Science fiction storytelling comes in a variety of modes that shift from grand epics expensing across space-and-time with a technological backdrop for what is essentially a fantasy story to hard science fiction where the technology itself is inherent to the very plot and personal development of the characters. In his book, Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton gracefully welds the two together in the first of a sprawling, multibook space opera series about the Commonwealth of humanity. From the get-go, the book springboards the readers into seeing how humanity goes from mundane workaday contemporary science and is catapulted into the future of science fiction with a humorous jab at how technology works in leaps and bounds.
The very first chapter of the book has a staid-and-true space-race style narrative with humans finally landing on the surface of Mars. The organization that does it happens to be using very conventional science—rockets and spaceships—when they find themselves abruptly interrupted by a brilliant entrepreneur in a spacesuit standing on Mars with them. The difference is that instead of jumping there strapped into a vehicle propelled by thousands of kilotonnes of explosives, he went to Mars directly from his physics laboratory via a wormhole.
“Houston we have a problem.”
The inventors of the wormhole technology are Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs. Two friends who work extremely well together, but clash on the extreme level of personality and general emotional adjustment. Sheldon is a businessman with a conservative outlook on life leading him to generate an empire of wealth and capability; whereas Isaacs is much more laid-back and a bit of a hippie who wants to explore the universe and understand why people tick. As a result, they go their separate ways after wormhole technology takes hold; but don’t manage to stray far from one another.
The book then leaps forward into the far future and humanity is a sprawling empire linking the worlds that it colonized with wormhole technology. As a reader, I found myself happily thrust into a strange heartfelt science fiction world that I’m used to: interstellar empires of vast growth and capability. Hamilton even introduces a powerful computer-based AI who also happens to be the creation of one of the original wormhole entrepreneurs (still around due to life extension technology.)
The story starts with an astronomical anomaly discovered by an astrophysicist on a distant Commonwealth world. Two entire stars vanish from the night sky—in full view of his observatory. The event took place almost 100 light-years away and the simultaneous eclipse of the stars suggests that they were surrounded by something. Since the Commonworth spans vast and wide, he elects to use the instant-travel of wormholes to go watch the event from further away to be certain that he actually saw it happen. As he does so, it’s determined that the solar systems and stars in question were literally enveloped by a force field: erecting a quarantine.
The event is so anomalous and odd that the Commonweath cannot but investigate themselves.
In modern science fiction there’s a hyperengineering space-architecture called a Dyson sphere that would be a structure so colossal as to surround a star (or in this case a solar system.) In fact, that’s even the name of the two missing stars: Dyson Alpha and Dyson Beta.
The aliens within the confines of the quarantine turn out to be Bad News—possibly explain why 100 years ago someone out there quarantined them.
However, the intervention and investigation by humanity unleashes this weird horror upon the world. Turning the novel into not just a space opera epic, but also an almost technoir thriller with espionage themes as the Dyson aliens are an interesting infectious race bent on controlling or annihilating the entire universe of life.
Hamilton tells his story by developing multiple characters and plotlines all at the same time. He writes with a spiraling, organic narrative that builds each of the stories entirely separately—but all with a seed of similarity—the expectation is that eventually each of the narratives will collapse into accord with one another. Fortunately, each of the subplots is a fun examination of human culture, character development, and the technology of the Commonwealth itself.
Pandora’s Star is a story about the folly of human curiosity and also the light of the individual human spirit against staggering odds. Since, as the book unfolds, a horrible menace reaches out into the universe and begins to bombard the Commonwealth with impressive technology. The book charges itself to a conclusion with a Red Queen’s race in technological development of warfare burning bright against the strange forces of the night and the Dyson aliens’ influence.
The end of the book leaves humanity in a very dark place with an uncertain future; but with no few heroes already in the right places.
As a result, Pandora’s Star leaves a reader almost at a cliffhanger wondering where things are going and how; that’s where the next book Judas Unleashed comes in to conclude. So be prepared to buy both books at once. The story is very hard to put down.