Posted on February 18, 2008 by Flames
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough
I am an unabashed Peter F Hamilton fan. I was initially introduced to his work by my great friend (and co-writer on The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming) Steve Mortimer through his Mindstar series (a bio-modified psychic detective of sorts in a post-warming, post flood, post ‘socialist’ Britain) and then followed on through the brick-like Night’s Dawn series and on into Pandora’s Star. Most of his books I have liked I great deal (apart from Misspent Youth) to the point where I even negotiated, and held for a year, the RPG rights to Mindstar and Night’s Dawn – but nobody was interested in pursuing it.
To me Night’s Dawn (The Reality Dysfunction, Neutronium Alchemist, Naked God) represents Hamilton’s pinnacle and honestly I didn’t find Pandora’s Star to be even half as good so learning this new series was based in the same universe was a bit of a kick in the tits as I didn’t find The Commonwealth half as interesting as The Confederation, even with a thousand year plus shift between Pandora’s Star and The Dreaming Void enough of what put me off Pandora’s Star remains to tarnish my enjoyment of this book.
Hamilton’s politics have softened somewhat it seems since his Mindstar days, we see an increasingly apparent disenchantment with libertarian conservatism expressed, particularly in Fallen Dragon but that same theme appears in the newer books with some of the least sympathetic characters being soulless businessmen. Other themes common throughout his books remain familiar though, the fusion of the mystical with the scientific, the exploration of transhuman and posthuman technologies, clashes and ideals and the importance of the individual set against the background of large scale events (cosmic events in this case). While these things interest me a great deal there isn’t much new done with them in this book. The technology appears to have advanced – new names are used and it seems to be hereditary – but really the uses of the technology aren’t that different to the previous Commonwealth series or even to the Adamist and Edenist technology from Night’s Dawn. In other words Dreaming Void feels a bit like a retread and a playing out of old ideas rather than a development of new ones.
The background of the book is that after the war against the alien from the previous serious humankind appears to have gotten to a sort of technological and social plateau. Immortality is a reality and has been for over a thousand years, technology progresses only slowly and even the expansion of humanity has slowed to a crawl. Where there is a division it is between those humans who choose to remain physical – mostly the younger ones – and those who choose to go post physical and upload themselves into a sort of combined AI core. That core, and society as a whole, is further divided between the Advancer faction – who wish to kickstart human development again and to go posthuman, and the Conservative faction which seeks to preserve the status quo. Neither side overtly moves against the other and both act through agents.
While humanity tries to sort itself out it has also allied with the Raiel, a powerful ancient race who have gotten decidedly nervous about a thing called ‘The Void’, a mysterious star-swallowing rift, expanding into the galaxy periodically and threatening all life within it. With typical human arrogance some humans seem to have managed to pass through the rift and into the inside, which seems to be a ‘safe’ pocket universe from which psychic emanations are now reaching out to those in the real universe, particularly the first and second dreamers, one of whom founded a religion based upon the void, the second of whom is unknown to the cult but sought. With new and stronger dreams emanating from the void the search for the second dreamer is stepped up a notch and a mass pilgrimage into the void is planned which, given the nature of the void has made a lot of other alien species a touch nervous, to the point where they’re preparing to attack humanity and the pilgrimage fleet if they don’t desist.
The story unfolds with typical Hamiltonian multi-layered storytelling and wheels within wheels, though the writing does have a little less of Hamilton’s characteristic technofetishism. We learn who the second dreamer probably is, we follow the fortunes of a young, psychically powerful lad in a pseudo-renaissance world within the void and we follow the machinations and adventures of agents of the posthuman factions as everyone vies to control the pilgrimage and get to the second dreamer.
This is one part of a planned series so it may solidify with the later books but as an introduction to the new series this is a slow starter and by the time the book really gets up to speed it is over, leaving you hanging and waiting for the next volume but more with a sense of frustration than excitement.