Published by Del Rey
Hardcover, April 2008
Reviewed when published in the UK by Hobbit here:
The Dreaming Void is Peter F. Hamiton's return to the Commonwealth Universe, the grand stage he introduced readers to in Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained. This new trilogy is set a century and a half after the events of Judas Unchained, which makes this book very readable to both readers new to Hamilton's writing, as well as those who are longtime fans. While events from that earlier duology inform Hamilton's latest tale, having read those two books is not absolutely essential to getting a feel for what is going on in The Dreaming Void.
Right, so where do we start? Perhaps with the Void itself, another in a long line of Big Dumb Objects (BDO) to come along in science fiction and a somewhat ingenious BDO even by Mr. Hamilton’s high standards. The Void is essentially another universe in a black hole, an idea that is lent credence by scientific research about black holes. When the Commonwealth spread across the universe following the Starflayer War (as depicted in Judas Unchained), many worlds were settled. The Void was also discovered as the Commonwealth settled various worlds, though very little that went into the Void ever truly came out. One of the other affects of the spread of humanity and the end of the Starflayer war is the splintering of the human race, normal humans; Highers who live in a Utopic paradise; and Advancers who essentially live in a virtual reality.
The Big Dumb Object; however, may not be so dumb. The Void is growing in many ways, threatening the greater universe at large. Much like the enormous structure from the earlier Commonwealth novels known as the Dyson Pair, the Void is an artificial construct. The Raiel, giant elephant-sized aliens far more advanced than humans, have studied the Void for centuries and are somewhat stymied. The only real thing they have concluded is the artificial nature of the otherwise seemingly-natural phenomena.
Something stirs within the Void, something with which at least one human claims to have come into contact through a series of linked dreams. This human, Inigo, as of the start of the novel, has seemingly disappeared from civilization, perhaps as a result of the pressure of being “the Dreamer” and the one who came into contact with the “Skylords.” Thanks to what amounts to a super-collective unconsciousness, all of civilization has shared Inigo’s magical dreams of a world that resembles our own. A world, perhaps real, maybe imaged; with a semi-medieval feel protected by people with vast telepathic powers. These shared dreams are the impetus for what amounts to a religious movement called the Living Dream, whereby the believers are planning to make a pilgrimage into the Void. As word spreads about this pilgrimage, it gains both a following and strong opposition. Those in opposition feel the pilgrimage could trigger a more dangerous expansion of the Void, threatening the Commonwealth civilization as a whole.
One of the strengths of Hamilton’s fiction is his ability to juggle multiple narratives and character strands and The Dreaming Void is no exception. Each narrative thread could justifiably work as its own story, perhaps a novella length story, but Hamilton maintains the pull of each strand and interweaves them expertly. One strand follows an assassin (Aaron) and Inigo’s former lover in search of Inigo across the galaxy. Another strand follows Paula Myo, one of the protagonists from the earlier Commonwealth novels, as she pulls together the pieces to hopefully stop the Living Dream movement and thereby the Void itself from expanding. Perhaps the most intriguing narrative strand is the chapters dedicated to Inigo’s dreams. The dreams have the feel of an “orphan-turned-hero” fantasy, as the dreams follow the life of Edeard, who comes to be known as “the Waterwalker.”
The book has many strengths, as I’ve thus far indicated. One of the elements that has remained at the forefront and continues to grow with Hamilton’s writing is his ability to imbue his stories with an epic, momentous feel. This is achieved in his ability of painting an enormous, plausible galactic canvas where the story takes place. I also always enjoy how Hamilton manages to blend the elements of Hard Science Fiction and Space Opera with ever-more strong dashes of Fantasy. These subsets of the larger genre don’t always manage to be as successfully pulled off by other authors, but Hamilton seems to relish in throwing these ingredients together.
As much as I enjoyed the novel, it isn’t without its faults. While much of the exposition flows fairly well, at times Hamilton’s narrative feels too descriptive. While the majority of the narrative shifts worked very well, some felt a bit abrupt. While this review may have referred to the previous Commonwealth novels as reference, Hamilton does manage to keep things in perspective for readers unfamiliar with those books. A handy timeline at the end of the book is a nice touch. With The Dreaming Void, Hamilton is continuing to affirm his reputation as this generations leading writer of Epic Science Fiction. In this book, there are glimpses that Hamilton could be a leading writer of Epic Fantasy as well. Readers new to Hamilton will find much to enjoy here, many elements that are hallmarks of what makes his writing so appealing and has won him a large readership. Of course, readers who have been following his writing career will no doubt have this book as soon as they can. Either way, the reader is in for a treat.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".