Sunday, December 18, 2011

The accidental time machine

Joe Haldeman
Ace, 2007 (my copy is from Ace, 2008)
Size: Short (my copy has 257 pages)
Theme: Time travel
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Matt Fuller
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This book explores the interesting concept of a graduate student who stumbles upon a particularly curious feature in a lab equipment he is assembling. Every time the reset button in the machine is pressed, it travels in time. However, he has no control over the time jumps, and is unable to understand or explain the mechanisms behind the phenomena. Unsurprisingly, he will get in considerable trouble, both in the near and in the far future. As he experiments time travel, he is thrown into different societies and has to deal with peculiar characters. Maybe the future does not always hold exactly what you would expect…

The novel is very straightforward, and easy to read. The author does not attempt to provide a comprehensive explanation for the physics behind time travel (which usually would mean either totally wrong or at least flawed science, and which can become very annoying). It is much more of an adventure story than your traditional time travel novel. Being very short, you won’t get bored throughout, but on the other hand many potential side-stories are barely scratched and shallow characters are introduced only to be quickly discarded. Having spent considerable time at MIT and Boston, I was able to follow the references to buildings and locations, but I felt that most readers will find those parts either boring or undecipherable. Still, the novel was quite enjoyable.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Evolutionary Void

Peter F. Hamilton
MacMillan, 2010 (my hardcover copy is a first edition, gracefully provided by MacMillan for review)
Size: Long (my copy has 726 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

As the last book of a series, it was not intended to be read alone, and you should definitely read the two preceding novels, The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void (which I have reviewed before), before you pick this up. The same applies to this review; it is essentially a spoiler for someone who did not read books #1 and #2. That being said, as one could expect, the Evolutionary Void continues the epic tale of the void phenomena and the efforts by the protagonists to either stop it from destroying the galaxy or take advantage of its power to further their own ambitions.
This novel maintains the approach of switching narrative at each chapter between the events inside the void to those outside. The plot quickly kicks off with mind-numbing events: the deployment of the deterrence fleet (revealed to be in fact pure energy controlled by a single consciousness, namely Chief Admiral Kazimir), the existence of a single extremely powerful nameless ship controlled by the Accelerators, the decision by ANA:Governance to suspend the activities of that faction, followed by Ilanthe separating from ANA in an inversion core and fleeing the solar system in the ship, trapping the entire Sol system and the deterrence fleet inside a barrier based on Dark Fortress technology. All this and more takes place in the first 90 pages. Afterwards the story will also follow Aaron’s quest to bring together Ozzie, Inigo, and the second dreamer so they can try to stop the void. In addition to Justine’s attempt to reach the heart of the void, Gore Burnelli starts an alternative plan that involves the Anomine race, most of which evolved into post-physical a long time ago. Along the entire book, Araminta continues having a pivotal role, but one that will grow in complexity, as she finally decides on a path of her own that will affect how everything plays out.

Inside the void universe, Edeard is finding out how difficult it is to live a perfect life, even with all his power and the void’s temporal abilities at his disposal. We are told of his multiple attempts at getting everything absolutely right, only to be thwarted by different problems at each iteration. And, as events unfold, we find out how the ability to do whatever you want will not necessarily bring you closer to fulfillment. We also learn why Inigo ended up abandoning the Living Dream movement and going into seclusion. In this final installment of the series, the interaction between the events inside and outside the void will be much higher, and the two realities will blend in the plot.

The book was just as good as the two previous novels. I much enjoyed the narrative style, the detailed and enticing plot, the cast of characters that we had already become familiar with, and the appropriate pace. I found that the mix between highly advanced technology of modern society and the near-medieval level within the void worked very well. The author managed to propose very interesting cosmic phenomena, from evolution into post-physical to quantum states of exotic matter, and make them fit seamlessly in the overall plot. As the saying goes for all good things, it had to come to an end, but I was left totally satisfied with the conclusion of this saga.

Related work:
This is the last book of the series (#3 of 3), and follows the events from The Dreaming Void and The Temporal 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.