BOOK REVIEW: THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS / AUTHOR: PETER F HAMILTON / PUBLISHER: DEL REY / RELEASE DATE 21st OCTOBER
Peter F Hamilton has a bit of a reputation for producing books that are so lengthy and dense that if one were to fall on your head, you’d be lucky to get away with a severe concussion. The Abyss Beyond Dreams certainly lives up to this reputation and if you’re a fan of his previous works then you should be very careful; this is a long, but also addictive, work. Make sure you have a weekend free and plenty of food in the fridge.
The Abyss Beyond Dreams fits into Hamilton’s Commonwealth setting quite neatly. For those unfamiliar with it, this is a world where mankind has pretty much conquered the galaxy and travel between stars has become reasonably trivial thanks to a system of wormholes and a train-like transit system. Set in 3326, it follows the further exploits of long-lived ‘adventure’ capitalist Nigel Sheldon. Following an encounter with the wise and pragmatic alien race , the Raiel, Sheldon embarks on a mission to discover more about the strange part of space known as The Void . Being Nigel, things do not go entirely to plan, but he comes across a colony of humans who have somehow survived in this most hostile part of space.
Hamilton’s work frequently dances across the line between far-future fantasy and hard science, and it’s no different here. The Void turns out to be a place where a kind of magic is possible and the humans that already dwell here have combined their diminishing technology with the amazing powers that are freely available. This is vital because they’re beset by an alien menace known as the Fallers; an insidious and violent breed that could easy destroy mankind if they ever got out of The Void. These villains do feel awfully familiar in places to monsters in some of Hamilton’s earlier work, and it’s tempting to suggest the Commonwealth series has an overwhelming theme of xenophobic paranoia at its heart.
Hamilton’s writing style is certainly not to everybody’s taste. The prose is thick, the concepts are expounded upon at length and some of the characterisation is cartoonish at best. However, it does have the power to hold you hostage and when you think the story isn’t going anywhere fast it hits you with another idea or plot point and suddenly you’re hooked again.
The Abyss Beyond Dreams is not for everyone; it’s weird, lengthy, filled with overly macho characters and feels terribly English in places, and yet it is also a thoroughly enjoyable and unstoppable work that will leave you craving more. Fans will adore it and whilst it is also quite friendly to new readers, those new to his work should start at the beginning of the Commonwealth series with Misspent Youth and enjoy the entire wild ride.
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