I love to curl up with Peter F Hamilton’s space operas so I’m going to take a deep breath and say this isn’t his finest effort. I imagine that I’ve come to wholly appreciate the deftness with which this author handles the vastness of his science fiction, the impressive story-telling, the ability to not just weave but adroitly handle the multiple threads, timelines, concepts, (un)realities, emotions, and actions of his novel. This opener in his newest duology isn’t as vast as the rest…and because of that I am slightly disappointed.
Mr Hamilton serves us up a continuation from his Void series with the man who co-started both the Commonwealth and his literary career, Nigel Sheldon. This time the infinitely rich, infinitely old, infinitely sage – in intellect and experience – progressor of the human explosion into Hamilton’s stars is tasked by the Raiel into penetrating the event horizon that is the Void to discover what happened to a group of explorer starships that got pulled in two hundred years previously – specifically one starship, ‘The Vermillion’, with its science crew of Laura Brandt, Ibu, and Joey Stein amongst others who have met a grisly and confusing end.
From here the six-part novel moves briskly from science-fiction, with its temporal theme, towards an October Revolution on the planet of Bienvenido. Indeed, the action represented through Slvasta, Bethaneve, Coulan, and Javier closely follows the Marxism/Leninism political theory. This revolutionary vanguard quartet (unconsciously assisted by Nigel with his science/supernatural powers) push their socialist consciousness forward onto an oppressed working class against the corrupt oligarchic families headed by Captain Philious and his psychotically evil son, Aothori. It is the latter whose actions (towards females in particular) guides us unerringly to a personal distaste of Varlan city’s ruling class that makes us both cheer on the revolutionaries and applaud his inevitable comeuppance.
The operatic nature of the plot is given life in the development of the Skylords; Hamilton’s unveiling of their origins, drawing on a motive inspired by the Prime Mobile of the Commonwealth Saga novels and given an advancement by making them highly adaptive to their environment. These evolve, mythically on Bienvenido, into ‘The Fallers’, an unexplained result of the eggs that plunge from the ‘Forest’ orbiting the planet. It is these Fallers that have both steered the life of Svlasta, his fanatical hatred of them spilling over into a Trotskyism ideaology that Hamilton hints will be fully developed in the next novel, and given Nigel an idea for destroying the Void.
Given its parallels with 1917 (there’s even a “blink-and-you’ll miss-it” reference to one aristocratic daughter escaping the conflagration that engulfs the city of Varlan – think Anastasia Romanov) then those with a rudimentary knowledge of those events will find a familiarity of action in these pages. Unfortunately, that removes the mystery somewhat and reduces the novel to a fantastical retelling of Russian history that is high on politics and low on science-fiction. Of course, there are many threads in the novel to delight the reader, which need not appear in this review, all of which are graced by the supporting roles of the likes of Paula Mylo.
It’s not clear whether The Abyss Beyond Dreams is Hamilton’s belief that he either has unfinished business in the Void to tie up or this is the commencement of another phase in his Commonwealth. After all, his imagination can be as vast as the Universe of which he writes. He is not only a great writer of his generation, but is one of the greatest science-fiction writers to grace our shelves. Like Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, or Robert Heinlein (amongst others)…long after this author lays down his pen, his books will be read by future generations of delighted fans. One day, someone might be able to tell his ghost if his stories of humanity’s future had a glimmer of predictive truth about them. Until then, let us just enjoy what he produces because he’s an author who immerses you utterly in his fable-telling.