The Dreaming Void
by Peter F. Hamilton
Review by John Berlyne
Pan Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780330443029
Date: 02 May 2008 List Price £8.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
The mass market paperback edition of Peter F. Hamilton's latest humongous science fiction offering, The Dreaming Void. I reviewed this when it came out in hard cover and we're re-running my thoughts in this issue. As an additional note, Macmillan are this month publishing an audiobook version of this novel -- the first PFH novel to be issued in this format. The release is a 20-CD box set read by Toby Longworth and priced at £34.99. You can order direct from Macmillan Audio.
Big, hefty trilogies are generally the structure of choice for fantasy stories -- indeed, these days a standalone fantasy novel is a rare animal indeed. Conversely, the average size of a science fiction novel is hard to quantify, but most SF authors manage to come up with novels that won't do you serious injury should you accidentally drop a copy on your foot! Not so Peter F. Hamilton ... but then, Peter F. Hamilton is not "most authors". His new novel The Dreaming Void offers his readers all the excitement and adventure they could hope for in one of his epic, panoramic, widescreen space operas, all neatly contained in the customary package of a book so heavy that it could kill you if it landed on your head.
The Dreaming Void is the first in a new sequence of three novels that takes place in Hamilton's Commonwealth Universe, a setting familiar to those readers who tackled the two enormous novels Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, Hamilton's most recent works, and also to readers of Misspent Youth, Hamilton's uncharacteristically short 2002 novel. Given that I'd only read the latter, The Dreaming Void was a particular challenge for me -- Hamilton's storyscapes are massive and complex, involved and involving. At the same time, Hamilton's new work, with its epic, sprawling narrative, is extraordinarily engaging, and the curious reader is able to ease into it quite painlessly. Only when certain historical events of the Commonwealth are referred to or the occasional recurring character of reputation makes an appearance can things get a little patchy -- we don't know who these legendary people are or what it is they did -- but that doesn't really effect one's involvement in the story. You can dive right in with this new novel. Indeed, with such huge plot lines interweaving, not only internally but between these gargantuan novels, it is quite amazing how Hamilton keeps his story focused and directed.
As one might imagine, a book of this size and scope has a multi-layered plot and plenty of names in its dramatis personae, many of whom share their particular viewpoint with us.The central plot concerns the eponymous void, a black hole in which the laws of physics are distorted and which threatens to expand, engulfing habitable space. An organised church has sprung up, one with many millions of adherents spread far and wide over known space, all of whom believe in a life beyond the void, as dreamed of by The Dreamer, a messianic figure who has withdrawn from society. The church makes a pronouncement: They will build ships and take their followers into the void, where their dreams of a better existence will become reality.News of this pilgrimage is dismaying however, and to just about anyone who isn't a follower of the church, it would seem. Hamilton's story then tells of the politics and intrigues that abound around and between the various factions -- human, alien, advanced human, AI -- who might benefit from or be endangered by the pilgrimage.
No synopsis can condense a Peter F. Hamilton novel satisfactorily. This stuff is as big as SF can get whilst remaining coherent. The most surprising (and admirable) thing is that, given its size, this long novel held my interest unequivocally for its entire duration. Inevitably there are patches where the paces slows and examples of infodump and bumpy prose, but this enterprise is unapologetically SF spectacle, not SF art. There is something that is infinitely accessible about Hamilton's work. Essentially The Dreaming Void is "Soap Opera Space Opera". Be assured though that this is no denigration, for the soap is an art form that is entirely about the now aspect of a story, the in the moment immediacy of character action and interaction, and it does its job extremely well. Why do you think there are so many soaps and why does it remain a worldwide, ever popular dramatic form? Whatever the answer to that may be, Peter F. Hamilton has encapsulated it once again in The Dreaming Void, and his reign as the king of British Science Fiction (a title Macmillan's marketing department have bestowed upon him) looks to be in no danger of coming to an end.