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Monday, September 29, 2008

“The Temporal Void” by Peter F. Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “The Temporal VoidHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

INTRODUCTION: Peter Hamilton needs no introduction since he is one of today's leading science fiction writers and the ‘King’ of modern space opera. Even his second tier space operas are head and shoulders above most everything written in the genre. But at his best like in The Night's Dawn trilogy which is my all time favorite sff series, or in “Pandora's Star” with its vividly described future and multilayered plotlines that converge in so many interesting and unexpected ways, the author evokes a sense of wonder that is unrivaled…

The Temporal Void” is the second book in The Void Trilogy, after “The Dreaming Void”, and will be followed by “The Evolutionary Void”. The trilogy itself is set over a thousand years after the end of The Commonwealth Saga (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained) and is part of the Commonwealth Universe that began in “Misspent Youth”. Since a large part of enjoying this novel is provided by the many twists and turns of its multiple plotlines, I will avoid major spoilers. Luckily this is a novel that can be reviewed meaningfully this way, but the review will contain some spoilers from “The Dreaming Void” since “The Temporal Void” picks up exactly where the first one ended.

SETTING: The multiple smaller threads of the first two Void books are set in the Intersolar Commonwealth starting in the year 3589 A.D. The Commonwealth of the Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained novels of 2384 A.D. has changed quite a lot, but it is still recognizable with humans and post-humans of various kinds still competing for this or that on a larger canvas than before, though for mostly similar reasons as regular humans throughout history. Even the super powerful post-humans now existing in the virtual reality of the ANA governance of the Inner Worlds—though able to reincarnate at will if wishing to partake of the joys, sorrows and limitations of flesh—have their profound differences about the meaning of life and the way the future should be.

Overhanging all of this is the Void, the Galaxy-devouring alternate Universe with different physical laws that was supposedly created by a powerful but long gone civilization, and that has been expanding from the Centre of the Milky Way in fits and spurts throughout the ages. When Inigo dreams of humans living a magic-filled life on the Planet Querencia in the Void through the eyes of a human Void dweller with super powerful psychic abilities known as The Waterwalker, and broadcasts his dreams to humanity at large through the techno-psychic Gaiafield, he forms a religion called Living Dream whose followers regard the Void as a traditional religious Heaven which can be reached without dying. After all, the ancestors of the humans inside the Void reached the planet somehow in the "great lifeboats dispersion" following the Starflyer War.

The main thread of the first two Void novels follows Edeard, a young boy from a rural area gifted with extraordinary psychic powers, even for a Universe where such powers are taken for granted. In "The Dreaming Void" Edeard makes his way to the major city Makkathran to find his Destiny,. While working as a junior constable in the local police force fighting entrenched corruption and official neglect, he becomes known as The Waterwalker after some dramatic events. In "The Temporal Void", Edeard The Waterwalker is set to make Makkathran and the whole Querencia a better place, and in the process he may finally find his Destiny. This thread is the heart of the novel and succeeds extraordinarily well.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 746 pages (ARC version) divided over five Commonwealth parts and Inigo's Eighth through Thirteenth Dreams. The Commonwealth parts are narrated through multiple third person POVs typical of epics and reacquaints us with Aaron, Inigo, Troblum, Paula Myo, Oscar Monroe, Marius, Araminta, The Delivery Man, Gore, Justine and Kazimir Burnelli as well as the menacing Ilanthe and several others. The Void part stars Edeard The Waterwalker, although his friends and squadmates have important roles as do many other Makkathran characters, both new and familiar. As mentioned above, “The Temporal Void” is the second volume in The Void Trilogy and it’s necessary to have read “The Dreaming Void” first. “The Temporal Void’s” main narrative comes to a natural stopping point and doesn’t have any major cliffhangers, although the smaller threads will presumably converge and tie in with the main one in “The Evolutionary Void.”

October 3, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Temporal Void” via
Pan Macmillan. Cover art provided by. The US version (see inset) will be published by Del Rey on March 24, 2009.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: For me “The Dreaming Void”, while highly enjoyable, was a second tier Peter F. Hamilton novel for two reasons. Firstly, in the Commonwealth plotlines, there was too much worldbuilding, with the action only starting to develop meaningfully towards the end. And secondly, the Void’s main thread utilized the way overused “young man with secret powers in search of his destiny” plotline which is typical of clichéd epic fantasies. Sure, it was very well done and it had its unique twists due to the nature of the Void where magic is inscribed into fundamental physical laws, but only the climax of this thread started to provide some essential differentiation.

