I have just emerged from a week cocooned within Pandora’s Star, my first experience of the science fiction of Peter F. Hamilton. A breezeblock of a book at 1144 pages and yet, unlike some other novels of such a size, not a page was spare and not once did I want to gee it along. And now, there’s not a word written by Hamilton that I don’t want to read.
Pandora’s Star is the first part of a story that is completed in Judas Unchained. In it we are introduced to the Commonwealth, a network of planets linked together by wormholes and populated by humans. Set a few centuries into our future, these worlds are walked upon by men and women who remember the first explorations into space and could live for as long as the will exists, thanks to the technology that can rejuve or even relive them. The generations mingle in a confusion of ages and some families grow into great and powerful dynasties that compete for political leadership or economic dominance. Some, though, have turned their backs on all this, united in the Guardians of Selfhood, a terrorist organisation that believes it is fighting to save the Commonwealth from an alien, the Starflyer, that has invaded society, encroached into all its secrets, working for its destruction. Conspiracy theorists, though, get short shrift. The mission of one of our many characters, the Investigator Paula Myo, is to track down the leader. She’s been on his trail for well over 100 years but what a chase – Paula is an extraordinary figure.
This is just one of the many stories that weaves through this immensely rich and rewarding tapestry of life and worlds. Seemingly disconnected, as the novel continues, the links become more and more apparent. Characters also evolve with the seemingly least important becoming among the most significant. The string that ties the stories together though is the discovery by astronomer Dudley Bose of a shield around two distant planets, Dyson Alpha and Beta, which lie far beyond the limit of the wormholes. Ever curious, mankind constructs a starship which is sent to investigate the shield and the identity of what it hides or, perhaps worse, imprisons. Pandora’s Box, the star, is opened.
Throughout the novel, I found myself spellbound by the experiences of individuals I grew to care about very much. One of my favourites is the story of Ozzie, the richest man in the galaxy, the co-inventor of the wormholes, who sets out to answer the enigma of the Dyson Shield by seeking to learn the wisdom of an alien species, the singing, leaping, hunting Silfen who can travel between the stars on a network of paths which cross the forests of their planet. His quiet and dangerous journey, through ice and across sea, is a fine foil to the vision of starships crossing the lightyears. And then there’s the alien on board a sentient alien spaceship that was born part of an emotionless species but is cruelly kept hooked on the experiences of humans, fed to them by the police.
Peter F. Hamilton is not afraid to explore ideas and scenarios that would seem irrelevant to the plot if they weren’t so crucial to the atmosphere and worldbuilding. Quite apart from watching characters grow through their relationships with each other and their worlds, in one long chapter we follow the development of an entire alien species. Its conclusion is utterly horrific.
Pandora’s Star might be science fiction but there’s hardly a genre you won’t find within its long, satisfying chapters – detective story, political thriller, war drama, fantasy, love story, and the most enormous and glorious space opera. Hamilton writes so accessibly and graphically. The characters are all different, distinct and immensely fascinating. The pages fly through your fingers and it’s quite likely that, like me, you will become addicted. The opening scene is in itself gobsmacking and the book’s ending is no less jawdropping and is hugely exciting, dangerous and immense.
I adored Pandora’s Star – Judas Unchained, I cannot wait!