Review: Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton

bcs_hamilton_pandorasstar Let me take some liberties once in a while in posting to this blog, which is supposedly dedicated to crime fiction, but in reality also to the things that I’ve enjoyed and which have influenced me to a greater or lesser extent. If you’re still clamoring as to why I’ve posted an SF review here, there’s a cracking murder investigation running through this complex story, as is an investigation into terrorist organisations.

With Pandora’s Star, Hamilton embarks on an 880-page deep space science fiction epic. In the year AD 2380 humanity has colonized over six hundred planets using a technology developed by two stoner student physicists called Wormholes. The society of the Intersolar Commonwealth is peaceful and wealthy, if plagued by an occasional attack by the Guardians of Selfhood. When the astronomer Dudley Bose observes the sudden disappearance of a star over a thousand light years away, the Commonwealth is anxious to discover what happened. In order to reach it they must build the first ever faster-than-light starship. The fact that something imprisoned an entire solar system with a massive force field does not bode humankind well at all.

AD 2380 and the Commonwealth are both alien and strangely similar to our terran societies. Wormhole trains are the major mode of transport between planets, while rich enough people live for hundreds of years using genetic rejuvenation. Illustrious family enclaves, including the powerful Mandelas from South Africa, control entire planets.

The author examines a richly inventive universe through the eyes of numerous characters on various planets, and builds his plot at a leisurely pace that allows us to get to grips with his expansive universe. It is a well-crafted novel, though some of the characters seem somewhat flat and some of the worlds over-simplified. In places it drags a bit and you’re left rather frustrated, but at no point did I feel I can chuck it aside. Is this taking suspense to the extreme? The author has obviously made certain trade-offs to present a comprehensive tale that does the many themes it explores justice. The stretch where Hamilton explores the evolution over time of a hostile alien intelligence that ultimately cloaks its star is an impeccable and thrilling piece of imaginative science and biology, and cleverly plants an “against the clock” element to the building of the FTL spaceship.

This book had me quailing for more, and now, with more new SF under the belt, I realise exactly how exemplary this book is. I also finally have all three editions in hardback and can’t wait to get started at the beginning and end at the end, as Einstein once advised.

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