2006; 1,008 pages. New Author? : No. Book Two (and final book) of the Commonwealth Saga series. Genre : Hard Science Fiction; Space Opera; Epic Science Fiction; First Contact. Overall Rating : 9½*/10.
Round Two of the galactic Armageddon is imminent!
The first round, covered in the Pandora’s Star and reviewed here, resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for mankind. Yes, the invasion by the evil force called the Prime was beaten back. But we lost 23 planets (in a single day!) to the aliens, along with most of our star fleet. One more “victory” like that, and we will surely be obliterated into space dust.
Moreover, we’ve learned that their wormhole capability is more advanced than ours, and that the concept of coexistence doesn’t exist in their annihilation-only mindset.
But there is still a chance for us. Our galactic navy is working on a couple new types of mega-bombs. Those are still in the development stage, but they have obviously been moved up to Priority One. They’re also designing some improved FTL (Faster Than Light) starships, and Wormhole Technology. It’s all a matter of whether we have enough time before the Prime strikes again.
And if all else fails, we can always do like the rich-and-powerful dynasties are doing. Build your own FTL spaceships and hightail it out of this end of the galaxy to a much more remote section f it.
Of course, for us peasants, bumming a ride with them may be a life-or-death challenge.
What’s To Like...
Judas Unchained is not a standalone novel; it’s really just the second half of a 2,000-page epic that starts with Pandora’s Star. There are a bunch of complex and interweaving storylines, which are listed in the linked review above, so instead of repeating them, here’s a list of who’s fighting who:
1.) The Commonwealth vs. the Prime
2.) SI (Sentient Intelligence) vs. the Guradians vs. the Starflyer vs. maybe the Commonwealth
3.) The Barsoomians vs. anyone fighting the Guardians
4.) The Guardians vs. the Institute
5.) The Raiel and the Silfen don’t seem t care who wins, but they enjoy watching us fight for our lives.
There is a Dramatis Personae at the start of the book. Mark it, as you’ll be referring to it a lot. I kept a separate list of characters in my notes. It turned out to be 2½ pages long, and that didn’t include a bunch of minor characters.
The writing is once again topnotch. The storylines are complex, but Peter F. Hamilton keeps switching from one to another, so things never get boring. There are 20 chapters covering 1,008 pages, but frankly, you can stop anytime there’s a switch in the plot threads, and those are indicated by a line of four dots at the end of a paragraph.
There’s a fair amount of both cussing and sex. A bunch of characters die, although that’s a rather nebulous term since most humans can be “re-lifed”, along with selective memory erasures and genetic enhancements. But for all the warfare and killing, I don’t recall a lot of gore., and it should be noted that Peter F. Hamilton mixes in a mild but persistent strain of humor throughout the story, most of it coming during the long side-trek undertaken by Ozzie, Orion, and Tochee.
I liked the all-purpose cuss phrase, “Dreaming Heavens”, which, for some reason, replaced the “Jesus Wept” epithet used in Pandora’s Star. Hypergliding returns here, a recreation which makes hang-gliding seem like a sport for wussies. The first half of Judas Unchained is mostly about and games of deadly intrigue perpetrated by the various factions. But after the Prime launches its second invasion (page 544), the last half of the book is almost all space opera action and adventure.
The ending is simply superb. The tension keeps building throughout the book, and, like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, we’re treated to an epic final struggle lasting more than 100 pages. There’s even an epilogue-like “whatever happened to so-and-so…” addendum that I really liked. The series may be over, but I still wanted to know what happened to a bunch of the characters.
Kewlest New Word...
Sulci (n., plural) : grooves or furrows. (the singular is 'sulcus'.)
Others: Triturated (v.); Decussation (n.).
“So far so good,” he muttered.
“Absolutely. Here’s hoping we don’t have a Fermi moment.”
“A what?” Mac rally didn’t like the uncertainty in her voice.
“During the Trinity test of the very first atom bomb, Fermi wondered if the detonation would ignite the Earth’s atmosphere. They just didn’t know, you see. We think the quantum disruption won’t propagate. If it does the whole universe gets converted into energy.”
“Oh, great, thanks for sharing.” (pg. 342)
“Who are you?” Ozzie asked.
The Silfen’s circular mouth opened wide, allowing the long slender tongue to vibrate between his rows of teeth. “I am the one who dances in the endless wind streams which flow along the tumbling white clouds as they circle in eternal orbit within the star of life.” He gave a sharp whistle. “But you may call me Clouddancer. I know how you humans have to be so quick and shallow.”
“Thanks.” Ozzie tipped his head to one side. “Why the German accent?”
Clouddancer’s tongue quivered. “Authority. I look like one of your legendary demons. If I start talking like some stoner hippie then I’ve got a serious credibility problem, right?” (pg. 579)
“Humm, remind me. How many angels have we counted on that pinhead now?” (pg. 616)
I can’t think of anything to quibble about. Some reviewers grumbled at the length of the book, but hey, you know going in that it’s gonna be a long read. And it’s more interesting than Russian Lit.
So the real question is – is this 2,000-page duology (how come no one wants to call this a 'bilogy'?) worth your time and effort? I asked myself that same thing back in 2011 when I tackled Peter F. Hamilton’s 3,600-page Night’s Dawn trilogy, and my answer is the same.
If you’re a fan of science-fiction, especially space opera, and you don’t have a book report due tomorrow, and reading something a thousand pages long doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat, then yes, both of these series are well worth your time, and are highly recommended. I thought they were great.
9½ Stars. Subtract 2 stars if you didn’t read Pandora’s Star first. You’ll still be drawn in by all the fascinating things going on, but you will probably find yourself lost as to the “why” of them.