Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Peter F. Hamilton
(2006, Del Rey Books)

Commonwealth Saga, book 2

As the Primes continue their advance, humanity bands togeter to create more powerful weapons and faster escape ships.


-- First reading (ebook)
February 25th to March 27th, 2022


A very pleasurable read, though a long one. Where the previous book was mostly just a description of daily life in the Commonwealth, this one had a lot more action, it took the stories and drove them forward, with a climax that takes almost two hundred pages to conclude. Where Melanie was barely interesting in the previous book, here she probably has the most interesting parts, and I love the way she ends up at the end –content. Once again, I could have done without Ozzie’s part, as it has only the barest relevance to the actual story. I wasn’t too impressed with Justine’s part of the story, even if she drops out of it partway through and doesn’t get a satisfactory conclusion. But I quite enjoyed the chase for the Starflyer, and the way humanity brought everything to the brink with more powerful weapons. The best part has to be just the general feeling of the society, the way people take technology for granted, even when they are leading a simple lifestyle. Humanity has evolved, but still remains the same at its base level.

Spoiler review:

Certainly, this book could have been compressed, and the previous one could have been pulled into this one and compressed further, as there are so many scenes that took a long time to pass. I think that’s the author’s point –that in real life, things take time. He shows us the in-between parts, and while I was very anxious to get to the more exciting bits, I can understand why he included the others. Unfortunately, it’s hard to keep focused when the narrative wanders all over, even with the interesting characters.

The early plot deals a lot with Justine, her grief for Kazimir (she implants his sperm into her, getting pregnant), and the attempt on her life, which his stopped by her father, the golden man. She’s taken in Paula, who was fired from her director’s position of the Crimes Division. Together, they uncover the mole in the navy, and start to believe in the Starflyer, the alien who the terrorist Brotherhood believes is trying to subvert and destroy humanity. With every section that passes in the earlier parts of the book, people in places of power grow more and more aware of the manipulation, following the trail of mysterious leads.

The action starts on Illuminatus, where Melanie has traced some Starflyer agents, and Paula has traced the mole to different agents. The battles in this book are always interesting, full of exquisite description. The ambush in the treetops, the destruction of the reprofiling clinic, the setup on the train, and more, all kept my interest going.

When the navy fleet attacks the giant wormhole, MorningLightMountain has already learned tactics that allow it to defeat them. It launches a counter-attack that sends up super-flares from stars around several Commonwealth planets. But the navy has new weapons that can defeat them, allowing the people to evacuate, because the defense is almost as bad as the alien weapon -concentrated radiation is still released. Then Nigel Sheldon reveals his ultimate weapon, something that can destroy a planet completely, and when used against a star, cause it to go nova, wiping out the giant wormhole, giving humanity a period of grace.

The Dynasty families are all creating lifeboat spaceships, which could take them to other planets or maybe out of the galaxy. Nigel concocts a cool idea to evacuate the victims of the radiated planets, sending them through wormholes fifteen years into the future.

The big thing about this book is the way the author has poured his soul into creating a believable and viable human civilization in the far future. The use of wormholes and spaceships, virtual manipulation of just about everything, and the unisphere, contrasts, though, with their energy needs. While fusion reactors exist, I’m not sure much of the transportation uses them. Trains run on diesel, and beg the question of why trains, anyway, and why roads –why do we still have Land Rovers and other cars from our day? There are two answers to that question. The first is that the people in charge were still alive in our time, and are stuck in their ways. The second is that limitless planets open up limitless ability to exploit them, at no cost. Earth is now beautiful and saved from over-population and fossil fuels, but other planets have replaced it as unlimited resources. And I wonder if the author was sponsored by car companies?

So while humanity has advanced, I think re-lifeing and reprofiling, which allow us to live hundreds of years, if not more, reduce our drive. Society is post-scarcity, except where war threatens it, but it also seems to be stuck.

