Book Review: Pandora’s Star – by Peter F. Hamilton

It was time for some epic science fiction. So I bought this 1000 page book by Hamilton, and in a lot of ways it did for me what I wanted. I love stories of mankind mingling with aliens, and there were plenty of aliens in this book. Not the kinds of aliens we find in Hollywood movies, humanoids with two legs and two arms, and knees and elbows just like ours, and heads with two eyes and two ears.

If we ever find aliens, there is a very small chance that they will be bipedal, let alone with the same number of ligament segments we humans have. That’s just convenient for movies, so you can put a person into an elaborate costume and makeup job just to make it work. Also, aliens are not likely to talk, using sound waves coming out of orifices used for eating in the front of their heads. It is very likely that we would not be able to figure out how to communicate with them at all, for years, for decades perhaps.

In Pandora’s Star there are individual aliens the pass the plausibility factor, races that communicate using telepathy, others using ultraviolet signals, and others yet using strange song patterns, goofy-seeming aliens.

It is the year 2380. Human civilization has spread over 600 planets in a spherical area around 300 light years across, with a few outposts further out. This was possible through the discovery of wormholes, shortcuts through space.

Space travel has the ultimate speed limitation of the speed of light, which no ship can theoretically approach. This makes it virtually impossible for us to reach even the next star, Alpha Centauri, about 4 light years away. Let’s say we figure out how to build an engine that can accelerate to one tenth the speed of light, and to make the math simple, that it can accelerate and decelerate quickly so the ramp up and down time is negligible, it would still take 40 years for that ship to reach the nearest star. Assume we stay there for a few years to explore, and then come back, more than 80 years will have passed when we return home. To make matters worse, there is no way of knowing if there are any viable planets to explore at Alpha Centauri, so the whole trip could be a big waste of time.

Hamilton’s wormholes bypass this problem. If you have watched the Stargate series on TV, you get the picture. You simply walk through the wormhole and you come out on the other side in a completely different place. Complex math and immense power make it possible to place wormholes so accurately that you can build train tracks through them. Humans board a train at LA Galactic (vs. LAX) and drive right through, coming out on the planet Anshun, 25 light years away,  under a dim pink sun. This network of wormholes enabled humanity to spread, and new frontiers are being discovered all the time, ever outward. Just like traveling by plane today from San Diego to Springfield, Illinois, requiring a stop-over in Chicago, traveling to distant planets via wormholes requires tickets on trains, complete with layovers in interim hub planet stations, to get to your destination.

Hamilton paints a rich tapestry of a utopian world in this book, with extensive character development, neat technology, a few heroes and interwoven plot lines with many subplots and side stories. You can delve deeply into it and lose yourself. You can experience alien thoughts. You can explore with the explorers.

However, I didn’t care for the side stories. There was way too much distraction with politics, the president of the Commonwealth, blustering senators, criminals, terrorists, subversives. Some of the characters were introduced, and we spent 40 pages following them, and then they seemingly disappeared from the story. I admit, out of the 1000 pages, I read perhaps 500 of them, those segments that were of interest, and I turned the pages through the endless boring sections that I didn’t care about, simply was not interested in and that apparently didn’t contribute to the main plot enough for me to miss them or be confused. Hamilton could have written this tome in 500 pages, and it would be a much better book for it.

In the end, the story didn’t complete in any satisfying manner. I believe a novel that is sold on its own should be able to stand on its own. This didn’t. It just ended, as if it was a chapter all by itself. The final war was not completed. The fate of humanity remained undecided, albeit tenuous. One major character, Ozzie and his small entourage, spend the entire book on a weirdly implausible excursion without any connection to the main story. I kept waiting for Ozzie to loop back into the plot, and he never did. Ironically, I enjoyed Ozzie’s adventures enough to read them all the way through. Why was Ozzie there? I do not know. So Hamilton could have written another book the Ozzie Story, in about 300 pages, and he would have had two books that I would have understood and read and enjoyed, versus one that confused me.

When the book finally ended, Hamilton wanted us to go to the bookstore and buy the sequel. I am not going to buy it. I know that 500 pages will be boring peripheral stuff I am not interested. The other 500 pages will be more core material I really do enjoy, but not enough to go through that again. Ozzie was fun, but not that much fun.

So I got my technology fix, my science fiction epic fix and my alien immersion. That was good. Hamilton is a good story teller and a creative writer. He just packs too much bullshit into the stories and thus dilutes them to a point where they become a pain to read.

And why was it named “Pandora’s Star?” Probably a pun on Pandora’s Box, but never mentioned in the book. I probably turned the pages over it. Oh well. Done with Hamilton.

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