Peter F. Hamilton

 

The Evolutionary Void

Part 3 of the Void Trilogy

 

I don’t think this review is going to win me any friends J

 

Fans may make the valid point that it’s not best to start with the third book in a series (particularly if the other two are similarly housebrick sized), but I hadn’t come across Hamilton before, and this book happened to fall into my lap (fortunately just metaphorically).

 

Spoilers.

 

Space Opera scope (cf. Verner Vinge, Zindell) – everything is on galactic/millennial/apocalyptic scale – and Hamilton has a lot of cool ideas. In this book the one I found most enjoyably realised was Edeard’s reset button. Rather than be all precious about how you can’t tamper with causality, Hamilton goes, “Ah, what the hell,” and there’s fun and even occasional insight with his ‘what if’ changes. But the ‘what if’ thing is key for me: I think I would have much preferred Hamilton in the 50s, writing short stories around his ideas, maybe a novella. Maybe even this book down to a novel (big font, but it’s still probably at least two normal books on word count). Because the ideas carry this book, the settings are usable, but the characters and themes are a let down. You can get by with undeveloped characters in a short story, but not in a series – or even a single book the size of this thing.

 

Did anyone else notice that the characters were largely the same person with different names? Most of the main ones anyway. Not really an issue that Ariminta (Vance allusion?) goes multi-body at the end; that’s how I felt with most of the characters. It reminded me of The Belgariad, where you’d get virtually the same dialogue with different people, sometimes within pages. If I could have a dollar for every time someone says, “Oh crap,” in this book… I get that it’s playing with the heroic thing, “Look, my heroes aren’t just cardboard supermen, they talk like us,” but these sort of juvenile, we talk like teens playing a video game in the middle of what’s meant to be life threatening situations (cf. NCIS, Kay, Goodkind), characters are everywhere (I’ve read a bit of war history, and, “Bit busy,” is not how someone’s going to respond to a radio call if they are genuinely under fire). A good test of whether you can really write adult fiction is, “Would any grown-ups read my books if they didn’t have spaceships?”. Ian (M.) Banks is one of the only guys I’m aware of who does this – and his characters and themes are in a different league. It’s a bizarre thing that I’ll read, and at times enjoy, books like this one that are philosophically juvenile (told you I wasn’t going to make any friends with this review … but, c’mon, dialogue aside (which is enough), let’s just take the treatment of ‘Living Dream’ as an example of Hamilton’s nuanced satire of religion: yeah, anyone into that stuff (Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus… – let’s just condescendingly dismiss most people who’ve ever lived on the planet) is essentially stupid. You can (ignorantly) say that sort of thing when you’re sixteen and know everything, but not if you’ve lived a bit, particularly in different places, and realised that ‘Muslims’ for example, includes a huge range of intellect, practises, beliefs, lifestyles, subtleties … even if you don’t believe in their God. And if you’re a westerner writing with Arab characters, you, unlike Tom Clancy, really need to go somewhere beyond, “Oh, don’t they wear tea-towels and blow people up?” Or the multi-body thing – OK as a daydream idea as realised here (hey, sexy Araminta can make ten versions of herself and get it off all at once with her multi body boyfriend/s! Cooool!), maybe something as a ‘what if’ for a short story, definitively juvenile (what?!), but nowhere near a thought-provoking examination of how clones (or whatever) might really relate to each other – something which could be fascinating and insightful) … anyway, where was I at the start of these parenthesis? Ah yes, I can read, and even sometimes enjoy, books like this that are philosophically juvenile … because they’ve got spaceships. Very much the common experience of movies – you can relish a film because of fantastic special effects or car chases or fight scenes, just accepting that the characters are wafer thin. Sure, when just occasionally you get something with the FX and some decent characters and thought (e.g. District 9), it’s such a greater pleasure. This is a scale, not an either/or, and Hamilton’s characters are more developed than some – but they’re definitely at the lower end of the scale.

 

As such, it was telling for me that it took me a long time to get through the final part of the book. I found I cared less and less what was going to happen. The delivery-man, for example, might have a loving family, but they were no more than a trope, a mention, and I had to do the work of making myself care about them – Hamilton didn’t even really try to get me there. The villains, despite some attempt at back story, still in Bond fashion just seemed to miraculously have their doomsday devices. I think Hamilton was best at spectacle and novelty, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot running underneath – and this huge form makes that more uncomfortably clear.

 

October 2012