What I’m Reading: Peter F. Hamilton – The Dreaming Void

A lot of people think very highly of Peter F. Hamilton, and the cover of my edition even names him as “Britain’s Number One Science Fiction Writer”. I assume that this refers to the number of books he has sold, because that is the only area where one might reasonably make such a claim (at least for as long as Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom) – compared to the likes of Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Charles Stross, Hamilton comes off as mediocre at best.

The Dreaming Void is the first volume in the Void Trilogy and follows the author’s Commonwealth duology, sharing a substantial amount of their big cast, and I recommend reading the Commonwealth novels first before tackling the trilogy – if you want to at all, for while I mostly enjoyed the duology the Void Trilogy left me with very mixed feelings.  even though it has to be said that not all of them are exactly original to him, Hamilton burns quite a firework of ideas here, their sheer abundance and brilliance are quite breathtaking. Unfortunately, just like any fireworks, they make everyone go “oooh!” and “ahhh!”, but then they are over very fast and don’t leave much except some scattered remains. Similarly, in The Dreaming Void (and in fact his other novels as well) one never gets the feeling that Hamilton actually does anything with his plethora of ideas – they only serve to feed the action and adventure of the story but never lead to any deeper exploration. Of course, if action and adventure are all you’re looking for, then you’ve come to the right author.

Except for one major problem all of Hamilton’s novels suffer from, namely their excessive bloat – they tend to be really fat volumes, from 700-1000 pages long with lots and lots of often completely superfluous filler material that could easily have been excised without any loss to plot, atmosphere or character development (not that the latter was exactly Hamilton’s strong suit anyway). The Dreaming Void consists of two different threads that at least this far into the trilogy are mostly independent of each other – one of them takes place in the Commonwealth and is the kind of grand scale space opera one has come to expect from Hamilton. This part was mostly enjoyable to read, although not quite without some episodes that rather dragged along – the main offender here was Araminta’s story: while the reader soon catches on as to why she is in the novel, that reason only really comes into play towards the end and up to then we are treated with several days in the life of a far future property developer which read exactly as interesting as you’d expect them to.

Things get really bad however in the second narrative strand which is set inside the titular Void and marks something of a new approach for Hamilton in so far as it reads very much like Fantasy. The problem is that while it may be new for Hamilton, it most definitely is not for anyone who has read more than two or three Epic Fantasy trilogies, because he utilizes every single old and overused cliché that has plagued this genre for the last few decades. It is the story of a country boy who is forced to leave his home village behind (in this case because it has conveniently been raided by bandits) and discovers that he is Something Special because he has Super Powers and follows a Destiny – it’s the basic formula for innumerable Epic Fantasy novels and Hamilton does absolutely nothing new with it but faithfully reiterates every outworn plot point. I’m usually not someone who skim-reads but I found myself just glancing over pages to confirm that it was indeed nothing but stuff that I had already read a dozen times before.

The Dreaming Void might have been a solid, entertaining space opera but it is one of the examples of a novel that suffers from an author leaving his comfort zone. It generally is not a bad thing at all when an author tries something new, but Hamilton for whatever reason decided to do that by using the most worn-out Fantasy clichés around and not doing anything even remotely original with them, so that his new is eveyone else’s same-old. And the resulting novel reads like a printer’s error, as if someone had, Kater Murr style, accidentally bound Hamilton’s new novel with the beginning of a posthumously published David Eddings trilogy.

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