Review: Peter F. Hamilton builds his biggest space opera yet in The Temporal Void

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Peter F. Hamilton builds big. Big concepts, big characters, big events. And that's really the only way to go with space opera. After all, who ever heard of a "miniaturist galactic empire"?

Since his debut in 1993, Hamilton has picked up all the traditional tools of the trade and made them uniquely his own. Vast interstellar distances and large constructions; assorted aliens and exotic humans; super-science technology and weird landscapes; deep time and long histories; decay and rebirth; restless travel and planetary rootedness; loner agents and institutional power structures.

You'll find all this and more in The Temporal Void, a sequel to The Dreaming Void (2008), itself connected to two previous novels explicating a future timeline of some 1500 years known as "the Commonwealth Saga."

This generously overstuffed new book (which will seduce even newbie readers with sufficient get-up-to-speed backstory) features not merely one star-spanning civilization—composed of real humans (baseline and modified), virtual humans, AIs and assorted aliens—but also a second well-rendered realm, a psychic-power- oriented, non-tech "medieval" culture contained within the eponymous Void, which is a mysterious presence/absence at the center of our galaxy that is threatening to destroy all creation as it lurches through a series of growth spurts triggered by interference from two "Dreamers" in our human realm.

And, of course, back in that familiar ekumene, numerous crisply delineated factions and individuals struggle believably for power, justice, pleasure and their dreams of a new life inside what they perceive to be the utopian Void. But to the inhabitants of the Void, such as crime investigator Edeard, such eternal features as politics and police work and sex continue to fill their "mundane" days.

Hamilton's vibrant language partakes of both old-fashioned space-opera thrills and postmodern conceits.

"The combatbots added three proton laser strikes to the impact ... The force field collapsed in a devastating shock wave ... " "An exotic energy scrambler field ... prevented anyone from teleporting in or opening a wormhole inside." "Secondary thought routines in her macrocellular clusters managed to resolve the man's features."

All leading up to the climactic metaphysical revelation about the true nature of the Void, revealed only 700 pages into this middle book of what will surely be a hailed as a landmark in the space opera mode.