I took advantage of my kids being in summer camp this past week to tackle a door stop sized sci-fi novel, The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton. Who seems to be only able to write giant books. Once there was a time that I sought out books of significant width, as they would last longer. And by last longer, I mean take me almost a week to finish. Ah the halcyon days before having children. Now I look through my TBR and calculate which book I can get through in about two weeks (at my current reduced rate of reading) to keep pace with my Cannonball goal. This book has stayed deep in the TBR as it normally wouldn’t meet that criteria. Having a precious few hours each day to myself I furiously read with the goal of completing it before week end and succeeded!
I’ve read a lot of Peter F. Hamilton. Three trilogies, a duology, three standalone novels, and now The Abyss Beyond Dreams, first book in “The Chronicle of the Fallers”, another duology. The Abyss Beyond Dreams is set in Hamilton’s Commonweath universe, the setting he has used most often. Not only is he a fantastic author but Hamilton is delightful in person as well. I’ve been a fan for some time now so it pains me to say that this is just a good book and not as outstanding as previous works.
One of the main story lines felt recycled from a previous trilogy. A young man, Slvasta, is upset at the order of the world and kicks off a revolution to make things better for the common person ala “The Void Trilogy”. While you do eventually understand the plot is deeper, for a good chunk of the first half, or so, of the book felt recycled. Kysandra, feels a lot like several other females Hamilton has written. Specifically a young, naive female who over course of book/series becomes badass with the help of technology and an older male she is smitten with, particularly Louise Kavanagh ala “The Night’s Dawn” trilogy. I’m starting to think this is a trope of his. Nigel Sheldon has been a mainstay of his for two duologies and a trilogy and is currently 1,300 years old. At what point is someone else going to save the universe? I like Nigel and all but you’d think someone else could do the job by now.
That negative criticism aside, I was engaged and entertained. I was curious where the story was going and how it was going to expand on everything else previously written in the Commonwealth. Overall though I just didn’t find it as original as previous works and so rate it at three stars. Apparently I’m in the minority as over 50% of reviewers on Amazon have given this a 5 star rating.
Things I did like: Hamilton is an excellent storyteller with great pacing, switching character narratives to leave you hanging and eager to alternate between perspectives, this book is no exception. I often describe him as a “space opera” sci-fi writer because his prose is very descriptive and the scope of his stories can be quite large with lots of space ships, cool tech, interplanetary travel and aliens. He creates these very real and lived in universes that are imaginatively, and thoughtfully, realized versions of the distant future, and in this case what happens when a far future society is stripped of their technology. I liked that characters/people were described with a variety of skin tones. Small quibble, it would have been nice if he had brought up caucasian skin tones the way he did all the the various shades of brown and black, instead of it just being the default. I like that a main couple is gay. I like the telekinesis and telepathy that comes with the loss of technology due to being in the Void.
Is this your first time hearing about Peter F. Hamilton? If you like space opera but haven’t read anything in the Commonweath, this is not the place to start. Instead I would direct you to Pandora’s Star, first book written in the Commonwealth. If detective stories mixed with sci-fi are more your jam, I would direct you to Mindstar Rising, first book in the Greg Mandel series. Though be prepared for some of our current technology to have surpassed what Hamilton was thinking of as near future tech when the book was written in 1993, and be dismayed at the description of Earth where sea level has risen due to global warming! If you like your sci-fi mixed with a dash of horror, perhaps you should start with The Reality Dysfunction, first book in The Night’s Dawn trilogy.