This long complex novel is the follow up to The Dreaming Void, another long complex novel which I reviewed a few months ago. It took me several chapters to get back into the story and start remembering the characters. Readers might be advised to revisit book one before tackling book two if they have the time.
This is a space opera on a big scale. Humans and other aliens occupy most of the galaxy. Technology is highly developed and most people have their memories downloaded somewhere so that if the body gets killed they can re-life with a new one. Some worlds are more advanced than others. Some people, usually government special agents, have biononic technology in their bodies so they can access data systems, use force fields, and so on. There are various factions in human civilization. Some want to go ahead and do away with old fashioned bodies right away and become Artificial Intelligences. Others like bodies and think this will ultimately happen but we should progress towards it slowly.
There is a big area at the centre of the galaxy called the Void. It is virtually impenetrable but long ago some human colony ships got into it somehow and crashed on a world called Querencia. They couldn't get off again because quantum physics is different inside the Void. Time flows at a different rate than in the Galaxy outside and warp drive doesn't work, but psychic powers do. In the capital city Makkathran a hick country boy called Edeard, now known as the Waterwalker, is rising up the ranks of the police and eliminating crime in the city by virtue of his powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
Some time ago a man called Inigo dreamt of Edeard’s life in the Void and founded Living Dream, a religion. When people die in the Void their souls fly to the Heart at its centre and seem to live happily ever after. This doesn’t happen outside the Void. Living Dream is launching a pilgrimage to take millions of followers into the Void where this version of heaven is achievable. To do this they will need permission from the Skylords, vast intelligences who fly about in space. Once every few generations a Dreamer is born who can communicate with the Skylords. Inigo was the First Dreamer and a young lady called Araminta is the Second Dreamer, which she discovered at the end of volume one, much to her surprise. She doesn't want to be the Second Dreamer. She wants to marry and have kids and lead a nice quiet life.
When people enter Void it tends to expand and swallow big chunks of the galaxy. Obviously this is a bad thing for those atheists who want to keep living in our Galaxy. The Ocisen Empire is determined to stop the pilgrimage and has launched an invasion fleet at Earth. But some factions in the Commonwealth support the pilgrimage, for their own ends, and are secretly supplying Living Dream with technology to enable it.
It takes five hundred words just to describe the situation at the start of the novel but that doesn’t mean Hamilton has written a dry, scientific text. Justine Burnelli works for ANA Governance, the AI‘s who run Earth and its allied worlds. She penetrates the Void successfully in her one-woman super ship and is able to communicate with people outside. Her story is full of emotion. The struggles of Edeard and his friends to bring law and order to Makkathran take up more than half of the book and are very exciting. Edeard’s tale still reminds me of a Heinlein juvenile, a sweet innocent lad with a superpower shaking the world up, but it’s a great story. One tiny flaw is the ending but as its possibility is inherent in the very nature of the Void, and given away in the title, I suppose it's inescapable.
The doings of the various factions out in the great Galaxy outside are also dramatic. ANA Governance had thought that repelling the Ocisen fleet would be fairly easy but those sneaky aliens have a few surprises in store. The fat genius scientist Troblum has gone into hiding after the Cat nearly killed him. Paula Myo, the top ANA investigator, is still hopping around the Galaxy trying to uncover the devilish schemes of the Advancer faction. Inigo, still alive, has been captured by another Faction agent and Araminta, the Second Dreamer, is on the run from the ruthless forces of Ethan, the Cleric Conservator of Living Dream. Confused? Well, this trilogy is a follow up to Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga and features a lot of the characters and worlds therein. I have not read it but I probably will, soon. The drawback is that the first volume of the Void trilogy was pretty hard going for new readers and frankly the second will be a complete mystery if you haven’t read the first.
However, doing so is worth the effort because it’s a great, sprawling ripping yarn reminiscent of Golden Age science fiction. The super-powerful ships blasting planets and each other with coruscating energy fields hark back to E.E. (Doc) Smith and the characters hark back to Heinlein. The prose is not fancy. Hamilton does not bother with similes or metaphors and if you like searching for Freudian subtexts you will probably have to search elsewhere. If you like a great story, this is it.