I was hugely disappointed with Ozzie and Orion’s travels along the Silfen paths. They learn that the species that enclosed the Primes in the Dyson spheres has ascended, and will not or cannot help anymore. Nothing else. When Ozzie arrives home, though, Nigel takes him into custody, from which he escapes and hijacks the nova-bomb ship, intending to restart the barrier, to prevent humanity from committing genocide. With Nigel chasing him, Ozzie is attacked by the Primes, and just barely gets off a bomb to destroy the device hindering the barrier, restoring it. The whole climax was anti-climactic.

On the other hand, while the chase to capture the Starflyer was long and drawn out, it was also very interesting. The astronomer who was captured by the Primes, Dudley Bose, was able to take advantage of the Prime weakness –lack of understanding of individuals- to download himself into a Prime motile and escape. He makes contact with a commando team at Randtown, and gets off planet thanks to Melanie, and the way she’s worked her way into Nigel and Paula’s confidence. The Bose motile figures out that the Starflyer is an advanced Prime immotile, probably from Dyson Beta, where the species overwhelmed the natives and took over their genetic manipulation. Caught between stars when the barriers went up, it fled. The Starflyer has taken over many human minds, similar to the way MorningLightMountain controls its motiles. But this one wants to destroy both humanity and MorningLightMountain, so it can become the primary influence in the galaxy.

The chase takes place first by train, through the wormhole, then on the long trip to Half Way, then through the wormhole to Far Away, the Starflyer’s ultimate destination. The characters are interesting, except maybe for Paula, who makes herself sick nearly to death because she has to work with a known terrorist, Adam, so they can defeat the Starflyer. While Bradley chases the Starflyer by car (it would have been more efficient if humanity had invented repulsors so they could fly), Wilson and Oscar deliver Martian weather data and grab super-gliders to help enact the planet’s revenge. It’s too bad we’re advised on what will happen, because that’s exactly what happens. They use the Martian data to tease the already-supreme storms on Far Away into such a frenzy that they will tear up anything in the way, including the Starflyer’s force field and spaceship. Bradley, once under the Starflyer's control until the Silfen cured him, boards the spaceship to ensure the Starflyer dies, while Wilson crashes his glider to help guide the storm from up above –mourning his navy wife, who also turns out to be a Starflyer agent.

Then there’s Melanie, who was so boring in the last book, but has grown up here. She still uses her sexuality and beautiful body to get what she wants, and to good effect, but she tires of it throughout the book. She has a lot of sex with a lot of men, from Dudley (relifed) to Nigel, her old lover Morton (revived from his prison term to become a commando), and various other people as she searches for Starflyer agents. She hides the Bose motile until almost too late, and springs Ozzie from Nigel’s prison-house. But before she leaves, she takes young Orion under her wing. I liked the way she teased him to get to Ozzie and the (lack of) information he possessed, and when Orion sees them together and runs off in jealousy, she seduces him (who desperately wants to have sex) because she knows that she didn’t treat him fairly -the first time she's used her sexuality for somebody other than herself. After she’s shot helping Ozzie hijack the spaceship, Orion is the only one who waits by her side for her recovery. They take an honest liking to each other, and continue their sexual journey, even as they move to travel the Silfen paths in search of his parents. It’s a sweet ending for a girl who started out as an underaged sexual toy for Morton.

The only one who doesn’t get proper closure in this book is Justine, whom I imagine will call her child Kazimir, as I’m still certain a man by that name appears in The Dreaming Void. I suppose the same could be said of the addicted Raiel Qatux, who uses a woman Melanie used to know as an emotional crutch. The Barsoomians were supposedly at the Starflyer attack to protect him, and I guess he escaped on the Land Rovers, but I can’t be sure, as everything else for many kilometers was completely destroyed.

Still, the life of the Commonwealth, the chase of the Starflyer, and the interactions of the very well-developed people, was worth the read. I’m not sure it was worth a two book series, and it gets slow in some spots, but I quite enjoyed returning to this universe night after night. A very well-made universe.


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