Peter F Hamilton – The Dreaming Void

Oh, good. Peter F Hamilton is back with another big bold dose of high-quality hard sf. The Dreaming Void, billed as part one of the Void Trilogy, is a sequel of sorts to The Commonwealth Saga. something like 1,500 years have passed since the Starflyer War, and the Commonwealth has grown, diversified and fragmented. People have divided into a number of broad groups, principally “Highers”, who tend to go for artificial enhancement[1], and tend to download themselves into a kind of collective intelligence thingy known as ANA; and “Advancers”, who are more inclined towards genetic enhancement. Contact has been made with many more alien species, some of whom are even prepared to talk to humans. And what with all the fancy technology available, some characters from the earlier books are still around, and not looking a day older.

In his usual way, Hamilton sets up the background gradually with a minimum of infodumps. It turns out that what had previously been assumed to be a large black hole at the centre of our galaxy is in fact the Void – an artificial universe created billions of years ago. many ships have entered the Void to investigate it, but none have ever come out.

But it seems that information of a kind is leaking from the Void. A man called Inigo has been having dreams about life on a planet within the Void, which (thanks to some more fancy technology, etc) he has shared with billions of people, forming a religion. After Inigo’s mysterious disappearance, his followers decide to go on a pilgrimage into the Void. All of them. Now that could be a problem, because according to the Raiel, an ancient alien species who’ve been watching and guarding the Void for longer than seems reasonable, the pilgrimage will trigger something Very Bad Indeed: the Void will expand and absorb the galaxy.

Then there’s Aaron[2] – a man with lots of very interesting technology built in, but no memory. He just knows that his job is to find Inigo and stop the pilgrimage from happening. And he really doesn’t care who he kills[3] to do it.

And there has to be more to Araminta than meets the eye. She’s an ambitious young woman setting up her business, but she’s been having some very strange dreams.

And finally, there’s Edeard, a young man on a very strange planet, where humans have psychic powers, and are surrounded by alien life and a remarkably accommodating abandoned alien city. Edeard’s powers are a lot stronger than most people’s, and it seems he can do things nobody else can do. It also seems that he’s the central figure of Inigo’s dreams…

There’s always a bit of a problem with talking about parts of trilogies. The first volume inevitably spends most of its length[4] setting up the situation and the second is inevitably inconclusive, so it’s not until the whole edifice is complete that you can really tell if it was worth the effort. However, this opening volume is an enjoyable read, with lots of action, fun technology, crazy people and lots of sneaky conspiracies to disentangle. It certainly kept me turning pages long after I should have been asleep last week…

[1] Seriously fancy implants, providing such useful things as personal force fields and weaponry
[2] No, not him
[3] Not that death is generally permanent in the Commonwealth. People are “re-lifed” – their backed-up memories are implanted into fast-grown clones. But it’s still something of an inconvenience…
[4] And this being a Peter F Hamilton book, it’s got a lot of that…