By Jeff Suess
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The thing about curiosity is no one knows where it leads. Look at Eve or Pandora. Then again, curiosity is the foundation for science. Peter F. Hamilton's space opera doesn't so much warn against scientific curiosity as it poses a fanciful what-if.
In Pandora's Star, Hamilton has constructed a layered universe with an eye toward hard science fiction, but with clever twists of conventional scifi concepts.
The year is 2380. The Commonwealth stretches some 400 light-years from Earth, strung together by artificial wormholes. Through cloning and recorded memories, people can live forever.
Then an astronomer observes a pair of distant stars vanish behind a giant energy barrier. No one knows who put it up, or why, so a starship is sent out to investigate. But as soon as the ship arrives, the barrier mysteriously lowers, unleashing a hostile alien race with a single mass mind.
There's a good novel somewhere, mired in unnecessary subplots. Hamilton has so many separate stories going on that they sometimes get lost for hundreds of pages. Readers may wonder at times if it's all the same novel.
The most intriguing subplot is a murder mystery where the victim has been "re-lifed" and acts as witness. Another has a scientist exploring pathways to other worlds, and another follows a terrorist organization working to expose an alien threat manipulating leaders of the Commonwealth.
Plots are like reverse tangents - they begin nowhere near the main story, then slowly merge. Pandora's Star is only the first part, but Hamilton throws a few curves toward the end that hint of how it all ties together. What is left dangling begs completion.
In order to create this wide universe, Hamilton has sacrificed some character growth, despite the high page count. We don't always get to witness people change; instead we leap forward to see the results.
That comes from too many characters, a few of which could have been excluded in favor of another's development.
Descriptions need to be pared down as well. A lengthy eleven-page passage detailing a hyperglider flight serves only to eat up pages. Sometimes the book's heft weighs it down.
The complexity of Hamilton's multiple plotlines and characters has brought comparisons to Charles Dickens. Like Dickens, Hamilton is enjoyed more in retrospect when we see how it all fits.
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