The Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton

The Dreaming Void is the first of a trilogy by Peter F Hamilton, set in 3589 in a universe where different strands of humanity, with differing levels of genetic and technological enhancements, are scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, and taking the wormhole to work every morning is as natural for some of them as catching a train is today.

The Raiel have been monitoring the mysterious Void for a million years, allowing other races to join them at their observation post over the years. One of these visiting scientists was a man named Inigo, who dreamed many episodes in the life of a young man apparently living on a planet within the Void. Inigo’s sharing of his dreams with all those technologically advanced enough to receive them quickly gave rise to the Living Dream religion. Now, 250 years later, Living Dream rules the planet Ellezellin and has thousands of followers across the galaxy but Inigo himself has long since abandoned them and retreated into obscurity. A second wave of dreams is being broadcast by some unknown dreamer and Living Dream’s new leader decides to launch a pilgrimage into the Void, a move the Raiel believe will trigger an expansion of the Void which could destroy the entire galaxy.

Thus begins the intrigue and deception on the parts of those who want the Pilgrimage to go ahead and those who want to stop it; espionage, warmongering and a race against time. One of the main characters is an agent so secret he doesn’t know who he is or who he’s working for, trusting to his instincts to point him in the right direction at every turn. The representatives of ANA:Governance, a kind of world government for the core human planets, find themselves with a moral dilemma – do they have the right to stop Living Dream from pursuing happiness and salvation in the Void if there’s no firm proof that this action will harm others?

One interesting aspect of the story is the development of the human race. Genetic and technological enhancements abound, from cosmetic scales to alter hair colour to match an outfit, to built-in weapons and a direct connection to the unisphere (think wireless internet on a galactic scale). Rejuvenation treatments allow some people to stay in the same body for a thousand years; re-life allows the consciousness to be transplanted to a cloned body if the old one was killed in a messy way (which means that where crime is concerned, life is cheap); or a single consciousness can be shared between multiple bodies. The ultimate aim of Higher humans is to download their consciousness into ANA and abandon their body entirely, becoming ‘postphysical’ as some of the more advanced alien races have. Among all this advancement, however, some things remain recognisable: characters include an ambitious property developer, an obsessive collector of war memorabilia, and a middle-class family man living in London.

This is definitely an adult novel – plenty of bad language, gory violence, and sex (including an apparent obsession with orgies). I found the sheer number of characters a little confusing, and they were sometimes abandoned for so many pages I had to go back and refresh my memory, but the writing style was rich and the descriptions evocative. The chapters alternate between the events of 3589, and the contents of Inigo’s dreams – you could almost read the dream chapters as a low-technology pseudo-medieval fantasy story in their own right. It’s not the sort of trilogy-opener that you could read as a stand-alone work, there’s a lot that hasn’t become clear by the end of it. Although it does follow on from Hamilton’s earlier novels Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, there is no need to have read them first as anything important is explained in this book. Overall, a 7 out of 10.

This review is being posted here because SFReader seems to have had a fresh start, so it looks like the last few reviews I did for them last summer might not appear.

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