Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton [UPDATED]

Spoiler Level: Low-Medium

The Dreaming Void is a very good novel and a very enjoyable read.  It also frustrates the hell out of me.

The story takes place in the year 3589, which really appeals to me.  I like the idea of a story that's so far ahead in time that society has been radically redefined.  And the book delivers on that promise-- the galaxy of 3589 has practically conquered death, with a new body being able to be made to order, with all your previous experiences downloaded into it.  Almost nobody dies; they just suffer body-loss.  And you can make your new body look however you want it to, so everyone looks like they're in their twenties even though they're centuries old.

It's also kind of frustrating because society is so radically different that it takes a while to figure out just how this society works.  For example, there are Higher humans and Advanced humans, the unisphere and the gaiasphere, biononics and genetic improvements that all seem to not be genetic at all but computer based.  It's a lot to take in with very little explanation-- you have to just figure it out as you go.  Although there is finally an explanation on the differences between all of these and how they came about... 474 pages in.  And by then you've pretty much figured it out, that page just fills in the details.  And just who the hell is Ozzie, anyway?

One of the things I love about the book is that it has many, many different characters taking part in many different storylines, all of which are driven by the fact that a religious group called Living Dream wants to make a Pilgrimage into the Void.  Unlike most galaxies that have a black hole at the center of them, it turns out ours has the Void at the center instead.  And every now and then the Void expands and devours anything around it.  But one man named Inigo started receiving dreams from inside the Void, and now his followers want to go there.  Others are afraid that going there will trigger a massive devourment phase that will destroy all life in the galaxy.

And the nice thing about this set up?  It's all in place by page 24.  Out of 582.  So you know how I complain that Jack McDevitt books tend to give away major parts of the book on the back cover?  Can't say that here.

The frustrating downside to this is that no major plot points are moved forward on this until the end of the book.  And then, nearly all of them end on a cliffhanger!

Now the characters and situations and worlds are genuinely all very interesting.  I was never bored with the book for a minute.  But dammit, I want to see this interesting premise move forward, and after 582 pages and over five weeks of reading,  I have to get the next book to see the overall story arc move one step?!?

And yes, it took me over five weeks to read this book, even with my coming back to it often and ignoring most of my comics.  Thick book, small print, slow reader.  And I realize it's not the author's fault I can't read faster; man, I wish I could install some biononics or Advancer upgrades or what have you so I could have read this in my usual 10 days.  But that's just the speed I read.  Which means if I want to satisfy the curiosity I felt when I read that initial back cover blurb, I have to invest another good six weeks (the next book is a good 90-some pages longer), and guess what?  It's a bloody trilogy!  (And no, I didn't realize that when I picked it up.  I did realize there was a second book, but I didn't realize the whole thing would be over 1800 pages.)

And I haven't even touched on the fact that it takes place in the same universe as his two previous books, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained.  For the most part that's not a problem because it's set 1,500 years after those books, so the events of those books are ancient history and easily picked up on as simple backstory when referenced.  It's only when characters start popping up from those books that I start to feel like I'm missing something important, but it does a good enough job of giving me what I need to know.

Now by contrast, the story of the dreams that are coming from the Void are paced just right for me.

The book alternates chapters; we get one chapter set in the outside galaxy following the lives of many characters, followed by a chapter of the dreams received from a microuniverse that exists inside the Void, following the life of Edeard, the man who changed their world.  The microuniverse inside the Void is very much like the middle ages, with one notable exception-- everyone there has telepathy and telekinesis.  It takes a little while to get the hang of Edeard's world as well, but his world is much simpler and much easier to grasp.  And most importantly for me, in a story telling perspective, his story comes to a climax that sets the stage for something bigger in the next book.  It's a good breaking point.

And really, that's my big complaint.  I wanted this book to satisfy my curiosity of the premise, while upping the stakes and giving me a good breaking point.  The inner Edeard storyline does that; the outer Inigo storyline doesn't.  And it's hardly the author's fault that he didn't write the book the way *I* want books to be formatted.

I don't mean to sound so bitchy, and maybe it's just because I've had my meds reduced (well there's a giveaway), but dammit, I feel disappointed.  I feel like I invested so much into this book and now it tells me that to see the part of the story that should have come in around page 200 I now need to invest it all over again in another 600 page book.

And I probably will, because after all is said and done, it is a good book.  If it's about the journey and not the destination, then it's an enjoyable journey.  Did it entertain?  Yes, yes it did.  And this is one of the cases where I have to remind myself (say it with me folks) that it's called entertainment.

But man, I can't help but feel let down.

I wish I could read faster.

UPDATE: Having had a night to sleep on it and let it settle in, it occurs to me that I've walked away from books that ended like this without caring what happened next, or even dropped books in the middle once my curiosity was satisfied and never came back to them.  The very fact that I did get this upset about it shows how much the author made me care about the world he's created here.  So some well-deserved kudos to Peter F. Hamilton for being able to do that.  I will definitely read the follow-up, The Temporal Void... but probably not until I'm on vacation and can dedicate a lot of time to reading it.

I still wish I could read faster.

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