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Book cover art by Paul Youll & David Marchal/ (left); Jim Burns (right).
Review © 2009 by Thomas M. Wagner.

Let me get my kvetching out of the way first. There are times when I don't know whether to shower Pete Hamilton with unbridled, smoochy fanboy love or just throttle him. Both at once would be a little bipolar, I know. Reading his titanic intergalactic epics, it helps to keep one rule of thumb at the forefront: it's Hamilton's uni-mega-multiverse, and you're just visiting. He is ruthlessly unsympathetic to readers who follow his work as it is released, suffering the unavoidable year-long gap — and the forgetting of this or that plot thread among the story's hundreds during that gap — between volumes. His trilogies are intended to be absorbed in one go.

Now, I'll grant you, once the whole shebang is completed, and in print for as long as it lasts, this is easily done, provided you're willing to set aside the time commitment required. That willingness has more or less become a requirement for Hamilton's fans. If you're one of those wait-till-all-the-books-are-out readers, then these are complaints you can freely ignore. If you're one of those read-them-the-minute-you-get-them folks — as a critic who tries his best to keep up with new releases in as timely a fashion as possible tends to be — do not expect Hamilton to ease you back into his story. Getting back into this book, and back into the gargantuan and complex multicharacter, multiplot story tapestry that is Hamilton's stock in trade, was — not impossible — but an effort.

One could say that such an effort is typical of long series, and that would be a point. But I actually had less difficulty revisiting Westeros despite the five-year gap that preceded the release of A Feast for Crows. And come to think of it, I slipped very comfortably into Hamilton's own Neutronium Alchemist, although by every fault of my own I read those five years apart too.

So it's a your-mileage-may-vary thing. Let's just say you'd do well reading this trilogy all together once it's complete and leave it at that.

This second volume of the Void Trilogy is a fantastic book in its best moments, though it's too uneven to be called fantastic on the whole. It helps to remember there are essentially two novels being told at once here. Since Hamilton doesn't do recaps, allow me: as The Dreaming Void ended, the dreaded expansion of the Void, the mysterious microverse believed by the members of the fanatical Living Dream movement to hold the secret to some manner of salvation, has begun. Araminta, the bewildered young woman who found herself in the unasked-for role of Second Dreamer, has refused to cooperate with the Void's ruling Skylords. She has since gone to ground, prompting a brutal invasion of her homeworld by Living Dream's paramilitaries in a desperate bid to find her. Only she, they believe, can convince the Skylords to allow the movement's exodus into the Void to proceed. In the meantime, an enemy of the Commonwealth, the Ocisen Empire, has decided to strike while the iron is hot. Taking advantage of the disarray into which the Commonwealth and its ruling ANA have been thrown by the whole Void crisis, the Ocisens have dispatched an invasion fleet. And they seem to have picked up a surprising (and distressing) ally.

That is only a small fraction of what's going on in the first of this book's two narratives. But it ought to be sufficient to get the water warm for returning readers. Stick with it, and those of you who are coming back to this trilogy after the space of a year will gradually find yourselves acclimating. You're reminded in no time that Hamilton is one of the genre's most formidable imagineers when it comes to realizing jaw-dropping futures on a scale beyond grand. That old sense of wonder that led us all to fall in love with SF in the first place has been pumped full of steroids and given an olympian workout under his guidance.

Yet next to the splendid second narrative — the continuing saga of Edeard of Makkathran — the more conventional (by Hamilton's standards) multicharacter, subplot-heavy space opera story pales. From the Night's Dawn trilogy through to the two Commonwealth novels, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, that preceded these books, we've all gotten used to intricately woven insterstellar sagas with a cast of thousands from Hamilton's pen. What we're less used to from Hamilton (outside of his early Greg Mandel novels and his 2002 sorta-young adult effort Misspent Youth) is a sustained, focused, and exciting storyline with one strong viewpoint character, yet told on a scale almost as epic. That's the Edeard narrative. And though it may read more like a straightforward epic fantasy than anything Hamilton has ever done before, that it's so fresh from him gives it a level of interest different from what his previous books have prepared us for. It is some of the best character work he's ever done.

Edeard's story is set in the city of Makkathran, on a world named Querencia deep within the Void's swirling nebulae. We know enough about how this world's human inhabitants came to be there to convey a real sense of mystery as to the underlying purpose. There is some kind of consciousness at work in the Void. Are the Skylords its servants, or something else? And what does the Void want? I think it wants something. I also think it's up to no good. No good at all. But that's Hamilton leaving everything tantalizing, by leaving all the right things as yet unexplained.

In Makkathran, Edeard has set himself the ambitious and daunting task of ridding the city of the gangs that terrorize it. People call him the Waterwalker, a messianic role of which he's fully aware and which he eagerly intends to fulfill. The enhanced psychic and telekenetic powers he wields (he can even talk to the souls of the dead), coupled with the ineffable connection he has to the city itself, gives him the confidence — many say the unbridled and incautious hubris — to take on the most powerful crimelords despite their political influence and ties to some of the city's prestigious noble houses. It all goes well, then badly, and if you read attentively, questions will begin to nag you about the motives of the Void both in giving Edeard this role, and in having his life story projected out into the universe and the dreams of millions of Living Dream pilgrims. Oh yes, I think there's a very, very big shoe waiting to drop. And that I still can't readily predict what that shoe is or how big leaves me with both a lot of anticipation and more than a few goosebumps.

However long it takes the final adventure to arrive, I suspect my memory of The Temporal Void will be a bit more vivid. This book resolves, more or less, happily. But you can tell, it's just the calm before the void.

Followed by The Evolutionary Void.