Saturday, June 25, 2011

Peter F. Hamilton - The Evolutionary Void

Peter F. Hamilton, The Evolutionary Void, Pan, 2011.

This book is the third and final volume of the Void Trilogy, which in turn is set in a later period in the same universe as the Commonwealth Saga. As usual for this author, it is a large book, spanning many different characters, sub-plots, and worlds.

It is difficult to discuss the end of a series without giving spoilers. While in the Commonwealth Saga the threat to human civilization was posed by an uncompromising alien species, in the Void Trilogy it is the Void itself that threatens to expand and engulf the galaxy. All known species have been studying the nature of the Void for thousands of years, but humans have received a unique insight into the mystery when a scientist starts dreaming the lives of some humans living inside it. As the series progresses, we follow the characters outside the Void as a group of humans plan to try to enter the Void, which would lead to a catastrophic expansion. We also follow the world within the dreams, and gradually learn about the special nature of life within the Void.

This volume builds to a satisfying climax. The various sub-plots are tied together. The mystery is explained. Some things that earlier seemed to be trivial descriptions or local colour turn out to play central roles in the story. A few characters from the earlier stories are re-introduced.

I have read all of Hamilton's novels, and enjoy observing the progress of his skills over time. His work has a wide appeal, with something for everyone. There are characters, sub-plots, and aspects of the story that will interest individual readers more than others. For me, the combination of a wide-ranging space opera describing far future human societies, along with the Big Ideas, creates a perfect balance of enjoyable escapism with thought-provoking speculation into scientific and social possibilities.

One example of this is the idea that human life has been extended, and people can rejuvenate frequently. Most people maintain a young appearance, usually in their twenties, and are in good health and very attractive. An interesting thought experiment for readers: Try to imagine every adult you know, including family, friends, colleagues, and celebrities, all appearing to be around their mid-twenties, all in good health, and all as attractive as possible. Nobody would age, nobody would have any disabilities or any of the features that might be considered unattractive or unhealthy. Can you imagine spending your day with everyone, including yourself, looking like this? Imagine a wedding where the bride's mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on for many generations, are all present and all looking equally young and attractive. This demonstrates how used we are to the concept of ageing. We expect to be able to determine a person's age, more or less, from their appearance, and that this appearance will change over the decades. The social implications of changing this expectation are among the most interesting speculations in many SF works I have read, including much of Hamilton's work.

I recommend this series, and new readers will benefit from reading the books in order, starting with the Commonwealth Saga, or perhaps even the related stand-alone novel Misspent Youth, before reading the Void Trilogy.

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