can leisurely take a break at sub-chapters. Despite the plot including about 15 main characters (and over 30 other reasonably important characters), I found it easy to follow (particularly after the 2nd or 3rd follow-up on a character). The narrative is enticing and rich with meaningful details, rather than superficial and useless long descriptions. I found this to be a superb novel and have picked up the sequel straight away.

Related work:
There are two sequels, namely the Temporal Void and the Evolutionary Void. Although this story takes place in the same universe as the earlier Commonwealth stories by Hamilton, they are separate enough for those not to be considered prequels.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

The last parts of the book finish in a crescendo, rather than a semi-ending. Aaron and Corrie-Lyn finally manage to find Inigo, just as the planet starts breaking apart from an m-sink bomb. The second dreamer makes contact with the skylord, but refuses to lead humans to the void. This apparently leads to a new devourment phase, which puts Raiel ships into motion, as Justine and many others observe the event from the Centurion Station. The story within the void ends with Edeard having to use his psychic powers to walk on water in order to chase Arminel and his thugs. He confronts them, which implies stopping a bullet in midair, and arrests them, under the scrutiny of the entire city. This will gain him the label of “waterwalker” from this point on.

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