Technically, this is the second part of a longer story but in many ways it is structured as a stand-alone novel. This is seventh of Hamilton’s Commonwealth set novels, part of a second set of novels set around the ‘void’ – a mysterious space anomaly inside of which humans are both trapped and have access to psychic powers but outside of which is a star consuming threat.
I say ‘set around’ but in this case, the setting is actually a planet that has been expelled from the Void and anyway the Void was eliminated in an earlier series and…look, there is an AWFUL lot of back-story here. So while the book mainly deals with a new(ish) setting and mainly new characters, it would be a weird read for anybody who hadn’t read the previous volumes.
And that is sort of a shame but understandable. The previous Commonwealth books amount to a lot of universe building. The Void allowed Hamilton to embedded a more unusual fantasy like story within a space-opera in his Void trilogy and The Abyss Beyond Dreams let him revisit that with a story of a revolution in a quasi-Victorian society with a surrounding threat of invasion-of-the-body-snatchers like aliens. Having built a big shared universe, Hamilton is having fun finding different stories to tell.
So you have to wade through back-story at the start – reminders about his central Commonwealth characters first (unflappable investigator Paula Myo and physicist/plutocrat Nigel Sheldon) and then a return to the characters on the planet Bienviedo shortly after the end of the previous book. Then (mercifully) the story leaps forward…
The planet Bienviedo is stuck in a star system, deep in intergalactic space. The population are all descendants of a colony ship from the technologically advanced Commonwealth but time, the Void and vast distances mean that they have no hope of contacting the Commonwealth. They are ruled by a Soviet-like quasi-socialist government which has become paranoid about social change. The paranoia and social control are also fed by the existential threat of ‘Fallers’. The Fallers are another alien species that assimilates, mimics and often eats other lifeforms. Bienviedo is surrounded by Faller Trees – spaceship-factories that periodically eject eggs onto the planet below which spawn more fallers. Using the remnants of Commonwealth technology and records the government has built its Soyuz-like programme, which periodically sends up ships to fire nuclear missiles at the alien trees. Within this society are also a minority population who have inherited some of the more advanced genetic modifications of their Commonwealth ancestors – including a kind of built-in internet access – a fact that only further fuels the government’s paranoia.
Hamilton has taken a convoluted path to this set-up but I like the place it ends up in. A kind of Cold-War zombie-monster thriller with a side serving of cyberpunk rebels. Also, there are alien fish people – who are nice.
As the pace increases and the threat from the Fallers mounts, the setting and characters give way to more running about and blowing things up. Also, the connections to previous Commonwealth stories becomes more overt.
Fun, but a really bad place to start if you haven’t read a Hamilton book before.