Peter Hamilton,
Judas Unchained
(Del Rey/Ballantine, 2006)

Spectacular! Being an undemonstrative type, I never expected to use that as the beginning of a review, but Peter Hamilton earns it. He's the best author of space opera going, and this is his best novel so far. Several unique alien races, dozens of interesting humans, many planets described in detail, battle sequences as good as those of the authors who specialize in military fiction, ingenious and incredibly complex plotting, reasonably hard science, believable moral issues and a clear readable style. Did I leave anything out? Well, if I did, I assure you Hamilton didn't. I'd love to know how he keeps track of it all.

The story picks up where Pandora's Star left off, and don't try following it unless you've read the earlier book. You won't have a clue, even after my lucid review. (Is there a market for critical verse?)

Pandora's Star sets most of the plot lines in progress, including a war with the brutal alien Primes from Alpha Dyson, Paula Myo's 130-year search for an elusive terrorist, conflict and competition among galaxy-spanning family dynasties, Ozzie Fernandez Isaac's journey on the strange star-spanning pathways of the mysterious Silfen aliens, the fight being waged by the Guardians of Selfhood against the Starflyer, yet another alien, who they believe is trying to undermine the human race's interplanetary government and, well, you get the idea. It's all beautifully connected and (nearly) all resolved in an entirely satisfactory way. If you liked Asimov and Herbert, you'll love Hamilton.

Weaknesses? Yes, there are a few. While Hamilton here conquers the difficulty some of his earlier novels had with plot resolution, he has further to go on depth and believability of characters. There are too many stereotypes, too many people indistinguishable from one another and too little depth in some of the main characters.

But characterization has seldom been a strength in the genre. Those of you who haven't read Asimov's marvelous Foundation books lately might be surprised at just how clunky some of their main actors are. Not to worry. It's mostly about the ideas and the plotting, and Hamilton, like Asimov, delivers so much in those areas that flaws in characterization, dialogue or style disappear in the sweep of the narrative. And there are characters to like and identify with. My favorite appears as an astronaut on Mars at the clever beginning of Pandora's Star. He's still around some 300 years and 2,000 pages later, battling aliens on a planet many light years from Earth.

The two separate volumes definitely constitute a single novel and, at roughly 2,000 pages, the saga requires some commitment and concentration. But it is so entertaining and, at times exciting that most readers will be sorry to see it end rather than unhappy with its length. Hamilton far outdistances most of the competition. If you like science fiction, this is hard to beat.

by Ron Bierman
21 April 2007

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