Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Temporal Void by Peter F Hamilton

Epic sci-fi you could choke a whale with. Peter "F" Hamilton is a modern colossus in the genre, and this is part two of his latest trilogy.

Here's the central idea: in the centre of the Milky Way a void has been discovered which occassionally expands and eats up space. Well, they say void, but humans know what's going on inside, because they're dreaming about it. And they want to be part of it.

So you've got a religion based around these dreams which wants to enter the void, and other factions, including powerful aliens, who want to stop them because it could destroy the galaxy.

Then you've got the dreams themselves which are told throughout the books (this part of the trilogy in particular) so you only learn slowly why so many people want to be part of it.

There's another Hamilton trilogy set in a different universe which is a mixture of sci fi and horror (the dead return in a strange way) and this is another play with genre - science fiction and fantasy. As always with this writer the sci fi is top drawer. Amazing ideas aplenty, and actually used well. Especially powerful is how communication technology develops, with everyone having telepathy and empathy through nanotechnology.

The fantasy side of things is also great, and concerns a world where everyone has psychic powers, but one individual - "the Waterwalker" - has powers that could be limitless. Arthur C Clarke's assertion that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic is being played with here.

It's really well plotted, the characters are good and the action sequences are clear and exciting. Quality stuff. But I read the first part of the trilogy, what, six months ago? And it still took me a few hundred pages to get to grips with who everyone was and what they were doing. A "previously in the Void trilogy" would have been helpful. But what's even more annoying is that as the books progress, there are more and more elements introduced from two earlier books (Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained) set 1200 years before, but featuring many of the same characters. I wish I'd read them first, but these books are all at least 700 pages long. A big investment, but worth it I reckon.

Now I'm reading Children of Dune by Frank Herbert which blows all of them out of the water. Or sand.


zungg said...

This actually sounds like a lot of fun to me - the void in the middle of the galaxy, the dreams etc - but the reason I don't read (hardly any) sci-fi is it always has to be a fucking saga, or a trilogy or a quintilogy or a dodecadilogy! As a genre it just seems diarrheic - why couldn't Hamilton have got the job done in 150,000 words like any normal writer?

Not that I have any problem with long novels per se, I just don't understand why modern sci-fi always seems to be a saga. Maybe it isn't always; sugestions of non-saga modern ssci-fi novels would be welcomed.

Joe said...

Oooh, now you're asking. Part of the appeal of science fiction is the big canvas, and that tends to lend itself to the saga. Two of my favourite stand alone novels do take place over aeons - First and Last Men and Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, which describe the future history of humanity and the future history of the universe. Mind blowing, but definitely love it or hate it.

Neal Stephenson's latest Anathem is a cracker, despite most of his sci fi like Diamond Age and (especially) Snow Crash being deeply, deeply bad. Love his historical novels though.

And although they're all part of the same universe, Iain M Banks' Culture novels can all be read seperately. Hugely imaginative and lots of fun.

I've found a podcast I trust - the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast by Luke Burrage. He knows the vast majority of the genre sucks (and he's most entertaining when tearing something apart) but I do enjoy many of his recommendations. He hated First and Last Men and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons though. Unforgivable.

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