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

The third and final installment in Hamilton’s Void trilogy. Thankfully, it has only very few and comparatively short Edeard chapters this time, and those even are on a somewhat comedic note (although I am not certain the author actually intended them to be that way) thanks to some Groundhog Day elements getting mixed into the Epic Fantasy. In retrospect (although I am quite certain that the author did not actually intend it that way), this might even be read as a self-parodistic commentary on all the Edeard chapters in the trilogy’s previous novels – I certainly often felt like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, bored to tears for having to re-tread already familar ground over and over and over again…

So, with Edeard mostly out of the way, The Evolutionary Void should have been an enjoyable Space Opera romp… except that it wasn’t and that as I kept reading on I found myself increasingly annoyed with the novel’s implied political message. Usually, I do not care if I disagree with an author’s politics unless they’re preachy or really blatant about it, and even then they sometimes can be instructive to read as they occasionally (and in most cases quite unintentionally) nail down what is wrong with the current state of things better than many a well-meaning, liberal-minded piece of writing does. So I am not sure why this novel rubbed me the completely wrong way – maybe I was just generally cranky after having waded through the awful dross that was the trilogy’s middle volume.

The central message of the Void trilogy is something along the lines of “We are only human as long as we have something to strive for.” (I think it is even stated in pretty much those words somewhere in The Evolutionary Void by one of the characters.) Which sounds innocuous enough, is in fact a staple theme of many Science Fiction stories and novels – but is not quite as banal and harmless as it appears once you take a somewhat closer look at it. (Some spoilers for the trilogy in what follows.)

In Hamilton’s Void trilogy, the reason why everyone is so keen on getting into the Void (which is kind of a pocket universe at the centre of the galaxy) is because in that place it is possible for an individual to literally turn back time, thus granting what is basically unlimited wish-fulfillment. I’m leaving aside all the logical problems inherent in this that Hamilton does not bother with (the most glaring of which would be how this is supposed to work with several people having that ability not just the single one the novels actually show us), what interests me here is what according to The Evolutionary Void happens once that becomes possible – namely, the human society that exists in the Void stagnates and eventually dies out. Again, common enough and pretty much the standard way this theme plays out in probably every work of Science Fiction to make use of it (there even are several episodes of the original Star Trek TV series along very much the same lines), but just consider a moment what is actually implied here – namely, that once everyone has what they want, there is no reason to live on anymore, or in other words: It is a Bad Thing if everyone is happy, because only people who are not happy want to develop onwards. I’d think the issue with that kind of argument should be quite obvious – on the one hand, it maintains that people should strive for something, on the other hand it tells them that what they strive for is ultimatively not worth having. Also note that it does not imply that everyone is unhappy but only that some people are, and that the people who are happy have a vested interested in making sure that people who are unhappy do stay that way. In other words, it essentially boils down to an apology for leaving things just the way they are, even as one pays lip-service to progress towards a better world – but a world that (according to this theory) cannot be better than the present one unless it is the same. In still other words, the central message Hamilton’s Void trilogy is set up to convey is a deeply reactionary one (as distinguished from conservativism which at least allows for some criticism of the way things are).

Just skimming over my posts will show you that I’m really easy to please reading-wise these days, but I have to say that the Void trilogy was rather a waste of time. I already got Hamilton’s latest, Great North Road, before reading this trilogy, so might eventually give that a shot, but unless it turns out to be unexpectedly brilliant it’s likely the last book of his I’ll have bought.

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