When I started reading this monster of a book what I liked most was the world-building. While I felt that most characters were as believable as soap opera stars (soap operas being big in the future Commonwealth), the level of detail of Hamilton’s future is incredibly high and all of it is fascinating.
The Commonwealth is a very conservative post-human culture that has beaten death and aging (they have both rejuvenation technology as well as Ndoli jewels (Learning to be Me, Greg Egan) aka mind stacks (Takeshi Kovacs, Richard Morgan) which record memories). There’s even the possibility to upload your memories into an artificial intelligence, but it’s not the same as existing as free uploads.
Still, embodied existence remains very much the norm. What concerns most people is the same as today: sex, money, power, fame and to an extend their social connections. But the rejuvenation technology has subtly changed humanity and Hamilton uses his big space opera as a canvas to explore how. Against that the threat of an alien power seems slightly mundane and less interesting. But while initially his character work and the alien threat seemed less interesting than the world-building, there came a point when I realized that the book had hooked me.
Despite the enormous size it’s a speedy read. And the characterization, while initially too superficial for my taste, becomes more appealing with time. I especially liked how Hamilton managed to make inspector Paula Myo appear human after all at the end of the book.
My only gripe with the book is that due to the size and the number of plotlines it’s hard not to get bored when a less interesting plotline or character replaces the plotline/character you’re following momentarily. There’s also a certain amount of bloat, but it’s arguably a point in favor of the book if you like massive reads.