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REVIEW: The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton

REVIEW SUMMARY: Didn’t grab me the way the previous two novels did.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Several factions, each one interested in controlling mankind’s evolutionary path, focuses on the mysterious Void, a region of space whose existence dangerously feeds off the matter from our universe.

PROS: Hamilton’s ideas are big and bold; no time wasted on a recap for those coming immediately off of The Temporal Void.
CONS: Character motivations seemed unclear; Edeard’s repetitive resetting of the Void grew tiresome; Small ramp-up time for those not coming immediately off of The Temporal Void; hard to care about the characters or get immersed in the story.
BOTTOM LINE: Disappointing when compared to the reading experience of the first two novels.

To its credit, The Evolutionary Void, Peter F. Hamilton’s capstone to his Void Trilogy, is every bit as ambitious as the two previous books, The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void. It juggles multiple story lines and a large cast of characters, its doles out many grand-scale ideas, and it’s an unabashed space opera of epic proportions (in both plot and physical size). The main conceit of the series is the desire to control nothing less than humanity’s destiny by choosing its evolutionary path. Several different factions take a particular interest, each with their own schemes and players, but all vying for the same control. The center of their attention is the Void, a region of space that holds a microuniverse within it but requires vast amounts of energy to sustain itself; energy it acquires by consuming matter it finds outside its boundaries in our universe. If the Void is not stopped, its energy requirements will consume the galaxy, which kind of puts the kibosh on everyone’s plans for evolution. Or, if you belong to another faction, the answer (i.e. salvation) resides within the Void itself.

The narrative of The Evolutionary Void essentially switches between two plot threads: the story of Edeard the Waterwalker inside the Void, and everything else that happens outside the Void (itself consisting of several sub-threads involving many characters). Edeard’s psychic control in the Void culminated over the last two novels with his new-found ability to reverse time within the Void, thereby initiating a localized cosmic do-over. His story, witnessed by those outside through the dreams of Inigo the first Dreamer, forms the basis of a religious movement. The so-called Dreamers feel that their destiny lies within the Void which, in this novel, finally comes within their reach.

This is all well and good, in theory, yet as all-powerful as the Void seems to be to those outside, it’s a curiosity why they would want to go there. They have already seen that their entire existence can be precluded by a mere thought that reverses time. It was this ability of Edeard’s, in fact, that contributed to an annoying helping of Never-Mind-That-Reality-Was-Just-A-Dream and a side order of Been-There-Done-That as Edeard continually reset the Void every time life didn’t align with his Utopian ideals. The experienced monotony of it all wears thin on Edeard – a necessary lesson he admittedly had to learn — but only long after it did for this reader. This is a disappointing turn of events in the series itself because Edeard’s story was the captivating highlight that supported the series. Without that support, The Evolutionary Void degrades into something less noteworthy. Few of the book’s scenes grabbed me like they did before. I wasn’t pulled into the story so much as watch it pass me by. The urgency that the characters felt did not translate to the reader and their motives were at times unclear. There was simply no reason to become involved.

To be fair, my enjoyment of the book suffered from a non-consecutive reading. It’s been a while since I’ve visited this universe and, unlike the previous book, Hamilton doesn’t waste time bringing readers up to speed. There are also many references to Hamilton’s previous Commonwealth books, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. By the time I picked up The Evolutionary Void, much of those story details had vanished from memory, thus much of book was spent wondering what was going on in the grand scheme of things. This is admittedly a reader failing, but one that unfortunately affected the overall enjoyment of the book, especially when compared with how engrossing I found the previous books to be.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

5 Comments on REVIEW: The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton

  1. I have to agree with most of your criticisms about this novel, but I do feel it deserves more than 2 stars. Hamilton has maintained his easy to read writing style and his usual touch of flair, but I think most of the problems come from his inability to create an interesting conclusion to his space operas… this is better than the Nightdawn conclusion but not by much. Edards story fizzled out (and took too long to do so, whilst also jumping over things I would have liked to know more about) and the quest to stop the void become an elongated chase sequence as they rushed about the universe bouncing off ideas far more interesting than the main plot that never got got explored… What happened to Almathea’s husband and his mysterious saviour, where did Ozzie go, what happened after Earth was free’d e.t.c.

    Personally I jsut suspect that the lame endings are the price we have to pay to explore Hamilton’s universes… I just can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

  2. I enjoyed the book as a continuation of the series and more grand space opera which I enjoy.  I agree that this book is disappointing given how strong the first book was.   In my mind, it suffers in comparison to its predecessors, not necessarily compared to other sci-fi books.  If you liked the first two, I wouldn’t skip this one.

  3. Take out the whole Edeard fantasy plot.  <clip>  Take out the cosmic end.  <clip>  Now it’s better than most books and there, and maybe Steve Gibson will read it.


  4. I’m a huge Peter Hamilton fan and re-read the first two books prior to reading the 3rd Void book (and re-read the Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained duology prior to starting the Void books. 

    That being said, I was still disappointed with The Evolutionary Void. It is a curious thing indeed that the Grand Master of Hard Sci-Fi could create and write such a compelling fantasy tale starring Edeard the Waterwalker. But once he can re-set time, the story becomes tiresome and uninteresting. The ending is trite, at best (All the main characters gather together–none of them actually get harmed in any way).

    But even saying all that, if you were to delete the Edeard storyline and the crappy ending, this book would still be better than 80% of what pases for commercial sci-fi, sio it really does not deserve 2 stars.

    I think Hamilton is  a victim of our insanely high standards for his work (based on his ability to meet and exceed those standards in the past).

    I, too, look forward to seeing what he produces next.

  5. Just at the part of the book (about 9/10 through) where Paula and The Cat have duked it out.  I do agree with the reviewer here:  The Evolutionary Void doesn’t pack the same vivid narrative and, for lack of a better term, comprehensiveness, of either the two previous installments, or of its companions from the Commonwealth Saga.

    I found that, in too many places, the narrative threads appear to come on full bore, for e.g., anything to do with Gore Burnelli or his daughter, only to wither away.

    At other times, the action becomes so convoluted that you need a programme to keep up with who’s who and why they’re behaving as they do.  There are a number of such instances, but I’ll use the battle around Ozzie’s home as a case in point.  I found myself having to slow down and/or re-read dialogue just to get a handle on the plot.

    The Edeard chapters hold up well so far, notwithstanding that the re-setting of time device is a bit over-used.

    On the whole, though Hamilton is light-years more imaginative than many – and a better writer than most, to boot – this final installment lacks the vivid imagination, coherence, and drive of the 2 previous offerings.

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