The Temporal Void” though is quite different since the set up has now been finished and we get to start enjoying the payoff with superb action sequences, twists and turns that slowly reveal major revelations and showcase the extraordinary plotting skills of Mr. Hamilton, while the Void thread morphs into epic fantasy at its best…

The novel starts with a bang when an upset Skylord spurned by the stunned Second Dreamer starts a new terrifyingly fast Void expansion leading to the vivid destruction of Centurion Station. The incarnated Justine Burnelli, present there as ANA representative, makes a fateful decision to try and find her way into the Void to negotiate with the Skylords an end to the Galaxy-devouring phase. The other Commonwealth threads start similarly in high octane fashion with Troblum on the run and hoping to meet Paula Myo, but encountering someone almost as terrifying as a Skylord in her own distinctive, torture-loving ways. Araminta meanwhile, is also on the run and cornered by the Living Dream invasion force—it's possible not even Oscar Monroe and his team of Knight Guardians can save her, especially since they have no clue who the person is they need to protect. Then of course Aaron, Inigo and Corrie-Lyn have the “minor” problem of being on a planet convulsing in the throes of destruction after a mini-blackhole has been shot into its core with the hidden life-saving starship quite far away from their present location on Hanko. And it only gets better from here, with plots, counter plots, revelations and surprises.

These threads are almost nonstop action and they are hard to stop when Edeard and his friends make their appearance. Luckily, the Void thread is also very absorbing and we start to find ourselves caring a lot about The Waterwalker and his crusade for the common people. And when he is confronted with one of the most fateful missions of his career—the kidnapping of a six year old noble girl for the precise purpose of killing and discrediting him—Edeard starts coming into his own and we finally get an inkling of why those Inigo dreams of his life could have such a profound impact on billions of humans—enough so that they formed a religion willing to destroy the Milky Way to enter into the Void and follow in his footsteps…

In addition to all of the breakneck action, there are many humorous moments that help alleviate the heart-stopping suspense, as well as quite a few touching moments of love and togetherness, some coming from quite unexpected places. Gore Burnelli shows once more that common sense is still alive and well even among powerful post-humans, while Paula Myo keeps having insights that stun even the supposedly almost all-knowing ANA, though nailing down the traitorous ANA faction requires hard proof that is not so easy to get when the opposition has suicide quantum-busters and is willing to use them if cornered.

There are cameos from several old friends from the original Commonwealth novels and hints of more to come in the final novel. And the ending of the Void thread is absolutely stunning and superb at the same time.

In short, “The Temporal Void” is highly, highly recommended and the best Peter F. Hamilton novel since “Pandora's Star”…


Anonymous said...

Another excellent review!

Anonymous said...

I have Pandora's Star on my tbr pile. I guess I should get reading it one of these days as i've heard many good things about this author.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the comment.

The Void trilogy shapes to be another Hamilton superb series - though as usual the ending will go a long way for me in determining how high I rank it overall.

Night's Dawn is still my top *finished* sff series ever and I loved the ending, deus-ex-machina and all, but the ending in Judas Unchained while very good, somewhat fell short of my expectations.

Anonymous said...

thanks again, I like the clear structure of your reviews, keep the excellent work!

Anonymous said...

Just finished reading the book myself and I must say it was a thrilling experience. Edeard's life is so enthralling; I was literally at the edge of my seat during the last 2 of Inigo's dreams. Sadly, it's going to be a long long wait for the conclusison.

Anonymous said...

thrilling? the dreamwankers story?
it makes up 60 % of the book. 60% fluff and 40% great stuff. in the word of the character Gore, only "stupid dumb sh-ts" would get excited enuf by the story to want to go to the Void and live it.
i think hamilton, after realising he'd written hundreds of pages of pure crap, inserted that line to insult gushing fans like the above. and he insults the rest of us non dumb sh-ts by publishing this book as it is. it is a good story and would have worked with just a few pages of the Dreamwankers story intersperced. instead i had to browse thru or just skip those Inigo's Dream chapters. maddeningly boring stuff. fool me twice, but not thrice, dude. i won't be plunking down 17 euro for the 3rd book.

bloggeratf said...

Wow that last comment was pretty intense. If you were to combine the Dream sections as a stand alone book, I could name a good fifty fantasy books that it would outrank. Maybe that's just because I read both sci-fi and fantasy. Who knows. Anyway solid review keep it up.

Interesting article here on the future of sci-fi reviews btw:

Liviu said...

Well, everyone to his/her own, but Mr. Hamilton always combined some kind of fantasy trope, from paranormal in Greg Mandel, to souls of the dead in Night's Dawn, so that's how it is.

I was so-so on Dreaming Void, at least for PFH standards, kind of like Judas or Fallen Dragon, very good but second tier PFH - Robert wrote the review for FBC on that one not me - but this one was PFH at the top of the game; sadly it looks mid 2010 earliest for the last one.

Saw that article - thank you very much for pointing at it - just the same "sky is falling" imho

I will have an interview with Lou Anders in mid-May where we talk about this stuff - sf/publishing/pick your thingy is dead - and why it is junk

There is lots of sff coverage on the Web, I have no idea how many people (50, 100, the reviewers..) really look for it in print newspapers anyway and some reviews written by big names for big name newspapers are so full of wrong factual things about the book in question that some would have the suspicion the reviewer just read the blurb...


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