Saturday, January 6, 2018

Pandora's Star - Peter F. Hamilton

    2004; 986 pages.  New Author? : No, but it’s been a while.  Book One (out of two) of the (completed) Commonwealth Saga series.  Genre : Hard Science Fiction; Space Opera; Epic Science Fiction; First Contact.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    It happened in a flash.  Well okay, make that an “unflash”.  Astronomer Dudley Bose was watching a star through his telescope when it just “winked out”.   Gone.  Instantly.  Right in front of his eyes.  And he checked, it wasn't a matter of equipment failure.

     The bad news is, he didn’t have his instruments set to record the event when it occurred.  The good news is, he’s living in an age where wormholes are available, so a quick trip to another star system allows Dudley to observe the event a second time (you gotta love faster-than-light [aka “FTL”] travel), and confirm the event.

     But the missing star, dubbed “Dyson Alpha”, is far away – clear at the other end of the galaxy, and far beyond where wormholes can reach.  So until someone in a starship can get there, it’s a matter of conjecture as to what happened.  Dyson Alpha didn’t go supernova, so it seems unlikely that it just “blew up”.  It’s more probable that something, or someone, simply turned off a switch, or threw a cloak over the it.  Yet the magnitude of such an explanation defies logic.  How do you build something big enough to envelop a complete solar system?

    But Dyson Alpha is part of a binary star system.  And when its sister star, Dyson Beta, similarly winks out a short time later, that “cloaking” theory becomes a lot more likely.

    Hmm.  Anyone that can do that sort of thing is more technologically advanced than we are, making them a formidable foe if they have aggressive intentions.  It might be prudent to get an FTL starship heading that way as quickly as possible, no matter what cost.

What’s To Like...
    At almost a thousand pages in length, Pandora’s Star is truly an Epic Science-Fiction tale.  Other sci-fi writers do world-building; Peter F. Hamilton does galaxy-building, featuring detailed descriptions of a bunch of planets and star systems.  The book also falls into the Hard Science Fiction category, where wormholes, FTL travel, Dyson structures, maidbots-&-e-butlers, cloning, and starships all exist.

    There are multiple plotlines to follow.  I counted at least seven of them:
    1.) The disappearance of the Dyson Pair.
    2.) Paula Myo chasing Adam Elvin.
    3.) Paula investigating a double murder.
    4.) The Guardians of Selfhood and the Starflyer.
    5.) Ozzie and Orion’s travels.
    6.) Kazimir and Justine’s relationship.
    7.) Mark Vernon doing who-knows-what.

    Some of these threads cross paths along the way, but only peripherally.  The jumping from one storyline to another keeps the reader on his toes, yet somehow it never gets confusing.

    This is also a “First Contact” saga, and it is enlightening to see how an alien species, in most ways more advanced than we humans, treats us when the two cultures meet.  It was also fun to see Peter F. Hamilton exploring the concept a cult’s “Doomsday” mentality.  We always assume cultists are a bunch of crackpots.  How would it be if their bizarre belief(s) turned out to be valid?

    For me, the most fascinating aspect of the book’s 24th-century technology was “rejuvenation”.  People no longer die.  Their save their entire memories (or an edited version of it, if they so desire), and every so often get a new body via a process called “relife” (with whatever genetic modifications one can afford).  Voila!   You’re young again!  You never died; you just have a memory gap of a few years! The effect this has on things like birthrates, murder rates, capital punishment, marriages, etc. is culture-shattering.

    The details that are woven into the story are both amazing and amusing.  I chuckled at the “Niven Ring” (a nod to a fellow sci-fi writer), as well as a ship christened the Marie Celeste.  Justine’s “hypergliding” experience was thrillingly portrayed.  Ozzie’s conversation with the Silfen was hilarious; and I liked the all-purpose cuss-phrase, “Jesus Wept”.

Kewlest New Word...
Manky (adj.) : worthless; rotten; in bad taste; dirty; filthy.  (a Britishism)
Others: Doughty (adj.); Rucked (v.).

    “Couldn’t you just give the drive array some verbal instructions?” Dudley asked.
    “Now what would be the point in that?  My way I have control over technology.  Machinery does as I command.  That’s how it should be.  Anything else is mechanthropomorphism.  You don’t treat a lump of moving metal as an equal and ask it pretty please to do what you’d like.  Who’s in charge here, us or them?”
    “I see.”  Dudley smiled, actually warming to the man.  “Is mechanthropomorphism a real word?”
    LionWalker shrugged.  It ought to be, the whole bloody Commonwealth practices it like some sort of religion.”  (pg. 25)

    “May I ask with whom I speak,” Ozzie asked.
    “I am the flower that walks beneath the nine sky moons, the fissure of light that pierces the darkest glade at midnight, the spring that bubbles forth from the oasis; from all this I came.”
    “Okeydokey.”  He took a moment to compose a sentence.  “I think I’ll just call you Nine Sky, if you don’t mind.”
    “Evermore you hurry thus, unknowing of that which binds all into the joy which is tomorrow’s golden dawn.”
    “Well,” Ozzie muttered to himself in English, “it was never going to be easy.”  (pg. 250)

“Life’s a bitch, then you rejuvenate and do it all over again.”  (pg. 547)
    I don’t have any quibbles with Pandora’s Star, but readers new to Peter F. Hamilton should know a couple things.

    First, this is not a standalone novel.  None of the plotlines get resolved in the book, nor do they even converge much on each other.  The book ends with every thread at a cliffhanger point.  So when you sit down to read this thousand-page opus, you are also committing to read the sequel, Judas Unchained, which is of similar length.

    Second, the descriptions of the settings are plentiful and meticulously detailed.  Almost every chapter starts with one, and most are several paragraphs, or even pages, in length.  If you’re not into that, the reading can get tedious.  Also, a plethora of storylines means a poopload of characters, and not all of the significant ones might seem that way when introduced.  (eg.: Carys Panther).  Make bookmarks, or take notes.

    Finally, keep in mind that Peter F. Hamilton has written several epic series, and they’re all structured like this one.  I read his “Night’s Dawn” trilogy back in 2011, and the same caveats apply.

    8½ Stars.      Bottom line: If 1000+ page books don’t faze you, and if you like being scared to pieces by the prospect of an alien species obliterating and enslaving us, you may find (as I did) that Peter F. Hamilton is one heckuva science-fiction writer and storyteller.

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