Pandora’s Star is one of the most enjoyable science fiction reading experiences I have had (my review is here). It is, however, despite being 1000 plus pages long, only one half of the story. To compound the agony of having to wait for part two, it ends on the type of cliffhanger that could make you chew your fingernails off. How fortunate, then, that I read the book years after its original publication and with Judas Unchained right next to me ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Astonishingly, but gratifyingly, Judas Unchained is even longer than Pandora’s Star. At over 1200 pages you can dismiss as nonsense the claim on Amazon that it comprises a mere 400. Not a page of it, though, is superfluous.
There is no way on earth that one should consider reading Judas Unchained without having first read Pandora’s Star. As two halves of one story, one is incomplete without the other. As a result there will be spoilers here so do close your eyes and head off to read Pandora’s Star and then come back.
Judas Unchained picks up, quite literally in the case of Ozzie, Orion and Tochee, the investigations begun in Pandora’s Star into the attack of the Primes, an alien species set on the destruction of all rivals for space. Millions have been killed, many planets have been annihilated, hailed as the Lost23. The police force and military, once considered redundant in the peaceful and expanding Commonwealth, has now formed the Navy. It has one mission: conquer the Prime forces and, if called upon to do it, commit genocide. In the face of mass migrations, politics and military must mix uneasily as both must be seen to do the right thing.
One of the leading – and most charismatic – figures from Pandora’s Star is now one of many conscripted to do the work of the President and her team of advisers. Paula Myo, though, has changed since the last novel. Unable to lie or be dishonest, she now has to face the horrendous fact that the terrorist organisation that she has pursued for more than a century, the Guardians, may have been right after all. Their enemy, the Starflyer, an entity denied by all people of sense, may be real after all. Not only that, everything that has happened may be part of one terrible trap into which humans have walked, blinkered.
The story involving Paula, the Guardians and the Navy is just one hugely exciting and thrilling aspect of Judas Unchained. It carries us through wormholes and into many different worlds. It involves guerilla fighting on conquered planets, battles between starships and dramatic chases across the known galaxy. But that’s not all. We also have the story of Mellanie Rescorai. Little more than a soft porn star in Pandora’s Star, Mellanie is now the spy of the Commonwealth’s SI, or sentient intelligence, and with this new power she also finds courage. She has won her place as arguably the chief character of the novel. Other strands continue from Pandora’s Star, including the curious quest of Ozzie, the co-creator of wormhole technology, to walk the paths of the Silfen, aliens that he believes understand the origin of the Primes. Whereas some have found this strand whimsical and unnecessary, these Ozzie chapters were among my favourite sections of Judas Unchained. The scope of it all is mesmerising. I wanted Ozzie to learn the answers to his questions. I wanted to hear them too.
The highlights and intriguing characters of Judas Unchained are far too plentiful to comment on here, other than to assure you that they are all worth getting to know. But I must pull out for mention the Bose Motile (such an incredible idea), Justine Burnelli who has also been changed so much by these dangerous times, and the thoroughly intriguing alien Qatux, a Raiel who feeds off human experiences and emotion, turning them into the drugs he needs to live.
It is impossible to do justice to this extraordinary novel which so perfectly completes the story begun with Pandora’s Star. Long books can require a certain amount of dedication and even fortitude but there’s none of that with a Peter F Hamilton brickbook. Hamilton’s novels are full of back story, incidental details, in-depth descriptions of people, places, events, even entire storylines, which on the surface of it could be dismissed as irrelevant. But that would be missing the point and joy of Hamilton’s writing – all of it contributes to the most exquisite worldbuilding. You don’t read a Hamilton novel for plot alone, you read it for its science fiction package; to be taken off world for a couple of hours each day for a week or more. The books might be long but they are entirely accessible and utterly unforgettable and mind-expanding.
The story of the Commonwealth continues in the Void Trilogy, although in the future and with many new characters. I have all three volumes ready to go. I’m currently reading, though, Hamilton’s new standalone (and very substantial) novel Great North Road. A review will follow shortly.
By the way…
Today I was honoured to be guest blogger at Demention, a site maintained by authors who look at the world a little differently. I wrote about time travel and you can read it here.