Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
Out Now in Paperback from Pan Macmillan
(cover from the Sept ’10 reissue)
There is only one place to start when talking about Pandora’s Star. It’s size. At 1152 pages of big. But it’s not only the time that you invest reading a big book it’s the mental capacity you end up using so it all makes sense.. You have to absorb it and live and breathe it for the duration. If you don’t then you might lose your way or worse lose interest.
Luckily Peter F. Hamilton is telling a story that has easily filled those pages and then some. I’m not saying he’s filled them all with the right things but on the final page I was more than ready, and indeed did, start Judas Unchained, the concluding half of The Commonwealth Saga, and about 100 pages bigger.
Pandora’s Star starts with a mystery. Astronomer Dudley Bose obverses a star over a thousand light years away vanish, though it doesn’t really vanish, instead it’s sealed inside a force field of immense size. He doesn’t see it from earth but one of the other 600 colonised planets that makes up the Interstellar Commonwealth, which are all linked by wormholes rather than spaceships. So in order to see what’s happened beyond the reach of their wormholes they build their first faster-than-light starship, Second Chance, and that’s where everything really gets complicated.
And it does get complicated for humanity in general but for the main characters and their threads the whole tale is complicated. Hamiliton really does have a good sense of how to pitch everything so it seems on a vast scale but also a human everyday level at the same time.
You have a detective, Paula Mayo, who has spent several lifetimes trying to stop a terrorist threat. There is Ozzie who seems to be a bit of a hippy but is trying to get a handle on the Silfen, friendly aliens who don’t seem to be technologically advanced but can literally walk between worlds. And then we have Captain Wilson Kime whose task to see what’s out at the disappearing star and whose arrival there sets in motion events that will change everything.
I’m not sure if the above is helpful or not. To give more away would spoil the momentum that keeps you reading. Hamilton is building layer upon layer as you find out more until you get to slowly see a bigger picture though I’m not sure even that it isn’t really part of a larger puzzle.
What you do get is an understanding of the Commonwealth from several perspectives. You get to see things from the top and near the bottom. This is a place where you don’t have to die. You can be rejuvenated or if needed regrown with all your memories reinserted into your new body. You can have your DNA altered to remove worrying traits and receive enhancements. Not forgetting all the technology at their disposal including advanced artificial intelligence. There is little danger of dying or fear of total death. That is until these events unfold.
The journey you follow with the characters really does make the 1152 pages worth the investment. Not everything flows, there are points that give understanding don’t really enhance the overall story but then in a multithreaded story everyone is going to latch on to their own favourites and want to get back to them as soon as possible.
He does get the overall pacing right, though there is a section where, in my opinion, the focus stays to long on one character and his endeavours. It is a pay off moment as things have been building up to it but from the chop/change pace up until then it feels wrong to be in the same place for so long. But that was my only moment of fatigue where I truly flagged.
It’s not only the changes in viewpoint that keeps everything going but it’s those layers I mentioned. Nothing is what it first appears. And that’s a really big payoff moment when things click and you see that the next part has got to have as many more questions as it has to have answers.
You have to admire a storyteller that does have the confidence to do a story like this that can only be done in SF. You can need to see how humanity could evolve and what dangers, as well as pleasures, there are in our potential future. It’s a rare gift and that’s what makes him a star of SF. There are very few people who could do this and make it feel like a spring rather than a marathon.
What you have in Pandora’s Star is a superior slice of SF. One that has 600 planet plus chessboard with billions of potential pieces to be moved around but at the hands of the master craftsman Peter F. Hamilton only requires a few dozen to give you a sense of interstellar events that have been hundreds of years in the making.