Reviewed by Stephen Aryan
This was my Peter F. Hamilton novel and as previously mentioned I’m more of a fantasy fan than a science fiction fan. However, I had heard from a number of people (including Mark) that he was a fabulous writer and I was determined to read at least one of his novels to see how I got on with them. The book is a whopping 791 pages in paperback so I was slightly intimidated as there was a lot to get through, and if I struggled, it was going to be a long hard slog to get to the end, as I always make a point of finishing a novel. Thankfully I didn’t need to worry as it was just as good as everyone had been telling me.
This is the first book in the trilogy and there is no handholding for the reader. From the first page you are completely immersed in an amazing adventure filled with alien species, futuristic technology and complex societal and religious systems. It did take me about 100 pages before I felt comfortable with the book and had a clue what was going on, but other readers might not have the same problems as me. First, because the universe was completely new to me it took a while to put the pieces together in my head and get a feel for how it all fit together. Second, this was the first time I had ever read anything by Hamilton, so as with any new author, there was a period of adjustment for me to get used to his style. After a while I settled in and trusted Hamilton to bring together the many different story threads into one cohesive and interwoven whole, which he did with great skill.
I completely understand why the front cover touts Hamilton as ‘Britain’s Number One Science Fiction writer’ because The Dreaming Void is an excellent novel. As mentioned, I read a lot more fantasy than SF, so I was delighted by the fantasy elements in The Dreaming Void. They are a small part of the story at the start, but as the novel progresses it is increasingly important and gradually the reason for its existence starts to become clear and relevant to the whole.
The core of the story is about a powerful religious group that is threatening the existence of the galaxy with their plans for a pilgrimage into the Void, an ancient artificial expanse. Everyone has ideas about what it is and what will happen when the religious followers fly spaceships into it, but no one is really sure. The various forms of humanity, including those that live in bodies and those who are essentially eternal and incorporeal, as well as ancient alien species, have different theories on the repercussions.
The pilgrimage is seen as a major threat by many and once announced it triggers a number of different responses. Various human factions attempt to appease, obstruct and deter some aliens who threaten a violent response, while others try to help the pilgrims succeed. This then sets off a raft of political manoeuvring, but as well as story threads with far reaching consequences, some focus on individuals that seem completely unconnected to the rest the story. In fact they are connected to it, but it is not immediately apparent and you have to get a good way into the book before the pieces of the puzzle start to slot together.
One story thread is set in a completely different world to the others, in a fantasy setting, and it follows the life of Edeard, a young man whose dreams are shattered when his life takes a dramatic turn for the worse. It’s not too surprising given my background that I enjoyed Edeard’s story the most and found it a lot easier to read and absorb than the rest.
Overall this is a highly absorbing and rewarding novel and I am very glad I finally picked it up. If there hadn’t been the fantasy element to the novel I would probably have struggled with it more, but that it just me personally. I will definitely be picking up the next two books in the Void trilogy. Also, now I have a better feel for Hamilton’s writing style, and because that he is an extremely talented writer, I would trust him to go into a straight SF book.
The Dreaming Void is a great SF book with some familiar middle ground for someone like me, and I would highly recommend it if you want to read an SF book but keep one foot in the fantasy camp. A highly engaging and excellent science fiction novel.