THE DREAMING VOIDA novel by Peter F. Hamilton
(2007, Del Rey Books)
The Void Trilogy, book 1
As a religious movement plans to travel into the impenetrable heart of the galaxy, various hyper-human factions search for ways to stop them, lest they destroy the galaxy.
-- First reading (hardcover)
The most enjoyable thing about this book was the universe it was set in. Advances in humanity and culture felt right -and it was given in a manner that was not insulting to anybody, I think. The author made no derogatory comments as Arthur C. Clarke did in 3001, no personal opinions got in the way. This was a much more believable third millennium than that one.Spoiler review:
Still, the last time it took me a month to read a book, it was because I hated it, but was determined to keep on going. That was not the case here. The book was long, but I've read longer books in a shorter time span. For some reason, although it held my interest, the book did not keep me turning page after page, drawing me back night after night. I didn't mind putting it down for several nights in a row, which is unlike me. And yet, the characters were enjoyable; the setting unique, as far as I've read. The things the author came up with blew my mind, at some points.
I've come up with cell storage on my own, as I'm sure many authors have. But to use it to this extent, I wonder how the biononics are powered. How much do these people need to eat in order to power force fields and weapon systems? Humanity is split into various factions, from the ones that have no supplements, to Higher and Advancer cultures, which have various degrees of enhancements. Most people access the gaiafield, a giant internet made up of people and information, where emotions can be deduced directly, for example. Other humans have joined the ANA, a post-physical digital realm dedicated to the preservation of humanity, where people can download. Some of those people maintain their bodies for future use.
Aaron, an assassin whose memory has been erased yet knows his current purpose, doesn't worry about killing people to reach his goal because most of them can be "re-lifed", brought back to life using their DNA and restored memories.
The entire story is set around a proposed Pilgrimage by The Living Dream movement to enter the Void at the center of the galaxy, a place where apparently thought can shape reality. Humans know from an alien race that the Void has devoured part of the galaxy already, and might resume its devourment at any time. The last cycle was when it was intentionally disturbed, so they believe the entire galaxy is at risk by the pilgrimage. Many alien races want to stop the Living Dream. A man named Inigo had dreams about a human civilization within the Void, real enough and shared among humans attuned to his thoughts, that he founded this movement. But suddenly he resigned and disappeared. The council now in charge has decided it is time to enter the Void.
Each of the character stories is pretty much separate at the moment. Most of the characters are working at stopping the Pilgrimage, on behalf of various factions. Aaron is the most destructive. He takes possession of Corrie Lyn, an ex-council member who used to be Inigo's lover. He wants to use her to bring Inigo out of hiding, so he can speak out against the Pilgrimage. Through them, we learn a lot about Higher methods and culture, as they visit one place after another, learning about Inigo's birth through his memory download, which Aaron steals in a very violent encounter. This was written in a very interesting fight, in which Aaron's abilities are almost overwhelmed. They travel to a world of the Raiel, where one alien downloads Inigo's memories and tells them he is likely to be found on another world, a dead world that is in the process of being reclaimed after a devastating interstellar war a millennium ago. They are finding people who didn't make it to the evacuation point in time, and re-lifing them! By the end of the book, Aaron and Corrie Lyn have found Inigo there.
The other character who takes much of the story is Araminta. She starts out as a down-on-her luck waitress, but then inherits some money, which she uses to buy and refurbish condos. While looking for appliances, she comes across Mr. Bovey, a human who has created multiples of himself. He can be in more than thirty places at once! But to best effect he and she have group sex -one of her, half a dozen of him or more. And every time she has sex, she dreams. It becomes obvious after a few dreams that she is the Second Dreamer that everyone is trying to find. By the end of the book, she realizes it herself, and communicates with the Skylord in her dreams.
There are other characters, but they are minor in this book, perhaps to become important later on. Troblum is obsessed with the Starflyer war of fifteen hundred years ago, and is a technical genius. He has built a device that can move planets through hyperspace, which he thinks the violent Prime aliens did before that war. He discovers something shocking that we are not yet privy to by the end of the book. There is Paula Myo, who is over a thousand years old, but who comes out of ANA every once in a while to mingle with society, especially when there is a crisis. And a few others are scattered around. But it is not really about the characters. It's about the society, and the characters are a great way to show it off.
But the most interesting parts of the book were Inigo's dreams. I wonder if this was because they were more fantasy than science fiction. I do seem to enjoy fantasy more these days, even if it is devolved humanity that started out from a high technological society.
Edeard is the main focus on the planet Querencia, which lies deep in the Void, where his ancestors crashed long ago. In his village, he is the only apprentice in the egg-shaping guild, which can use telepathic abilities to shape genetic material in living eggs into intelligent animals which can be taught to do menial and helpful tasks for the people. Through seven dreams, we see seven different moments in Edeard's life. From struggling at his first guild task of creating a well with the ge-cats, to an expedition where he discovers how powerful he is, repelling bandits in the wilds (a terrific sequence), we get a gradual and very informative view of what kind of people live there, and ultimately why the Living Dream wants to go there. When Edeard's village is attacked, he and Salrana are two of only a small handful of survivors, and they are taken to another village, and eventually to the city of Makkathran. Without his dead guild master's letter of recommendation, however, Edeard will have to start over as an egg-shaper, though he is probably more advanced than most of the shapers in the city. Instead, he joins the constables, where he learns just how much the criminal gang networks control the city. He makes one enemy in particular, when he pulls the object of the theft from his hand. The next time, Edeard catches the man and his accomplices in the process of stealing, but they get away in court because there were no witnesses and the defense turned the facts around. Finally, when it was just getting to be too much to watch this powerful man become a victim, he is set up by the gang. His squadmates fall into the trap, but he feels it in his gut, and is able to protect them in the end, surprising the gang at how powerful he was. He can shape the city into any form he wants, and when the gang is getting away again, he tells the water to firm up under his feet so he can chase them in their boat down the canal. And he succeeds. Thus the Water-walker is born, the messiah of the Living Dream.
There was nothing really to dislike about this book, except maybe that it didn't have a conclusion to more aspects of the story. Edeard got some sort of closure in what will undoubtedly be a turning point in his life. Araminta comes to the conclusion that she will become a multiple to have a life with Bovey, and she discovers that she is the second dreamer, rejecting the Sky Lord, so that the Void appears to start a new devourment phase.
The story was interesting, but somehow didn't draw me in enough. I was never bored by it, and it didn't drag on, but it felt too long. Many scenes showed off similar aspects of the society, but I felt didn't move the story forward enough. I do wonder about the continuation of the story, however, and will gladly read the second book in the series.
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