Authors with big ideas are frequently faced with a dilemma. If they have created a detailed world or future with an interesting cast of characters, do they continue to write stories set against the background they have laboured hard to appear authentic, or do they write something completely different and hope their readers like it as much. Both are fraught with dangers. With the former, there is the danger of running out of ideas, or confusing new readers; with the second the work to build a credible setting had to begin again. Peter F. Hamilton has on more than one occasion taken a middle road.
Many years ago, Hamilton created the Commonwealth, an association of planets occupied by humans as they spread through the galaxy. They were able to do this fairly rapidly due to the wormhole technology developed by Nigel Sheldon and Ossie Isaacs. Not much earlier, rejuvenation techniques were perfected. This means that centuries later, the same people are around to be central characters in the novels of this time stream. There are always dangers in heading out into space. There is no telling what is out there. Humans have already survived the onslaught by the Primes (Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained) but the biggest threat the whole universe faces is the Void, a vast space that consumes stars and is expanding. Nothing going in ever comes out.
In the Void Trilogy, set chronologically immediately before this, Inigo had what he claimed were a series of dreams involving the life of Edeard, a young man supposedly living on a planet in the Void, the inhabitants of which had supernormal powers. Inigo had become a source of adulation because people became addicted to the dreams. At the start of The Abyss Beyond Dreams, the Raiel, a very ancient race who monitor the Void, realise that the city Edeard lives in is actually a crashed Raiel ship. A clone of Nigel Sheldon agrees to go and investigate. Nigel’s story is a continuing part of the Commonwealth time line but just as Edeard’s story could be taken out of the Void Trilogy to become a separate and unconnected novel, so there is a similar story embedded within The Abyss Beyond Dreams.
Within the Void, time behaves differently. Two hundred years before (Commonwealth time) a fleet of ships disappeared into the Void. They crashed on a planet and began a colony. Technology has regressed, the government is tyrannical but all the inhabitants live with an extra-planetary threat. At a Lagrange Point there is a group of objects visible from the planetary surface known as The Forest. Periodically, The Forest throws spheroidal, egg-like objects at the planet. These absorb, then duplicate any life-form touching them. The resultant copies then kill people, making more of their own kind. An important job of the military is to find these Fallers and destroy them. Slvasta only survived his encounter with a Fallen because an officer was quick-thinking enough to cut off his arm. His ideas on how to make the search and destroy operations more efficient annoy his superiors so they post him to the capital. There he thinks he has found friends but soon discovers that there is a vast difference between the officer class (based on the original fleet designations) and the ordinary people like is family. Disillusioned, he falls in with a group attempting to foment revolution.
There are two stories here. That of Nigel and his attempts to discover what is happening in the Void, and to get back to the Commonwealth with his knowledge, and the life on the planet as a battle against Fallers and bureaucracy. Some authors would have turned these into two separate books. Instead, Hamilton weaves together the familiar and the new. It makes for a very big book, but for those who like his work, this is a welcome addition to his oeuvre.