BOOK REVIEW: Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton

Pandora's StarPandora’s Star (Commonwealth Saga #1)  by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The year is 2380. The Intersolar Commonwealth, a sphere of stars some four hundred light-years in diameter, contains more than six hundred worlds, interconnected by a web of transport “tunnels” known as wormholes. At the farthest edge of the Commonwealth, astronomer Dudley Bose observes the impossible: Over one thousand light-years away, a star… vanishes. It does not go supernova. It does not collapse into a black hole. It simply disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat. In command is Wilson Kime, a five-time rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot whose glory days are centuries behind him.

Opposed to the mission are the Guardians of Selfhood, a cult that believes the human race is being manipulated by an alien entity they call the Starflyer. Bradley Johansson, leader of the Guardians, warns of sabotage, fearing the Starflyer means to use the starship’s mission for its own ends.

Pursued by a Commonwealth special agent convinced the Guardians are crazy but dangerous, Johansson flees. But the danger is not averted. Aboard the Second Chance, Kime wonders if his crew has been infiltrated. Soon enough, he will have other worries. A thousand light-years away, something truly incredible is waiting: a deadly discovery whose unleashing will threaten to destroy the Commonwealth… and humanity itself. Could it be that Johansson was right?

***** *** *******

This is another re-read (about the 4th I think) of a very significant book for me, actually THE book that turned me on to modern space opera. I was given it as a gift some years ago and reading it turned out to be a life-changing experience, in the sci-fi book geek context anyway.

To put it plainly, this book (together with Judas Unchained with which it actually forms one large book) is space opera at it’s best. In here we are introduced to Peter F Hamilton’s beautifully imagined Commonwealth Universe, one which you will get to know very well if you go on to read his later works like the Void Trilogy and the Chronicle of the Fallers duology.

In these pages we become drawn into a huge and fascinating universe of colony planets and alien civilizations of which many are linked together by an incredible network of wormholes. The world building is about as good as it gets and the characters are superb. This storytelling really is next-level, totally absorbing and involving a massive galaxy-spanning conflict that will take your breath away. The scale is so, so vast and just what I’ve come to expect and demand from PFH’s work and space opera in general. This story line would make most epic movie series.

Along with huge servings of high-tech goodies like anti-gravity and wormhole generators there are some mystical and almost fantasy elements such as the humanoid Silfen race with their mysterious ‘paths’ that link together various points in the universe. I found this part utterly fascinating. Then, when things are reaching fever pitch, the book ends abruptly with a really cool cliff-hanger and leaves you scrambling to grab Judas Unchained which picks right up where this book leaves off. Have Judas Unchained handy when you’re close to finishing Pandora’s Star because you’ll most want to keep right on going with the story.

One of my all-time favorite action scenes from anything I’ve ever read (of any fiction genre) comes from this book, where key character Justine Burnelli goes ‘hypergliding’ (which is the coolest imaginable sporting experience) over huge mountains on the planet Far Away. This is quite a significant scene because it’s where Justine meets another character who plays also a prominent role in the series. PFH makes you feel like you’re right in the cockpit for this wild ride. I’ve re-read this passage a number of times.

To summarize, it’s bloody good science fiction with so much wonder and awe to offer along with the complex story lines. Read this if you like large, epic and gritty plots with lots of cool tech, weird and wonderful aliens and ‘real’ characters. If this sounds like you then I doubt you will be disappointed. As you can probably tell I’m a huge fan, and I reckon you might be just about to find out why. I hope you enjoy the journey.

5/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 5 out of 5

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BOOK REVIEW: A Second Chance at Eden by Peter F. Hamilton

A Second Chance at EdenA Second Chance at Eden by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

From the author of the bestselling Night’s Dawn trilogy, a novella and six stories set in the same brilliantly realized universe.

The stories in this collection form a series of snapshot glimpses into the history of the Confederation leading up to the time of Joshua Calvert and Quinn Dexter, two of the main characters in the Night’s Dawn trilogy.

During the early 1990s Hamilton wrote several short stories centered on the affinity technology – and they became the inspiration to write Night’s Dawn.

***** *** *******

A truly superb collection of shorter works from an equally superb author. This is one of those books which took me a long time to getting round to reading. It’s been literally sitting on my bookshelf alongside my other Peter F Hamilton volumes for a couple of years. Each story adds a little extra to the awesome spectacle that is the Night’s Dawn trilogy, whether it’s to further explain a particular facet of the Confederation universe, or to give background to a certain plot element. I was forced by circumstance to read this compilation in a rather start-stop fashion, but this proved to be no problem due to the quality of the stories, and I was always eager to get back to it. Any fan of Hamilton and/or the Confederation universe will totally adore this, and I reckon it could be read with no problem at all by a reader with no previous experience of the series or the author. The Confederation universe is a masterful science fiction creation that should go down in sci-fi literary history as one of the best and this collection is integral and wonderfully complimentary to it. I hugely recommend it.

