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December 11, 2014

As much as I love Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program it doesn’t have everything. And if you want to read the latest by the greatest you’re still going to have to pay. For books like this week’s reading though, I don’t mind.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams: A Novel of the Commonwealth (Commonwealth: Chronicle of the Fallers Book 1) $11.99

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I love the Commonwealth Universe. Hamilton has created a post scarcity culture that is compelling and full of interesting individuals. For those of you not familiar the defining moment of the Commonwealth Universe is the invention of practical wormhole technology. Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs, two physics graduate students choose to introduce the world to their new wormhole generator by opening a wormhole on Mars and in home made spacesuits become the very first humans to walk on the surface of Mars mere moments before Wilson Kime the leader of NASAs expedition to the red planet cracks the hatch on a very expensive, fragile and now completely obsolete spaceship. Wormhole technology makes spaceships useless, as it’s much easier to just open a wormhole on a distant planet or even just a point in space. Permanent wormholes are established and the galaxy can be crossed by train, across tracks running from one wormhole to another. I have to admit I missed the spaceships but they do make a comeback after several hundred years.

Other technologies that define the Commonwealth are rejuvenation, which basically makes everyone immortal. Especially when it is combined with memorycell technology, which allows you to backup your life. Thanks to this technology your favorite characters can pop up even in stories that are set hundreds of years after the ones in which they originated. There is also rampant artificial intelligence and even a hive mind of artificial intelligences combined with the minds of people who have decided to upload themselves. This hive mind called SI for Sentient Intelligence has broken away from humanity but still keeps a hand in so to speak and sometimes serves as a guardian angel to favored characters. There are a few mysterious alien races and one big alien baddie race that is dealt with in an earlier trilogy. Hamilton puts the opera in Space Opera with a cast of hundreds and stories that span the galaxy.

Previously in the Commonwealth Saga there has been a duelogy and a trilogy but don’t let that put you off. While The Abyss Beyond Dreams is set in the Commonwealth and shares characters and a history with the preceding books it is the start of an entirely new trilogy and set on a world unique to The Abyss Beyond Dreams. In the previous trilogy we get introduced to The Void, dum, dum, dum. The Void is an expanding area of space that occasionally every couple hundred thousand years violently increases in size and devours any star systems that happen to be in it’s way. One of the alien races known to humanity has spent millennia maintaining a cordon around the Void and studying it and trying to no avail to find a way to stop it. Well, leave it to humans to inexplicably end up inside The Void and start to trigger the next big expansion phase. That’s the story from the previous trilogy. The Abyss Beyond Dreams starts as a tangent to this previous trilogy. It seems that the group of humans that made it into The Void originally got split into two groups. The first group being the unintentional trouble makers from the previous trilogy. And this set ending up on a different planet following a different path. The Void is a deus ex machina par excellence. It interferes with all but the most basic technology, but give humans telepathy and telekinesis. The society introduced in The Abyss Beyond Dreams remembers a technological society but has had several hundred years to master their new powers. On this world that they have ended up on they encounter an antagonist that appears to have had a lot longer time to adapt to The Void. They call them The Fallers, because they fall out of the sky. Well the eggs fall from the sky and they absorb any poor sap who happens to come across them and then after some sickening biological process a doppelgänger is sent forth to do great damage and mischief. The Fallers appear to have an agenda but they are so alien it is impossible to discern what their true objective is other than to take over everything.

I must admit at some level I don’t care for The Void. I like my Space Opera with laser guns and space ships not with mind reading and spoon bending, but Hamilton is a master story weaver and manages to suck me in if I give him enough pages. And to be honest there is a good bit of technobabble where it fits in the story. The Abyss Beyond Dreams is a great continuation of the Commonwealth Saga as well as a great stepping in point for new readers.

Coming Home (An Alex Benedict Novel Book 7) $10.99

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Alex Benedict is a different type of protagonist in a different type of science fiction story. He is a broker of antiquities who is not above getting his hands dirty from time to time and doing a little digging in the detritus of the ages himself. The books are told from the point of view of his assistant/secretary/pilot/partner/conscience Chase Kolpath who must be one of the coolest women in all of Science Fiction. Alex spends most of his time and makes most of his money from bringing together people who are already in possession of antiquities, whether it is the chair that a head of state sat in four hundred years ago or the pen that signed a treaty a thousand years ago, with people who would like to purchase them. Often through chance leads, diligent research and detective work Chas and Alex will come across marvels that have been lost for generations. These are the stories most of the novels are made of. Of course they also occasionally save a planet or revolutionize interstellar travel now and again as well.

Alex has his detractors. Many academics consider him nothing better than a grave robber, even his uncle Gabriel. Gabriel was a famed archeologist who inoculated a keen interest in antiquities in Alex and was extremely disappointed in him when he used his expertise to buy and sell what Gabriel and his colleagues thought should be in museums. They were in effect estranged when at the beginning of the series the ship Gabriel was travelling on disappeared into hyperspace. Alex returned to Gabriel’s home, where he had grown up, to settle his estate and met Chase, Gabriel’s pilot. Unfortunately Gabriel had chosen to take public transport on his last trip and not let Chase fly him in his own ship. While wrapping up Gabriel’s business the two became entangled in an adventure and by the end of the book Alex had relocated his business to Gabriel’s house and retained Chase’s service.

In an earlier story Alex and Chase had unraveled the mystery of a hyperspace physicist who had gone missing. The physicist had been working on the problem of ships that seemed to disappear into hyperspace. As part of their investigation they recovered his notes, which revealed that the ships thought to be lost in hyperspace are not actually lost. They are merely drifting along to reappear in normal space at regularly if sometimes widely spaced intervals. While the ships are drifting in hyperspace their internal clocks run much slower than clocks in normal space meaning for passengers on ships that have been lost for hundred of years mere weeks have gone by. Moreover the reappearance of the ships can be predicted and the passengers recovered, even the ship Alex’s uncle and Chase’s former employer Gabriel was travelling on, hence the title, Coming Home.

As Alex and Chase help in the preparation for Gabriel and the rest of the passengers rescue an acquaintance of Alex’s brings in a antique radio that she found among her father’s effects after he had passed away. The acquaintance’s father was a respected amateur archeologist obsessed with the early days of space flight. Due to time and natural and manmade disasters nothing from the beginnings of space flight was known to exist, but as they investigated this radio it appeared to have been part of a known cache of memorabilia including the Apollo lander, space suits and personal effects of the early astronauts that had been collected from Cape Canaveral, Houston, and Huntsville but had been lost during one of civilizations collapses before we reached the stars. Of course this means a trip to Earth, but they have to wrap the mystery up quickly to be back in time for Gabriel’s recovery.

The Benedict/Kolpath novels are hypnotizing. They have a relaxed pace that’s wonderfully easy to slip into. I love the fact that both Alex and Chase while intelligent are not infallible, they make mistakes, fail, screw up, but keep plodding along until the mystery is solved. As much as I loved Coming Home I can’t recommend it to new readers. There is just too much history and this hopefully unjustified sense that McDevitt is saying goodbye to these characters and this universe. I hope it’s not so. If you’ve read the other Benedict/Kolpath novels you have probably already picked this one up, but if you are considering getting into the series I would recommend starting at the beginning with A Talent For War.

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