Monday, 15 February 2016

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton



*Some Spoilers Below*

I had real problems with the last Peter F. Hamilton book I read, you know, the one where everyone who was gay was a literal Satanist. And all the people who had shed their hangups about sex and were awesome and cool were straight? That one? Yeah. I wasn't even sure it was done on purpose, but boy did it ever bug me.

Luckily, this doesn't have anything quite as upsetting to bother me, although there is one gendered thing that just makes absolutely no fucking sense.

This is not a bad book, but it just doesn't hang together that well. I kept hoping the very interesting parts would become a very interesting whole, but no, not really. (This is partly because this builds on books that I've either not read, or read so long ago I barely remember them.)

There's a void in space, that occasionally expands and devours, you know, suns and shit. A very old race has set up around it to give warning if it's about to do it again. Centuries ago, a human man went there and dreamed the dreams of those within the Void, which apparently sparked a huge religious movement of those who saw in his dreams paradise.

Which, what? I mean, I read the dreams, and I'm not sure what in them sparked a religion. I mean, at all. Or a thought of paradise. They read like low-rent D&D, and furthermore, they're all about a world of murderous cutthroat bands that massacre whole villages, and corrupt cities where criminals aren't punished, and sure there's one good guy of unusual power who is trying to clean it up, but there wasn't a single world in it that made me think "hey, I'd like to leave my high tech present and go back to live hard, die young, and probably get knifed in the back."

I mean, I'm sure some people would want that. But people so organized they take over, run and administrate an entire planet and create a whole papacy structure around this vision? I'm not sure those are the same people.

Whatever. The original prophet has disappeared (and a lot of the book are people trying to find him.) The new elected pope-equivalent wants to lead a pilgrimage into the Void. The alien species who guide it are afraid that will trigger a devourment cycle. And a Second Dreamer has come on to the scene.

And this is where the gender thing comes in. Yet again, there's just this mile-wide assumption that doesn't seem to be borne out by anything that's going on. We're in the far future. There doesn't seem to be any significant gender discrimination. We see women doing all sorts of jobs, and no one really reacts to them like there are lingering disparities of opportunity.

And yet, for the entire 600-page book, whenever someone refers to the Second Dreamer, they say "him." And by, oh, the second time, it was so obviously done that I was sure it was going to turn out to be a woman, long before the book puts that on the table. The question is, why that assumption? If you're going for that "aha!" moment, it just doesn't...work. It's not startling. It's not startling to me, and I see no reason it would be startling to anyone in this world either. Or anyone in the dream world, really. So...it's a lazy trope at the best of times, but it's just completely inexplicable here.

Beyond that, the plot is okay, but all over the place, the characters are okay. Very little about this is terrible, there are just a couple of forehead-creasing plot points at the centre that come very close to making it make no sense. There are pretty pieces, but no satisfying whole.

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