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The Abyss Beyond Dreams
A novel of the Commonwealth
by Peter F. Hamilton
Del Rey, $8.99, 614pp
Published: September 2015

I have to preface my review with the statement that I have not read anything of Hamilton before.  I am not familiar with the universe of the Commonwealth.  And this will, undoubtedly, influence me.  I do not have the familiarity or comfort of knowing this universe and its characters.  But, one always hopes that the author can manage to give the reader sufficient background to allow this story to stand on its own.

Nigel, a recurring character and a founding father of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the alien Raiel.  These aliens have a racial mission to monitor and protect the universe from a construct known as the Void.  They believe the Void is taking over more and more of the universe and they cannot find a way to stop it.  The Raiel discover that humans who were inadvertently trapped in the Void have created a viable society within the Void.  And they are not the only ones.  The Void endows the humans with astonishing mental abilities which is all that protects them from annihilation by the Fallers, a nasty alien species with the ability to mimic the appearance of humans and which are merciless killers.  Nigel sends a clone of himself into the Void to make contact with the humans and try to discover the nature of the Void.

Time passes a bit differently within the Void and for the humans living there it has been over three thousand years since the spaceship on which their ancestors arrived was sucked in and trapped.  Despite the mental powers they enjoy and rely on, the society is relatively primitive, technologically.  The society is also stagnant and ripe for rebellion.  A classic case of the rich getting richer and the poor kept in their place.

Slvasta is a soldier whose only goal in life is to kill Fallers.  He is unique in that he had been trapped by a Faller and escaped with only the cost of one arm.  The encounter makes him an even more dedicated soldier, to the exclusion of any other goal; until he meets Bethaneve.  Bethaneve is a fanatic – dedicated to the goal of toppling the current 3000-year-old regime and bring equality to all.  All she needs is a charismatic leader for the masses to look to while she manipulates people and events.  She creates a core group and begins to plan a rebellion.  Slvasta is a willing rebel when he begins to realize that the necessary resources that would ensure the destruction of the Fallers are being diverted to enrich the government.

Nigel’s sole goal is to understand the nature of the Void and how it affects the basic nature of the other species trapped within it.  With that understanding, he and the Raiel hope to find a way to destroy the Void; thereby freeing all the humans.  To that end, Nigel is willing to subvert and dominate anyone including the infant rebellion.

This is a very complex plot with a large cast of characters; a challenge for any writer.  The flyleaf proclaims a lot of pompous attributes for the author; none of which were in evidence.  It might be a bit overblown which didn’t help my review.  It is a massive volume split into books. 

The first 88 pages introduces the human spaceship and crew that is eventually trapped within the Void and the rest of the first quarter of the book is in the Commonwealth establishing Nigel’s mission and sending him on the way.  And my first criticism:  little of what was in those pages were necessary for the story, I think they were there to comfort readers who wanted to return to the Commonwealth.  The second quarter of the book introduced the reader to Slvasta and his band of intrepid rebels with no point of view from Nigel.  In fact, for most of those pages we don’t even know if Nigel successfully penetrated the Void.  So, at this point, we have three disparate groups of people:  the original human spaceship (what happened to them?), Nigel with people and events in the Commonwealth that have no bearing on the rest of the story, and then the current events on the human planet, Bienvenido.  These are kept separate which means the reader is isolated from each of those storylines; no change of point-of-view to keep the reader connected to those characters. When Slvasta is introduced and we learn that 3000 years have passed since we met the original spaceship crew, then we are left to wonder what happened – not exactly comforting to the reader.  A good story will keep the reader engaged with all the relevant characters switching POVs within a reasonable number of pages.  The number of pages between each “book” is just too long.

The third quarter focuses on Nigel and a young woman whom he rescues and subsequently trains as a Commonwealth citizen.  This is where he attempts to learn more about how the humans became trapped on Bienvenido, as they named the planet.  What he discovers gives him hope that there may be a way to destroy the void but he’ll need to deceive the human inhabitants and steal from them.  To do this most efficiently, he’ll need to manipulate the rebellion.  Again, too many pages dedicated to what is, for the most part, a separate story; losing the connection to Slvasta and Bethaneve.

The last quarter of the book ties up both Nigel’s machinations and the maturing rebellion.  Since the author is now concerned with bringing together Nigel’s goals and the rebellion, the action is more interrelated and moves more dynamically.  There weren’t really any surprises; we knew what was coming.  The author does try for a bit of shock at the very end but I didn’t find it effective.

The characters were mostly well-drawn but the worldbuilding was minimal; he may have relied too heavily on the established Commonwealth universe which had no presence in this story.  I might have liked it better if the story structure was more reader-friendly.  But, as it is, I cannot recommend it.  It was confusing and clunky.  I am, however, committed to reviewing the next book so keep an eye out for that review, coming soon.  ~~ Catherine Book

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