A huge, sprawling epic featuring dozens of characters and planets and all sorts of subplots. The great overarching story is that of humanity that has spread out among the stars, and a subsequent threat from the outside that could spell doom for our civilization.
What is strange to me in this book is that although the story is set in the year 2380 – far future you’d say – the cultures and planets are all very 20th century focused. I didn’t find a good explanation for this. In this universe, humanity spread to other planets by means of wormholes and on these planets they founded other cities just like here on Earth. Complete with cars and factories and so on. Hamilton doesn’t include much about nanotech or post-human ideas in his vision of the future. Even space ships suddenly need to be designed from scratch once the need is there. Concerning the future of technology the story is all strangely low-tech and un-visionary.
It is ok, though, because reading Hamilton is tremendously fun. Hamilton’s writing is quite emotionally intelligent with which I only mean that you are easily swept along by the characters and plots. He easily makes you care for the characters. He keeps surprising you with funny scenes, emotional shocks and little surprises. In other words, Hamilton really knows how to spin a story and how to pull the reader along. The characterizations aren’t that mature though with most characters being close to caricatures, especially the women. Most are either emotionless business people or sex crazy (or both).
A downside is that the story sprawls a lot. We jump from character to character and some of the character parts are the size of a short story. And while none of the storylines are particularly original, they have a cumulative effect as they all describe facets of Hamilton’s universe. It is this total picture, the total universe in danger, that is the ultimate object of interest in Pandora’s Star, and Hamilton does a great job in bringing across this sense of scale to the readers.
It is interesting to see how some ideas of Pandora’s Star predate the ideas of later books by other writers. For example, the Silfen aliens do not allow high technology on their worlds and human electronics no longer work in those areas. In Alastair Reynolds’s Terminal World, a very similar idea underlies that book. Although, the idea of zones of technology also goes further back than Hamilton, for instance to Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep.
The other way around, some of Pandora’s Star’s ideas seem very similar to earlier books. The neural implants for example that provide an electronic back-up of a person’s memories, and the subsequent re-life procedure in case of death. This has been worked out in far greater (and better) detail in Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, which applies the concept in a film-noir crime thriller. In Pandora’s Star, the same idea is fleshed out also in a crime case.
I got a lot of such déjà vu’s while reading this book, yet I kept reading. I felt a compelling urge to keep reading. Once the shit hits the fan in the final part of the book, it is impossible to stop reading. Pandora’s Star is fun, exciting and easily digestible. If you like space opera, this one should be on your list. Please excuse me while I run to the book store to get the second half of the story: Judas Unchained.