Review: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton, 2014.
In the first book of a new two-part series, Hamilton returns to the Void, that part of space beyond the human Commonwealth. There the Commonwealth’s advanced technology – and even most aliens’ – doesn’t work. The humans living in the Void do have powers of telekinesis and clairvoyance. They even have souls.
But the Void threatens to expand into the Commonwealth. The dreams of Eduard, hero of Hamilton’s Void Trilogy, have found their way outside the Void and formed the basis of a new cult. That worries some of the Commonwealth’s elite including compulsive detective Paula Myo, Hamilton’s most popular character, and physicist, tycoon, and all around power-broker Nigel Sheldon.
The novel tells three stories. There’s Sheldon’s expedition to penetrate the Void and return. An unaffiliated expedition finds itself trapped in the Void – and confronting an alien menace that possesses human bodies and then goes cannibal.
The other, main story, concerns Slvasta, a young soldier on Bienvenido. 3,000 years ago humans arrived on the world and formed a military aristocracy to check the menace of the Fallers, those human-eating aliens who constantly try to infiltrate human society and subsume it. But, after barely surviving an encounter with a Fallen, Slvasta becomes convinced the old order has become too soft in its duties and must be replaced.
Like the Void Trilogy, much of the story involves politics with the Russian revolution being the model. I liked this better than the medieval style setting of that series though. Hamilton doesn’t give us the predictable path of revolution so many science fiction novels do.
There are many typical Hamilton elements: heists, trains, planes, soldiers, carefully described architecture, aliens, and a tinge of the supernatural (those souls). Not so much sex though. Jerry Pournelle fans will even find a subplot a bit reminiscent of his King David’s Spaceship.
Hamilton works in enough asides (and a chronology) to cover the previous Commonwealth novels, so new readers can start with this one – and readers of the others won’t have to go back through thousands of pages. However, I think at least, of the series, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained are worth reading.
Further Thoughts (with Spoilers)
This is a novel about dictators and failed revolutionaries and the urge to rescue others.
The bitter flavor of its end, the sourness of curdled dreams, was welcome.
Our would-be rescuers are Nigel Sheldon, one of two men that created the Commonwealth through the invention of wormholes and its most powerful citizen, and Slvasta.
Sheldon is annoyed that his post-scarcity world is still riven by faction. He even tells Paula Myo that he is thinking about leaving the Commonwealth and founding a “uniform society” formed with no dissenters, unfairness and inequality banished. Paula suggests he go live in her old home of Huxley’s Haven where everyone is genetically profiled to be happy in their unchanging roles. “Differences creep in; they always do,” she reminds him.
Bienvenido is not a world of plenty. Like Makkathran in the Void trilogy, it is a world of retarded technology. Electrical technology is hindered by the Void. Psychic powers exist in both worlds. It was telekinesis in the Void books, telepathy and clairvoyance here
Bienvenido has the dangers of the Fallers though, a danger that Slvasta is obsessed by.
Hamilton opens the novel with none of this but, instead, an 89 page horror story which ends with the devouring of a spaceship’s crew, save one, Laura Brandt, by the Fallers. She escapes in a shuttle to Bienvenido and ends up in a hellish time loop of 27 hours and 42 minutes. It is Hamilton’s ghoulish redemption and play on what I thought a dramatic weakness in The Evolutionary Void – protagonist Eduard’s ability to hit the reset button constantly in his universe.
But it is the threat of Inigo and his ties to the Void world Makkathran that propels Sheldon to send a clone of himself, with duplicate memories and personality, into the void along with a clever ANAdroid, a biological machine, to help him.
There he becomes a puppetmaster – using the strings of sex, bribes, gunrunning, and advanced “domination” techniques to remold or control the personalities of the Bienvenido locals. Sheldon hatches a plan to rescue Brandt from her hell and destroy the Void. To do that, he needs to control Bienvenido and secretly build a spaceship.
His stalking horse is a group of revolutionaries including an ex-drug addict cured by those “domination” techniques, Bethaneve. She becomes Slvasta’s lover. Together they plan to topple the decadent rule of the Captain in Varlan, Bienvenido’s capital city, and replace it with an egalitarian order.
Slavasta becomes one of the revolution’s leaders and its popular face. But Slvasta’s ultimate goal is to strengthen Bienvenido’s society to more effectively counter the growing subversion of the Fallers. Part of that subversion involves Faller control of the many “mods”, animals modified for various tasks. Slvasta wants to eliminate the use of mods.
The revolution comes, a revolution which Sheldon plans on a “classic Leninist Trotskyite model”. He is willing to kill thousands to save the Commonwealth’s millions. Bethaneve draws up plans to kill a bunch of aristocrats.
And then, in a welcome answer to all the romanticism of the revolution in science fiction, all those stories where the fall of one building, one transmitter, one Death Star brings the old order down, the revolution does not neatly conclude with Varlan’s fall.
Slvasta is troubled that thousands were killed whose death he didn’t authorize. He is troubled by one of his revolutionaries – actually Nelson’s clone – stealing a long forgotten superweapon from the Captain’s palace. And he is positively furious when his fellow revolutionaries put his plans to purge mods from Bienvenido’s economy on hold.
By the end of the book, Sheldon, whose most annoying trait, according to him, is that he is always right, is surprised by what happens when he attacks he Void.
Slvasta ends up planetary dictator. After five years, he sends Bethaneve to the dreaded Pidrui Mines on charges of sedition. A particularly bitter ending for Bethaneve since, using the time resetting powers Nelson also finds in the Void, she effectively brings Slvasta back from the dead.
I mentioned in my review of The Dreaming Void that the early Commonwealth books were sort of a science fictional belle époque complete with anarchists and trains. This book not only evokes the Russian Revolution, but, in its coda, Stalin’s rule.
I noted in my review of The Temporal Void that it’s been noted (specifically by Luke Burrage of Science Fiction Book Review Podcast) that the Void series is all about power. The worthy purposes of power, the tactics of its use, and the effects of power. The same is true here.
I do look forward to the concluding novel in the story of Bienvenido.