The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the latest novel from British author Peter F. Hamilton, and is the first half of a sweeping Space Opera set in the same universe as the also-excellent and also-lengthy Commonwealth Saga and Void Trilogy. Featuring excellent characters, a compelling plot, and a fantastical version of science fiction which feels more like science fantasy at times, but still seems to have proper science in it, it’s an excellent indirect continuation of earlier novels, and a great start to a new duology.
The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.
Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.
Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save.
One thing that always strikes me with Peter F. Hamilton is that he’s really not afraid to reach forward or backwards into his timeline. Too many consistent-world authors seem to be afraid to risk accidentally creating some sort of plot discontinuity, or write themselves into a spot where it’s impossible, or just not interesting to ever go back and look at interstitial content. Hamilton has not only done this freely in The Abyss Beyond Dreams, he’s even been doing it with the same characters who, through all of the scientific advancement which has happened in the meantime, have stuck around across several thousand years. Seeing Nigel Sheldon still kicking around as a major character from the brash university student he was the first time we see him several books ago really creates a great continuity for what would otherwise be so far distant in time as to feel like another series entirely. It’s rare and fantastic to see an author seriously grab onto the consequences of giving his characters functional immortality and then actually follow them through more than one lifetime.
This story, however, doesn’t even really take place -in- the commonwealth. Instead, the mysterious ‘Void,’ which was the focus of the eponymous Void Trilogy, takes centre stage. (Interested readers can start with The Dreaming Void.) Here we definitely start to get more into the realm of future fantasy than science fiction, as the fundamental rules of the universe in the Void don’t really mesh with those of the rest of the universe. On the world of Bienvenido, which was settled by previous human ships who accidentally ended up inside the Void, there’s basically telekinesis and mind reading which make for some pretty interesting story points. Hamilton also handles this well. Before I read this story, I’d have said it would be pretty tough to end up handling both a totalitarian regime and a socialist revolution while people could read minds, but aside from a slightly obvious, ‘Well, we’ll just also give them a way to block the mind reading’ addition, it really managed to feel rational and like it was following consistent rules throughout.
My one major criticism with The Abyss Beyond Dreams is that it actually does feel as though it has maybe done a little too much to close off future plot potential. I know I mentioned in my first paragraph some praise for Hamilton for being unafraid to risk this very thing, but what exactly was going on with/in the Void was sort of the big hanging plot question of the previous books, and this duology looks pretty set on resolving it one way or the other. Once that’s done, I’m not sure where the series could go from there. We’ve passed so much time without any especially major other universe-shaking events being referenced by the characters who’d have been there, that I don’t know if there’s anything to go back to. Of course there’s always another 500 year jump forward to bring us to new and exciting things, but even that’s only so sustainable before you start to wonder why the main characters are still bothering. After all, we’ve already hit a point where many people are opting to go have their consciousness uploaded into a big AI, and most of the ones who are sticking around we’ve been with since the beginning, so their motives and growth are pretty much done. Hard to really develop a character by the time they’re already 1500 years old, let alone 2000.
But whether the story is going to end with The Night Without Stars, the sequel to The Abyss Beyond Dreams which has been announced (but with no release date in sight), or whether Hamilton has more ideas for this big universe, this was definitely an excellent entry into the canon of this universe. You don’t need to have read the previous novels, but it will absolutely help you grasp what the major players are up to. It has the benefit of primarily taking place with an all-new cast, but the setup involves characters that readers who have been following this saga know quite well, so it helps. For readers who enjoy these big, expansive sci-fi epics, you might also take a look at Kevin J. Anderson’s (Whose name I confuse with Peter F. Hamilton’s in my mind often while thinking about ‘that sci-fi author with the middle initial who writes big epic novels’) The Saga of Seven Suns, though it is certainly more epic, dare I say bombastic than the more jokey, down-to-earth characters of The Commonwealth Saga.
Dan received an Advanced Copy of The Abyss Beyond Dreams from Del Ray via NetGalley