Judas Unchained: Part Two of the Commonwealth
(Macmillan, 949 pages, numbered, limited edition uncorrected book
proof, will be available in hardback priced £18.99, published 7 October
second, and concluding volume in Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga
starts very much in the same spirit as the first one ended. About a
dozen primary characters are charging along intersecting plotlines,
struggling to make sense of the disasters overwhelming human civilisation,
or just trying to keep themselves in one piece.
Ozzie Isaacs, wormhole inventor and cosmic layabout, for example, was
last seen falling off a miniature water-worldlet somewhere on the mystical
Silfen paths. Melanie Rescorai, gauche girl-reporter and hard-wired
SI agent, was (and still is) trying to get the goods on her boss, media
queen-bitch Alessandra Baron, whom she's convinced is a Starflyer pawn.
Admiral Wilson Kime is struggling to beat back the relentless invasion
of the Dyson Prime aliens. Adam Elvin and Bradley Johanssen are trying
to track down and destroy the Starflyer, while Investigator Paula Myo,
genetically engineered to be the perfect, relentless sleuth, is tracking
This summation doesn't even touch the inter-twining strands of power-politics,
covert assassination, espionage and investigation, nor the nuke-toting
guerilla warriors that the Commonwealth deploys, all techno-adapted
miracles of ultra-modern lethality, to stall the Dyson Prime invasion
while the science labs begin to churn out ever nastier weaponry...
There are an awful lot of things to admire in this book. It's the kind
of science fiction that Hamilton does so very well. The techno-speak
is near perfect, the science is hard, but always presented smoothly
enough so as not to overwhelm the reader. The action scenes are breath-taking,
and many of the characters twist and turn with admirable ingenuity to
get out from under the hammer (or away from the ion-beam, or maser-ray)
before it comes smashing down.
But there are distinct flaws too. This is not Hamilton's best work;
for that you have to go back to the first two volumes of the terrific
Night's Dawn trilogy. The pace is a bit slack, especially towards the
beginning, where a rather lengthy passage following Mellanie Rescorai
and Dudley Bose to the planet Far Away definitely drags. Intercuts from
one plotline to another could certainly be sharper, and it seems a bit
unfair not to give the key villain of the piece, the remorseless alien
invader, MorningLightMountain, a bit more 'screen-time' to gnash his
(metaphorical) teeth and plan the destruction of humanity in vivid and
Perhaps a little less time devoted to world, or locale, building passages,
and a bit more effort building up some of the characters, especially
the secondary ones, would have lent the book better balance (and helped
these people take on more life for the reader).
As a last criticism, one can't help noticing that where it comes to
dealing with the more mystical, or philosophical, conflicts of the work,
Hamilton doesn't have any very clever answers (a problem that sadly
undercut the final volume in the Night's Dawn trilogy). If you were
hoping for some genuinely insightful, revelatory resolution to the Silfen
plotline, well, this is a hoop Hamilton has shot for, and missed, before,
and he does no better this time round.
Nonetheless, the story still rates a strong 'B+'. It has a reach and
depth of vision, and a panache with its spectacles, fire-fights, and
personal confrontations, that very few writers can match. It's not quite
bewitching, but it's certainly compelling.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: