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Saturday, October 4, 2014

"The Abyss Beyond Dreams" by Peter Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.

Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.

Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save."

The Abyss Beyond Dreams - well deserved title given the content - is the first of a duology ending with Night Without Stars which I expect to advance the Commonwealth universe beyond the Evolutionary Void timeline, though for now we are still within it.

High class sf combined with the Void magic like properties, an entertaining appearance from Paula Myo who helps Nigel - presumed gone with a colony fleet ~3000 AD but still in the Commonwealth semi-incognito in 3326 as per the blurb - manage a perfect heist, outside ANA borders obviously given who Paula Myo is, and get ***** to enhance the odds of success in his Void expedition - again per the blurb which is quite accurate as far as it goes.

Meantime - whatever that means obviously as the Void has its own time - inside the Void, Bienvenido already is a human planet about 3000 years old, with population descending from the Brandt colony ships from about 500 years before in Commonwealth time as per above note about timelines, and the people there fight a continuous war against the local Fallers who are trapped also in the Void. We actually learn a lot about the Fallers  as the book goes on and they are clearly set to be a powerful antagonist in future Commonwealth books if the author wants to write more there.

A society with a mix of modern and magic - whatever tech that works plus the Void psychic capabilities - led by a corrupt aristocracy descended from the officers of the fleet of which The Captain, Philious, currently 77 as while their Advancer genes are slowly losing ground, people on Bienvenido still live longer than current humans, and his eldest son, The First Officer and sadistic villain Aothori, are at the top within a veneer of democracy in which the governing Citizen's Dawn party has no real political rivals.

Heavily militarized due to the Fallers - huge eggs fall all the time from the strange forest like artifact in orbit and absorb humans and other animals, mimicking them perfectly - Bienvenido is resisting the Fallers relatively successfully for now, though there are dark rumors about Faller nests infiltrating cities.

Escaping from a close encounter with an egg as a green recruit - though losing one hand in the process and seeing his best friend from childhood ingested and becoming a Faller - lieutenant Slvasta is fanatical about fighting the Fallers in his province; very successful and attracting a large following from the regular soldiers who know their odds of surviving are the best under his command, he becomes an embarrassment to his lazy superiors so he is promoted to captain and shipped as regimental liaison to the capital Varlan. 

Slvasta is still bugged by his last active mission where he was only partly successful as he eradicated the infestation but could not find the usual number of eggs and by an encounter with a strange trader and his entourage, trader who called himself by an unusual name - Nigel - and whom Slvasta proved that he was human by having him cut his finger as Faller blood is blue, but still suspected of having something to do with the missing eggs.

In the capital, Slvasta tries to change things and improve the odds of fighting the Fallers against bureaucratic obstacles, while being pulled into opposites by his friendship with a capable and less corrupt aristocratic officer and by his association with the humbler citizens too. Similarly he is pulled between a rich girl whom he would have a chance of marrying as she is only 5th daughter while Slavsta is something of a hero - marriage which would open him the path to ascension and eventually to lead a regiment or even more - and a humbler tax office girl whom he meets when he tries to find out more about "Nigel".

And so it goes, lots of things happen, the novel is structured beautifully as it starts with a horror like chapter - quite relevant later too - in which the Fallers appear, followed by Nigel and Paula in the Commonwealth, then followed by Slvasta's odyssey and then things are pulled together masterfully. There is everything one wants in sf - great characters, mind bending stuff, adventure, politics, romance, revolution....

Just to give one example of the elements that make the book excellent, example that is not that spoilery - the Void has many odd properties compared to the regular universe (as we learned in the Void trilogy), however it needs internal consistency, so when even stranger things happen, the Void manufactures evidence of past things that actually never happened that way at least, or as Nigel puts it:

"That’s how the Void outside the loop attempts to balance the books and make the present correct, to neutralize the paradox.” He grinned savagely. “It’s like the old Creationists claiming God laid down the dinosaur fossils a few thousand years ago."
(only here it actually happened/s...)

The ending is awesome and quite surprising in many ways and while obviously requiring the announced sequel, it has enough closure to be fully satisfying - given the end of The Evolutionary Void we know what happens with the Void, and I was still quite surprised.

Overall just superb stuff, Peter Hamilton in great form and a very balanced book between the sfnal human universe and the magic like Void with mostly new elements so no feeling of a retread of the Void trilogy or the original Commonwealth duology.

Top sf of the year by far.


Jay said...

I just finished rereading PS/JU and the Void trilogy and I'm so excited for this book and it sounds awesome. Squee!

Ron Buckmire said...

Nice to hear! I actually enjoyed Great North Road quite a bit but I get the impression it was not as well-received as Hamilton's pother books.

I'm glad that The Abyss Beyond Dreams appears to be ding well. I think I am going to savor it and read it over Xmas break.

Liviu said...

thank you for the comments!

I expect you will greatly enjoy this one as I think PFH struck the right balance and the book is the smoothest since Pandora's Star

Ron Buckmire said...

It just got edged out by Cibola Burn as my fave SCI-FI book of the year...(in my list of favorites for 2014)


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