Peter F. Hamilton
Del Rey Spectra, 2014.
Revolutions are such messy things. Just look at Syria. Or Egypt. Or Libya…
The latest entry into his acclaimed “Commonwealth” universe, Abyss acts as sort of a prequel/parallel story to his bestselling “Void” trilogy. Or at least that was what I could glean from the story — I confess this was my first dive into Hamilton’s work.
But it won’t be my last, I’m sure.
Abyss follows Nigel Sheldon, the millennia-old founder of the galactic Commonwealth, as he embarks on a quest to discover the source of dreams being transmitted from the Void, a giant, expanding black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Hundreds of years previous, a group of ships had mysteriously vanished. In reality it was somehow transported into the Void, where they formed the seeds of a society on the planets within. But while the dreams are emanating from the dead planet Querencia, Sheldon is focused on Bienvenido, another colonized planet which is constantly under attack from a mysterious race called the Fallers. Sheldon believes the source of the Fallers, a mysterious forested planet is the key to destroying the Void and saving the galaxy.
The novel takes some getting used to. Especially with no background in the setting. The story jumps through several different POVs, with seemingly no interconnection for about half the book.
We begin onboard the Vermillion, one of the fleet of lost ships as physicist Laura Brandt is revived from suspended animation. She learns that her ship has somehow ended up in the Void, and that now all the crew possess members possess telepathy and telekinesis. An exploratory mission to the Forest ends in tragedy as all of her crewmates are consumed by mysterious eggs and turned into murderous doppelgangers. Brandt survives but is stranded a featureless desert in a strange time loop.
Then it’s back to the Commonwealth, where an idle Sheldon is restless in his retirement. But as Tennyson wrote, “It little profits an idle king”, and when Sheldon is met by the alien Raiel, the guardians of the Void, he volunteers to explore the Void in search of the missing ships and source of the mysterious dreams.
But mostly the action takes place on Bienvenido. Due to time distortion, thousands of years have passed since Brandt’s doomed arrival, and society has grown to an early 20th century level. The descendents of the Vermillion’s original Captain rule the planet in a nominal dictatorship enforced by the brutal secret police led by the First Officer. Faller eggs are a constant threat, plunging like meteors from the Forest and luring humans to be consumed.
Slvasta is one of the military men charged with hunting and destroying the Faller eggs. An accident where he is nearly consumed leaves him without an arm and a burning quest to destroy the alien creatures and the mod creatures – beasts of burden that he is convinced are somehow connected to the Fallers.
These diverse plots all collide in an intricate caper filled with betrayals, Machiavellian maneuverings and lots of time paradoxes.
But mostly The Abyss Beyond Dreams is about revolution. Slvasta and his girlfriend Bethaneve become leaders in a rebellion to drive the oppressive Captain and his entrenched bureaucracy from power. The revolutionary organization immediately reminded me of Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the definitive sci-fi exploration of revolution.
But while Heinlein modeled his uprising after the American Revolution, Hamilton looks to the Russian Revolution for his inspiration. Obvious Marxist ideas are preached and Hamilton gleefully shows the pitfalls of them as well. There are strong parallels between Slvasta and Stalin, while the more moderate Javier occupies the Trotsky role. And just as the Russians traded the Czarist oppression for Soviet oppression, so do the people of Bienvenido trade the Captain’s tyranny for another form of tyranny.
Behind this background though, Sheldon is pulling the strings — playing faction against faction in an attempt to bring this lost colony of humans back to the Commonwealth, regardless of the cost. His pragmatism is just as cold-blooded in many ways as the petty tyrants and revolutionaries he uses to achieve his goals.
Sound like any country we know? Hamilton has been labeled a conservative writer, and his condemnation of Marxism certainly fits that label. There are also strong parallels to Western imperial meddling in third-world countries as well, it’s no surprise the planet is named ‘Bienvenido’. And Hamilton isn’t exactly condemning Sheldon’s meddling either.
But despite my own leftward leanings I’m not particularly offended by Hamilton’s politics. He’s not endorsing fascism or mixing pedophilia or racism into his stories like, oh, Heinlein.
A good story is a good story regardless of its politics.
This good story will conclude in the upcoming The Night Without Stars. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do in Hamilton’s vibrant “Commonwealth” universe.