* Prices may differ from that shown
This is epic space opera at it's, well, most epic really! It has a lot of elements of hard SF too. If you liked Peter F Hamilton's previous books (Night's Dawn Trilogy in particular) you should love this.
Two warnings however - firstly it's very long and if you are not a fast reader or don't have much time, it could take you a long time to get through. Secondly, it has an equally long sequel.
For those of you that aren't familiar with Peter F. Hamilton, he writes doorstopper size space operas. There is plenty of science and technology, but there's little technical terms and things the layman wouldn't understand. There's lots of characters, lots of different worlds and lots of backplot, all linking together.
Overall I enjoyed this book, though thought it could have been shortened somewhat. I found myself skimming pages at times to try and get through it. The characters, the plot and the concepts in the book though are all fantastic and I found myself being drawn in to the universe that Peter F. Hamilton has created. The author's habit of flitting between many different characters and plotlines does get irritating at times, but is unavoidable in this type of book.
I'd have given it at least 4 out of 5, but for the fact I thought it a bit long!
In the late twenty-first century on an Earth where the western hemisphere (America) has concentrated on space exploration and the eastern hemisphere (Europe) has concentrated on life-enhancing genetics, NASA is just about to land its first manned mission on Mars. Unfortunately for the mission pilot, Wilson Kime, his moment of glory has been usurped by two college students, Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Fernandez Isaacs, who have invented wormhole technology and are waiting for the NASA craft on the Mars surface.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the double sciences of the life-enhancing genetics and the wormhole technology mean that the human race has expanded and spread across hundreds of star systems. The Intersolar Commonwealth is a vast system of planets and wormholes, connecting the human race across thousands of light years. It's a stable society, with many different kinds of planets. There are major industrial planets, rural planets, genetic engineering planets as well as hundreds of multi-purpose planets.
This Commonwealth, while supporting a public political structure of presidents and the like, is actually run by the Dynasties. These dynasties are people and families that happened to have the good fortune to be around when wormhole technology was taking off, making lots of money and elevating themselves to positions of power. Unsurprisingly, with life extension now a part of everyday life, people like Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs are at the forefront of these.
When an unknown astronomer, Dudley Bose, observes a pair of distant stars vanish in less than a second, the conclusion is drawn that this is not a natural phenomenon and that these stars have been cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Quickly, plans are drawn up to build a spaceship (the first in centuries) to fly to the Dyson Pair and investigate whether this is something that the Commonwealth should be concerned about. Wilson Kime is brought out of retirement to captain the Second Chance by Nigel Sheldon and under a blaze of publicity, the ship is built and the crew is selected.
However, Bradley Johannson and his Guardians of Selfhood are convinced that an alien being or presence that they've called the Starflyer has been subtly manipulating the Commonwealth for years. Johannson is convinced that the Starflyer, the survivor of a crash on a planet called Far Away on the edge of the Commonwealth, has its own malevolent motives and that the investigation into the Dyson Pair is something that the Commonwealth should be avoiding. It doesn't help that the Commonwealth views the Guardians of Selfhood as a terrorist organisation.
What will Wilson Kime find out at the Dyson Pair? More importantly, if someone thought it was prudent to keep the inhabitants of these star systems away from the galaxy (or vice versa), is it really wise to go poking around?
As you might have guessed from the somewhat complicated plot synopsis, Pandora's Star is an epic tale of a future human civilisation. Given the science fiction stories I tend to read, this is a rather pleasant, tempting future as opposed to the usual dystopian stuff. The problem with epics is that they have to start somewhere and this is where I feel the main flaw in Hamiltons writing.
Youre thrown straight in at the deep end and introduced to a vast number of characters, most of whom have a significant role to play in future events. It can be very difficult to keep track of these characters until the story is established because, as you might expect, they start off spread across the Commonwealth until various events draw them together into groups. It almost seems to me that the author introduces characters, one after another, never giving the reader time to become accustomed to each new character and its only really once the main core of characters has been introduced, that the story gets underway properly.
The same applies to a lot of the concepts that the author uses in the story. For a long time, phrases such as OCTattoos, the SI, the Unisphere, RIs and quite a few more are slipped into the story without so much as a decent explanation. After a while, its possible to deduce what these things are, though perhaps it shouldn't be that way. I did find that the science was a bit vague at times. Depending on how much you like the science in science fiction, this may not be a huge annoyance though the actual 'science' isn't that important to the plot. For the most part, I thought that the lack of explanation of the science aspects wasnt that much of a negative point as the introduction of a large central character list.
I had a few doubts about the characters, too. Most of the protagonists were extremely powerful people in the Commonwealth, the females generally being power-hungry sex maniacs and the males being important, wealthy heads of family. I thought that the lack of real variation in characters was a minor, albeit noticeable flaw in the storytelling. While there were attempts to flesh out the characters, I felt that they were far too samey for the most part with only one or two different enough to be interesting.
Once the story gets going, then things get a lot better. Each of the plot threads is a different genre and almost completely different stories in their own right, so theres the conspiracy theory of the Starflyer, the political sniping of the Dynasties, the attempts by the Guardians of Selfhood to prove the existence of aliens to the Commonwealth and many more. Paula Myo is an investigator chasing the Guardians, so there's a mystery to follw and Ozzie Isaacs goes walkabout looking for the Silfen, an old alien race that might also be able to provide answers to the mysteries of the Dyson Pair. As a story, it is truly epic in scope.
There are downsides to the epic nature. I don't think the author interweaves these story strands together too well. The crossover from one thread to another is extremely clunky at times and some of the story threads just appear to be completely superfluous, adding little or nothing to the overall story. The epic nature of the story also applies to the period of time across which the story takes place. While the story ends several years after it begins, I didn't think this was explained or highlighted clearly enough for my tastes.
My final grumble related to the ending of the story, which arrived suddenly and invited a sequel. While ending a story with a view to a sequel isn't the world's greatest crime, I did feel slightly cheated that I thought that very few, if any, of the major plot points had been resolved. I'm not a fan in leaving the reader completely in the dark and a slight re-jigging of the plot to provide some answers would have been very welcome.
Irrespective of my minor grumbles regarding the story, I did enjoy Pandora's Star quite a bit. The story, which I always regard as the most important part when reading fiction, sucked me in. I thought that Hamilton built his Commonwealth extremely well concentrating on the overall picture rather than worrying about the little details and the amount of thought put into it is impressive. My dissatisfaction about the ending was offset quite quickly with the knowledge that, having come to the book reasonably late, the sequel had already been published (Judas Unchained) and was accessible instantly.
Paperback: 1149 pages
n AD 2329, humanity has colonised over four hundred planets, all of them interlinked by wormholes. With Earth at its centre, the Intersolar Commonwealth now occupies a sphere of space approximately four hundred light years across. When an astronomer on the outermost world of Gralmond, observes a star 2000 light years distant - and then a neighbouring one - vanish, it is time for the Commonwealth to discover what happened to them. For what if their disappearance indicates some kind of galactic conflict? Since a conventional wormhole cannot be used to reach these vanished stars, for the first time humans need to build a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance. But it arrives to find each 'vanished' star encased in a giant force field -- and within one of them resides a massive alien civilisation.