The Peter F. Hamilton series continues.
As with the last one, I’m treating these two novels, at least in the original American edition, as one book which is the way it was published in the UK.
I enjoyed this one every bit as much as its predecessor, The Reality Dysfunction.
Hamilton is not afraid to work out all the implications – including some not obvious to the reader – of his premises.
Mercifully, we don’t have as much of the vicious Satanist Quinn Dexter though he does learn some disturbingly new tricks that enable (after leaving a path of destruction behind and starting a world war on Nyvan – followed by an impact of asteroids) him to penetrate Earth’s very elaborate and thorough defenses after discovering a world of ghosts.
Ghosts aren’t the only new wrinkle introduced (as befits the middle book of a trilogy) in the concept of the possessed. Alkad Mzu, during breaks in her vengful quest for her Neutronium Alchemist ponders on the nature of the dimension the possessed inhabit. She turns out to be an amazingly focused, ruthless, and clever woman who will sacrifice anything to retrieve the Alchemist, use it on the Omutan sun, and keep the technology out of any power’s hands. Ultimately, at book’s end, she realizes the outbreak of the possessed has rendered her thirst for vengeance irrelevant though she does rescue her lover in a 30 year old derelict hiding the Alchemist for its final mission.
Confederation researchers think the world of the possessed can not be timeless. The possessed are aware of time passing; therefore, time and entropy exist in the hereafter. Nor has it escaped their notice that most of the possessed are evil, power hungry types or sad, pathetic creatures.
This is not universally true. Maya and Stephanie Ash (these volumes of the trilogy come with a cast of characters) on Ombey seem decent sorts, even rescuing children from the clutches of some of their fellow possessed though even the leader of the possessed on Ombrey, one Annette Ekelund. She seems less a vicious, power-hungry sort and more a ruthless, hardbitten practioneer of Possessor Realpolitick dedicated to preserving her new place in the world. The struggle for the planet, its initial infection by and containment of the possessed are exciting. Perhaps they, like Richard Fletcher (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) feel they have unfinished business in the world of humans.
Other villainous possessed leaders include the seductive Kiera Salter, a Pied Piper whose sexual charms and knowledge of teenage psychology lures many youngers to their possession on Valisk; Jacqueline Couteur uses cunning legal arguments and moral appeals to her Confederation captors in order to launch unsuccessful escape attempts. I liked how her attorney, whose family lives on the possessed planet of New California, deliberately puts up only a token effort for her.
Al Capone is the most fascinating. Having spent most of his last years in a state of syphilis induced madness, Al didn’t have a painful time in the beyond. When his wits return after his return to our universe, Al proves adaptable and to have a genius for organization. Of course, he’s brutal but, in his own way, he’s not vicious like Quinn Dexter or a hypocrite like Couteur. Like many a gangster, he runs a shadow government (which here becomes a real government) which, like governments everywhere, dispense favors in exchange for money and fealty. Al can even be generous, though, while he puts a damper on the possessed impulse to flee the universe, its pretty clear that if he conquers human space, his coalition of possessed and non-possessed will collapse because all the non-possessed will be possessed.
This volume reveals new facets to possessed society. They can communicate with the souls in the beyond and use it as a communication nexus for other possessed in the universe. This greatly facilitates their espionage activities in the hunt for Mzu’s Alchemist. However, new limitations for the possessed are shown. While they can change the appearance and gross features of an object, they can not alter substances at the molecular level. In short, they have to farm and attend to the other minutiae of maintaining society. Life as a possesser will not be entirely carefree.
This novel features growing intimations that the universe is not only populated by aliens, humans, and the possessed, but also a group of long-lived, not entirely human, centuries-old observers. One may be the black figure dogging Quinn Dexter. Others appear to Joshua Calvert and Maya.
One theme that is prevalent here is separated lovers and the power of their affection to mold events. Louise Kavanagh – is the most obvious example of this (and subject of the only plot line that, on occasion, I lost interest in) as she overcomes obstacle after obstacle to reach Joshua Calvert. Gerald Skibbow embarks on a hopeless, unplanned quest to rescue his daughter Marie from her possessor Kiera Salter. Mzu is partially motivated by the desire to rescue her old lover Peter as well as the Alchemist. The intriguing psychological duel between habitat personality Rubra and his descendent Dariat – and their rapproachment to battle Kiera Salter and her followers is greatly colored by Dariat’s memories of a dead love.
Religious faith is also a theme. Religions and the common folk must deal with the provable existence of a purgatory-like existence in the beyond (but, again, not all may exist in the beyond spoken of by the possessed). Edenists have to confront the idea that what is transferred into their habitats on their death is only a copy of their personality not their soul. Their atheistic concept of the afterlife (Edenist founder Wing-Tsit Chong didn’t plan on his culture to be so aspiritual) is challenged by the possessed.
The alien Kiint aren’t any help. They tell humanity that they have long knew of the possessed and their “reality dysfunction” but can offer no solution. Humanity must find its own solution so Kiint advice will allegedly do no good. Nor, necessarily, will the seeming mysterious sleeping God of the alien Tryathca.
I was a bit disappointed that the courageous Father Horst Elwes of The Reality Dysfunction didn’t have a bigger role. I did like the adventures of undercover agent Erick Tuakrar who, after battling the possessed and antimatter smugglers, reaches the end of his tether and demands to spend eternity in the suspension of zero tau.