Peter Hamilton’s space opera series are in my mind inseparable connected to the dreaded bloat that seems to happen to all minor or major successful high fantasy authors. The Night’s Dawn trilogy and the Commonwealth saga had them both. You could have cut out half of the plotlines and the books would have been just as enjoyable or even moreso. This book, the first of the Void trilogy that takes place around 1500 years after the Commonwealth duology, is different. It’s just as fat as the previous books by Hamilton, but it’s the first time I didn’t mind. There wasn’t any plotline that I thought I could have done without it. I takes place both in the future of the Commonwealth and in the Void, the artificial universe at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
The biggest accomplishment of the book is that it makes you believe that 1500 years have come and gone. It’s easy to fast-forward your setting, but it’s very hard to do it convincingly. 1500 years are, from a human viewpoint, a long time to grasp beyond the mere fact. It’s one thing to extrapolate technological or even social changes, but what makes Hamilton’s jump in time so persuasive is how he mirrors it on the human level, in the characters we know from the previous books and who are still around. The best example is Paula Myo, since her very nature makes her resist any change. But even she has undergone a profound transformation, even if the changes are very subtle.
That said, the technological extrapolations are just as convincing and interesting. The posthuman virtual heaven ANA is much more than just an oversized hard disk for human uploads. Or the Advancer and the Higher factions, which reminded me a little bit of Sterling’s Shaper and Mechanist factions in Schismatrix. And then there’s the fractured nature of ANA itself, which its countless factions fighting a cold war over the very nature of the future face of (post)humanity. If you’re into science fiction that deals with transhuman and posthuman ideas, you’ll probably enjoy this book tremendously.
There’s only one caveat. The plotline that takes place on a world within the void and that deals with a society that seems to be stuck in some sort of fantasy/middle age setting. I do like fantasy, but this mix of science fiction with a sorta fantasy story interspersed didn’t look like a good fit. While there are meta-connections between the two plots, the crusade of those who want to enter the void and the knowledge of the void-dwellers that they came with a spaceship from our universe, it’s not directly connected. But I did manage to enjoy the plotline in the void, maybe because the characters were compelling and I have a soft spot for coming of age stories. The only thing perplexing at the end of the book is why anyone would want to enter the void, which doesn’t really make any sense at all, but a friend of mine told me this would be explained at the end of the second book so I hold out on it.