Sunday, June 01, 2008

Judas Unchained - Peter F. Hamilton

After hundreds of years secretly manipulating the human race, the Starflyer alien has succeeded in engineering a war which should result in the destruction of the Intersolar Commonwealth. Now, thanks to Chief Investigator Paula Myo, the Commonwealth's political elite finally acknowledge the Starflyer's existence, and put together an unlikely partnership to track down this enegmatic and terrifying alien before it can cause any more damage.

The invasion from Dyson Alpha continues with dozens of Commonwealth worlds falling to the enemy. The Commonwealth navy fights back with what it believes to be war-winning superweapons, only to find that the alien fleet has been given equally powerful weapons. How the aliens got them and why the weapons are so similar is the question which haunts Admiral Kime. Could it be that the Commonwealth's top-secret defence project has been compromised by the Starflyer's agents, or is the truth even worse?

For Mark Vernon, mechanic and general repairman extraordinaire, it appears he's landed on his feet when he finds the perfect job on the most secure world in the Commonwealth. He and his family will never be in danger again now he's helping to build the starships that will evacuate the ultra-rich should the war be lost. Until one day when Nigel Sheldon arrives to ask him a small favour. You don't say no to the man who created the Commonwealth. But the problem with small favours is the way they tend to grow...

With the war going badly and the Starflyer's treachery threatening the very heart of the Commonwealth, only the alien's destruction can turn the tide. As Paula Myo finally begins to close in on her prey the operation is sabotaged from within. If the nemesis is ever to be beaten Paula will have to work out which of her colleagues is plotting to betray the entire human race.

Blurb from www.peterfhamilton.co.uk
In the end, it turned out to be a couple of years between reading book 1 and book 2 of this duology. As I've said before on this blog, the very large size of the book scared me off for a long time, but once I got going I soon got into the swing of things and managed to finish the book in about 10 days, which I thought was pretty good considering the size of it.

My biggest issue was that there is little or no back story from book 1 provided for a reader like me who had let a large space of time go between books and doesn't remember details very well anyway. In fact, if I'd read the books back to back there's probably still lots of bits and pieces from the first book I wouldn't have remembered while reading the second. So there were places where references to earlier events confused me or left me with a feeling of vague remembrance without being able to pull up the specifics.

Instead, this book begins right where the last one ended and continues on at once as if the story was one very, very large book. I can see the reasons for this, but it made it a struggle for me. Still, getting past that, I enjoyed the book all the same. Hamilton writes in an engaging and very readable style, and the book progressed easily.

Despite the large number of people killed off in the invasion at the end of Pandora's Star, almost all of the large cast of characters from the first book return. As the story progress they are slowly whittled down until it is only the core group that remain - although of course with relife technology most will get to live on eventually (there's a huge backlog at relife facilities as a result of the invasion).

In this book the Commonwealth is slowly beginning to get over the shock of the Prime invasion and starts to come up with ideas and methods for fighting back. It also becomes more and more clear that the Starflyer is real and an equal (or possibly greater) threat than the Primes, meaning humanity finds itself fighting a war on two fronts. One aspect of this I liked was that, because the reader had been inside MorningLightMountain's mind in Pandora's Star, I basically knew how the Prime strategy worked and what MorningLightMountain's intentions were. So it was interesting to see the theories on this that the humans came up with, all of which were wrong.

I did feel that it was a bit convenient how the two main plots turned out to hinge so much on each other and how time-wise both conclusions happened at once even though they were in totally different parts of the galaxy. I had been expecting one plot-strand to be resolved and then the other, when instead Hamilton chose to have them happening concurrently. All the same, I'm willing to chalk that up to artistic licence and leave it alone.

This is a "plot book" rather than a "science book" or a "character book". It's all about what is happening and how the problem is solved. It means that while the characters are well rounded, they're not particularly deep (especially considering how long some of them have lived). All the same, they people the book well and play their parts as required. It's not a failing in the book, just a fact of how it has been written and what the focus of it is. I was rather worried about whether or not Nigel Sheldon was going to turn out to be a Starflyer agent and what happens to Paula Myo as she is forced to go against her basic genetically-programmed nature was cleverly done. I also didn't particularly like Mellanie, which I consider to have been good characterisation rather than the opposite.

I enjoyed Judas Unchained. I was a easy read for all its large size and it wound up all required plot strands and told a rollicking good story. I find myself tempted by the new Commonwealth trilogy Hamilton is currently writing, but I think I'll take a break for a while before considering taking on another one (or in this case, three) of his doorstoppers.

Judas Unchained
Peter F. Hamilton
Commonwealth Saga, Book 2
8/10

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here.

1 comment:

brideofthebookgod said...

My husband keeps on telling me I should read these; I've read hamilton before (all of the Greg Mandel books plus the Night's Dawn trilogy) so perhaps I should give them a try at some point. Thanks for the review