Monday, 6 August 2018

The Dreaming Void

Peter F. Hamilton The Dreaming Void (2007)
I'm still unable to work out what it is that Peter F. Hamilton does which makes his books so readable. They're the size of housebricks, this one is eight-hundred pages, and I just slip through the thing, reading fifty pages in the time it would otherwise take to read twenty. It doesn't seem to be that the print is particularly large or the language discernibly simplified, and oddly, nor is the narrative even necessarily so gripping as to account for such page-turnitude - in terms the Daily Mail would probably recognise. Yet, there it is. Whatever it is, he does it very well, and this doesn't even seem to be one of his good ones.

I wasn't going to read any more, but having loved Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy pretty much without reservation, I had a hankering; combined with coming across a copy of this one in Henry Pordes on Charing Cross Road and finding myself relishing the typeface used on these English versions, it being so much more alluring than on US editions of Hamilton. It turns out that the story has certain elements in common with Night's Dawn, namely technologically advanced star-spanning future humanity pitted against something powerful and devouring with religious overtones,
physiologically malleable animals, concerns with immortality, transcendence and the afterlife and suchlike. I have a vague impression of various details serving as allegories to Bush's war on terror, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on, but this may just be a case of current events repurposed as archetypes; and xenophobia and fear of progress also figure. In any case, if anything specific is said, it's either been saved for a later volume or is simply difficult to unpick from disparate strands following a slightly confusing cast of fairly generic characters. It might have been easier had I read the novels preceding this trilogy, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, but I haven't and it shouldn't have been necessary.

Yes... characters...

Hamilton writes great characters, it has been said elsewhere and more than once, but actually he kind of doesn't. The narrative is told through his characters, but most of them seem fairly clich├ęd; and given that this is 3580AD, it seems odd that everyone should be talking and acting like persons starring alongside Ross Kemp in one of those grunting ITV dramas - some wearying cop show, tough guy bends rules to get the job done, tarts with hearts, hard nut with a soft center still dealing with the pain of losing his son, tip-offs from persons oozing Cockney charm - something called Thief Takers comes to mind, as it often does for me because although I never saw it, it has the worst title ever committed to telly and I feel fairly sure it must have ticked at least a couple of the above boxes*.

To be fair, this is only what Hamilton did in Night's Dawn, but Night's Dawn had the advantage of a profoundly weird setting and attendant props - the affinity bond, living starships, sentient habitats grown from engineered coral, and everyone who ever died coming back to life, not least of these being Madonna and Al Capone. Whilst Void has plenty of nice ideas of possibly equivalent potential, they're not well drawn - presumably because I never read Pandora's Star - and it all seems a bit Larry Niven, lacking anything with the surreal flair of the voidhawks. Plus, there's the occasional sprained literary ankle - something I failed to notice in Night's Dawn, if it was even there - and this sort of thing:

'Yes. He'll get his appointment the day after the Eggshaper guild announces its sculpted a ge-pig that can fly.'

Even without noting that its should probably be either it has or it's, a ge-pig is, in the story, a utilitarian creature with physical characteristics molded by agency of human telepathy, so, as we've already seen, whether or not the resulting creature has wings and the power of flight is down to the choice of the Eggshaper doing the work; and secondly, why the fuck would that particular expression still be in use in the thirty-sixth century in a different fucking universe? Additionally, why would anyone still remember either Johnny Cash or Pink Floyd - not denigrating the qualities of either, but references to the same are a little distracting.

I'm told that the conclusion to this trilogy is disappointing and not dissimilar to the conclusion of Night's Dawn, so I doubt if I'm going to bother with the other two. There are some nice ideas, but that's about as far as it goes.

*: I find titles which are simply collective nouns for whoever populates the story somewhat lacking poetry. Being as someone will eventually make a show about members of the criminal fraternity called Crime Doers, I hereby state my having thought of it first in anticipation of any royalties which may be my due.

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