Pros: Intriguing and imaginative aliens and plot, plenty of politicking and exploration of the world
Cons: Couldn’t for the life of me keep track of all the characters! Made things confusing
Rating: 4 out of 5
Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star (The Commonwealth Saga) (also available bundled with its sequel, Judas Unchained: 2-Book Bundle: Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained) is a vast, sprawling science fiction epic. Humans have settled on many worlds. Huge family dynasties rule human-occupied space. And fewer and fewer children are born as humans can now live for hundreds of years. They use rejuvenation treatments to reverse the course of aging, and as long as they back up their memories they can be returned to life using a cloned body after they die. There are politicians who’ve been involved in running human affairs for dozens and dozens of years. A movement called the Guardians of Selfhood on one planet insist there’s a mysterious alien called the Starflyer influencing human growth, in particular influencing our desire to visit alien stars.
Tech is very advanced. When someone realizes that a star in a nearby system has simply vanished, and that it must have been walled off by a Dyson sphere type of arrangement, the Commonwealth resolves to send a starship. Since most travel between worlds is accomplished via wormholes, this is a large undertaking. Once the ship gets there, the force field walling off the star system fails, leaving the Commonwealth’s ship vastly outnumbered and outgunned. It escapes, but it has caught the notice of the unusual alien hive-mind, and that mind’s sole goal is to expand, to make sure it is the only living thing anywhere. The Commonwealth starts standing up a navy and producing ships, but it’s far too late for that to do much good.
Distilling Pandora’s Star into those two short paragraphs is nearly a crime. We’re talking about an almost-1,000-page novel here, in which old souls all jockey for various types of power and position. This is a thick, fast-moving book with SO MUCH going on inside its pages. There are many characters whose viewpoints come up, and probably a handful that you could argue might fill a role of protagonist. It’s an ensemble cast, our Pandora. Each of those characters is carefully drawn. They give us insight into government, alien stars, human colonization, how long life and the ability to record or destroy memories affects an entire race–as well as those smaller connections between individuals.
That brings us to my major complaint, however. The cast of characters is so huge–often waiting several chapters of totally different material before bringing one of those characters back–that I literally had to devote multiple pages of a notebook to listing characters and trying to put a quick few identifying details to those names. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough. I’d find myself going, “Justine, wait, that name sounds familiar. Let me look through my notes. Okay, she’s tied to someone named Kazimir, That sounds familiar too, kinda. Then I read, “Glider. Sex” and suddenly it came back to me. I had to repeat that series of discoveries quite frequently, especially when characters were removed from their original surroundings, making it harder to link them back to their origins.
I absolutely loved the tapestry of characters; despite the number of them, Hamilton gives them very full personalities. There are plenty of wild events and discoveries to keep you pulled in. If you have a great memory for characters then I think you’ll probably do well with Pandora’s Star. If you don’t… well, keep notes as you go!