In some ways there is very little point in reviewing a Peter Hamilton book. When it comes to his novels, people fall into three groups: those who have read him and love him, those who have read him and hate him, and those who have never read him. As there is little point in talking to the first two groups about his newest novel, A Night Without Stars, I will be addressing this to the last group.
Where do I even start with Peter Hamilton? I guess a good place is to tell you he is one of my tier 1 authors; someone who everyone should read at some point. His books are extremely polarizing, but if you are lucky enough to find that you like one of his books, you will have opened a door into a plethora of novels that will rapidly rise to the top of your favorite book lists. Hamilton writes hard sci-fi novels, and I mean diamond hard. These are some of the most dense, most technical laden, slowest moving, books that you could easily beat someone to death with due to their size. I am completely serious when I say they make Malazan look like light reading. These tomes are not for a light reader and are not a book you can casually read at the beach.
They are, however, completely worth every single second you put into them. Hamilton’s novels are dense because they are packed to the brim with imagination, insight, philosophy, characters, creativity, and world building the likes of which you have never seen. You will need to either know some physics, or have a desire to learn some, because he does not skip the science. Hamilton is a modern Asimov, using current technology and his imagination to create a future for humanity that both feels grounded in reality and defying imagination. His books take things like perpetual motion, wormholes, genetics, aliens, space travel, and a plethora of other classic sci-fi concepts and use them to flesh out the rise of humanity as a space faring race. These books are first and foremost about the evolution of civilization through scientific advancement. The density of the books come not from overly descriptive passages you might find in Jules Verne, but from Hamilton exploring every single minute ripple of impact a new invention would have in human society. The result is often a book that feel more like a history text from the future instead of a sci-fi novel.
Then there are the books themselves. This piece is technically about A Night Without Stars, the second book in the Chronicle of the Fallers and the seventh book in The Commonwealth Saga. The saga is comprised of three series (one trilogy and two duologies) that all take place in the same universe with the same tech, though the sub series are placed hundreds of years apart. Each subseries handles very different crises in the story of human civilization in space and each shows that Hamilton’s imagination is without par. The Chronicle of the Fallers in particular is the story of a group of scientifically advanced humans who get trapped in a somewhat parallel world where their technology no longer works, but they are granted telekinesis instead. Trapped alongside them is a horrific race of aliens that consumes humans and takes their place, making life a little hard for our humans. It is a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the best I can do without devoting four paragraphs to it. The Chronicle of the Fallers can be read without the first two series, but I would not recommend it as you will appreciate the most recent books more.
Without going into spoilers, A Night Without Stars (and the previous novel The Abyss Beyond Dreams) was impressive despite my high expectations for the book. For example, the novels contain some of the most genuinely unsettling situations I have ever encountered in sci-fi. Crafting upsetting challenges for his protagonist that will make the staunchest of reader shudder. Another key draw of Stars is the mystery of what is happening. One of my favorite qualities of Hamilton’s writing is that instead of just creating a mystery and solving it for you, he slowly gives you the tools to solve it yourself. It makes the final reveal much more satisfying, and increases your immersion greatly. A Night Without Stars has complex and strange characters that are also quite relatable. It will result in you questioning why you have so much in common with a psychic communist dictator who is trying to save his people from an external menace. Star’s technology is mind blowingly cool as is usual for Hamilton, with some incredible poignant scenes that I would do illegal things to get on a big screen. Finally, the last Chronicle of the Fallers book ties up a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions from the previous series (The Dreaming Void), which was appreciated.
However, with all the good I have outlined there is also some less good. As with most 800 page monstrosities, I felt that the book could have paired down some of its text. Not every scene was pivotal to character or plotline development, and I felt like some characters were only introduced only to prove that not everyone is important. This is the second series that Hamilton has placed in “the void”, an event in the commonwealth storyline, and while he has certainly created a fresh and fantastic story that defied expectations, I also was getting a little tired of hearing about the void by the end.
In the end, despite the book feeling like it could lose 50 pages or so, I don’t regret a single minute I spent in this book and will definitely read it again some day. It is astounding that Hamilton continues to pump out high quality books like A Night Without Stars regularly, and he has firmly cemented himself at the tops of my lists. Chronicle of the Fallers is an excellent duology for any sci-fi fan, and A Night Without Stars is a welcome addition to The Commonwealth Saga. The Quill to Live unconditionally recommends anything by Peter Hamilton.
Rating: The Abyss Beyond Dreams – 9.0/10
A Night Without Stars – 9.0/10