Thursday, July 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is one of my favorite authors; he has written and continues to write some of the most interesting and exciting space opera books around.  He is probably most well-known for his best-selling Naked God trilogy but he has also published many books in his Commonwealth Universe. His latest is the first of a duology called  The Chronicle of the Fallers, Book 1: The Abyss Beyond Dreams which is set in the Commonwealth Universe. (The second book in the duology is The Chronicle of the Fallers, Book 2: The Night Without Stars.)

The Abyss Beyond Dreams is a book that stands on its own but is also enriched by the stories Hamilton has written in the Commonwealth universe previously. Those stories begin in the Commonwealth saga, which consists of the duology Pandora's Star and Judas Unchainedand then continues in the Void Trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, The Evolutionary Void) which is set in the same universe about 1200 years after the events of the Commonwealth Saga (around 3358). The events of The Abyss Beyond Dreams are set just a few decades (around 3326) before the events that happen in the Void Trilogy.

One of the aspects of the Void Trilogy that I appreciate is that it simultaneously takes place in the Commonwealth that we know and love as well as inside the Void, on the planet Querencia in the city-state of Makkathran. Since inside the Void there is very little technology (but for reasons we learn later, mental powers such as telepathy and telekinesis are commonplace and formidable) so that the Void parts of the story are effectively part of a fantasy novel, which is an interesting counterpoint to the advanced artificial intelligences, explosively powerful space ships and multiple human technological advancements that exist in the hard sci-fi tale being told outside the Void.

A specific highlight of The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the inclusion of Nigel Sheldon (who was an important character in the original Commonwealth saga) as a major character in this new story. Additionally, the Fallers (the terrifying new shape-shifting aliens that Hamilton introduces in an absolutely stunning prologue to the book) are another strong element of the book.

The primary action of the book, surprisingly, is political in nature. The main story takes places on a planet in the Void called Bienvenido, where, like Makkathran most technology does not work but mental powers are commonplace. The planet's population is being ruled by the family of the captain of the Commonwealth ship that crashed on the planet after wandering into the Void many, many generations before but who have extended life expectancies due to Advancer genes. Our main protagonists is named Slvasta, a country boy who loses an arm in a Faller attack and later becomes a folk hero of sorts to the people of the capital city of Varlan. One of the main threads in the story is how Slvasta and his friends instigate a revolution to take down the rule of the ruthless Captain Philious through a combination of electoral strategy and insurgent tactics. The other main thread involves Nigel and a quartet of genetically enhanced, Advancer clones infiltrating Bienvenido in order to investigate the Fallers and the even more inscrutable Sky Lords. The Sky Lords are aliens (we think) who also appeared in the Void trilogy. On both Void planets we have met (Querencia and Bienvenido) the Sky Lords are worshiped as gods who absorb the spiritual essence of loved ones when they die and take them to the Void.

This is Hamilton at very near the top of his game; I would say that  The Abyss Beyond Dreams is better than any of the books in the Void trilogy and very close to the quality of both books in the Commonwealth duology. This was one of my favorite reads of 2014, the second best science fiction book, finishing a close second behind James S.A. Corey's Cibola Burn.

Title: The Abyss Beyond Dreams.
Peter F. Hamilton.
Paperback: 640 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: October 21, 2014.
Date Read: December 25, 2014.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


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