Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Review: The Abyss Beyond Dreams

The Abyss Beyond Dreams
Peter F. Hamilton
Science fiction

The Abyss Beyond Dreams doesn't have a lot going for it. It has just enough, though. It's over 600 pages long, and I read it. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to finish.

It doesn't need to be that long. The first 150 or so pages are, in effect, a prologue--in fact, they're two prologues, neither of then necessary. Their function is, apparently, to let Hamilton mention every piece of science-fiction technobabble he's ever dreamed up, as well as to haul in some characters who will never make an appearance again. He could have skipped it, since all the essential information is explained during the course of the actual plot. If you find your attention wandering, you can skip it too.

It doesn't have characterization, either. The characters are one-dimensional. It's the kind of book where every character can be fully encompassed by a pithy epithet. We get the Dedicated Revolutionary, the Brilliant Scientist-Hero, the Evil Dictator, and so forth.

Nor is it a Big Idea book. Nothing in The Abyss Beyond Dreams is terribly original. Some of it recalls Vernor Vinge's "Zones of Thought" galaxy. Other parts are reminiscent of Iain M. Banks. Yet other parts have a whiff of Greg Bear. The difference, however, is that Hamilton doesn't do anything with this stuff. Like the technology, it's just window dressing; you don't have to worry about it, as it doesn't really matter.

Really, The Abyss Beyond Dreams doesn't even make a lot of internal narrative sense. The plot holes are . . . substantial. E.g.: Nigel (the Brilliant Scientist-Hero) discovers that the [random tech jargon involving the word "quantum"] bomb could be used to [random tech jargon verb phrase] and thereby destroy the Void (the Bad Thing). OK, great. Why does he have to use the particular [random tech jargon] bombs that are already inside the Void? Why not send a message to your sponsors--which you can do, because blah blah something to do with dreams blah blah blah--saying "Hey, send in a few hundred [random tech jargon] Bombs!" There were many other examples.

So what does Peter F. Hamilton have? In a word, pacing. The Abyss Beyond Dreams is, if nothing else, a page-turner. I won't say I was deeply invested in the characters or the situation, but I did want to find out what happened next. That's something.


  1. That's pretty close to my take on it. I did find it hard to put down. I will say that I think the prologues are necessary for a bit of emotional investment. I liked one of the characters, and found myself wondering throughout the book what happened to her. So there, perhaps, those pages are not as wasted as one might think. His take on a society built around crumbling technology was plausible and interesting.

    1. I'm curious about your final sentence. Which society was built around "crumbling technology"?

      I know the character you mean. I was also curious about what happened to her, but in the end she was pretty tangential. Her presence seems mainly to have been setup for the sequel (the last few pages of this book).

  2. Bienvenido. It was decaying for 2000 odd years.

    1. I'd disgree with "decaying". It has technology equivalent to roughly the mid-to-late 19th century, and seems to have been stable in that state for centuries. (Which is itself hard to believe.)