Following are my thoughts and rating for each story…

Sonnie’s Edge:
I didn’t think that I’d enjoy this one as much as I did, it’s exactly what I like which is a simple and engaging story. It’s about a genetically-spliced girl involved in the gruesome blood sport of “beastie-baiting”, fighting soulless biologically engineered creatures in front of baying crowds. It introduces and describes the biological technology (bitek) and “affinity” bonds that play a huge part in the Confederation Universe and Night’s Dawn trilogy stories. It’s a tad brutal, for sure, but fun and interesting with a cool ending. [4/5]

A Second Chance At Eden:

The main novella length story in this collection is classic PFH, a whodunnit murder mystery told in the first person from the perspective of a policeman/security chief who has just arrived at the awe-inspiring 10km long living space habitat Eden which orbits Jupiter. This habitat, as well as couple of others being developed nearby, has been seeded and grown from a special type of bitek polyp analogous to coral, and is essentially a huge living organism. Eden is home to a burgeoning society of industrial and philosophical idealists who are relishing life away from Earth’s restrictions and prejudices. Eden can be communicated with via “affinity” bonds, and affinity is introduced in some detail in this story. As the story progresses we see how this is central to what will eventually become the “Edenist” society of the Confederation Universe novels. Throughout the story, there are subtle and not so subtle attacks on current established religious thought and practice which are also present in the Night’s Dawn novels, and make me wonder about PFH’s motivations in this regard. Does he have a particular dislike for religion, with an axe to grind with religious institutions, Christianity in particular? Whatever the case, this does add depth to the story which is as much about philosophical ideas as it is about technological and biological advances. The story itself is an easy read and kept me interested the whole way through, because of both the great story line and also the world building aspect of the bitek habitats and Edenist society. It’s a crucial read for fans of the Confederation Universe. [5/5]

New Days Old Times:

There’s a definite darkness that hovers over the events of the Confederation universe stories, and this shows this with a tale that will sound all too familiar to most. It shows that human self-imposed boundaries and prejudices have no barrier in the vastness of space. Set on the planet Nyvan, seventeen light-years from Earth which is part of a rapidly expanding human expansion outward to numerous colony planets. While most of these colonies were begun with noble intentions, it appears that those prejudices eventually rise to the surface. Again, this story pokes an accusing finger at faith institutions and spiritual belief which is a hallmark of this collection and the Night’s Dawn series as a whole. A sobering short story that introduces us to another facet of the Confederation universe along with more information in a world-building sense that I enjoyed in one sitting. [4/5]

Candy Buds:

I had a little trouble getting my head around this one at times, but it’s a fine enough story and easy to get into. I needed to re-read portions to fully grasp the twist at the end. If I had any advice for someone who is about to read this story, that would be to pay extra close attention to the details or you may miss things as I did. Again, there are some really cool depictions of affinity bonds and also of Confederation colony world society. Not a favorite of mine, it lacked the “bigness” that I like in scifi but it’s typically well written and the plot good enough to keep me on the hook. [3/5]

Deathday:

Very good and very engaging story in which we closely follow a man on a quest driven by emotion to slay an unusual alien creature with which he appears to share a sort of connection. It’s set on a world which has not quite lived up to expectations for the man, and this adds to his disillusionment and fanatical devotion to his goal. A story that moves along at a good rate, and has a very intense ending. [4/5]

The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa:

One of my definite favorites of this collection, which I’m actually surprised about, but most of the sci-fi boxes are ticked for me somewhere along the way in this story. Essentially a tale of a man on the run from his former employers, who arrives on a planet to hide and ends up living with the unusual woman Tiarella and her daughter on an idyllic island. The story that follows is an interesting one, in that things are being manipulated toward certain ends. There’s plenty of bitek and affinity stuff in these pages and it’s a very good expose of a typical Confederation society, which makes it a great part of this collection. [5/5]

Escape Route:

An excellent story, again ticking most of the sci-fi boxes. The Lady Macbeth and her crew are central elements of the Night’s Dawn trilogy and here we’re introduced to them in a great yarn. Her captain and crew are hired to head out to a remote system to recover minerals from a debris field, but all is not as it seems (as you’d expect). While prospecting, they discover a derelict alien vessel which turns out to be ancient, and inside is some interesting technology. This changes the stakes entirely. The story also gives us a possible clue to the background of the Sleeping God (readers of the trilogy will know about this) and the methods employed in the epic conclusion of the Night’s Dawn trilogy. A well-paced story that was for me the the easiest read of this collection, the balance of character, plot and action is spot on for my tastes. [5/5]

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