Would any reader imagine reading Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring without reading The Two Towers and The Return of The King? Unlikely, therefore immediately consider these two books to be close-knit sequels, part of the same novel as it were. Reading Pandora's Star and not the second tome will leave the reader frustrated, and like The Fellowship of the Ring, a lot of storyline that may not immediately seem important in the first part will become relevant in the second. In total that's near to 2000 pages of reading, but by the end of it every reader will wish for another couple of thousand.
Peter F. Hamilton is one of modern sci-fi's greatest writers, especially in regards to the space opera genre. He is supreme in building a cohesive storyline and bringing it together over a number of chapters. His imagination with regards to future science and discoveries are also frequently worthy of some quiet thought. Better known for his Night's Dawn trilogy (also a very good read), many readers find the Commonwealth Saga to be more grounded and 'believable', and it's police thriller aspects create diversity within the actual novels. This saga is also potentially more relevant to the EVE community for reasons that will be addressed later in this review.
The comparison with Tolkien's works were not haphazard: many of Hamilton's sagas include a large number of characters and address a number of plot lines, each with their particular 'genre'. The beauty in Hamilton's writing is that initially all these plot lines seem completely unrelated, and it is only within the second half of the second tome that the pieces all click together.
One of the brilliant sides to this storyline is that Hamilton immediately does away with most of the world's current limitations: mortality, science, and space travel. Humanity is all but immortal, not in body but in mind. Everyone has a 'memory crystal' that can be placed in a new body should the owner suffer a tragic death, and secondary 'backups' can also exist for the more violent deaths. The rich are 'rejuvenated' every few decades, maintaining almost perfect bodies. Moreover, electronic implants are rampant, meaning humans are effectively permanently linked to electronics in their environment.
Without spoiling the opening pages that make a great introduction to the story (and are important for the later stages of the novel), humanity has no need for spaceships, but can travel instantly between planets using wormholes. Thus humanity has spread over the cosmos and even encountered a number of alien races, from the hippy-esque (and elf-like) Silfen to the incredibly smart and advanced Rael. To add some diversity, humanity has succeeded in producing a Sentient Intelligence, an AI that has decided to play an observant role in the universe.
The story follows the classic 'spiraling out of control' style that is so addictive. It all starts when two stars roughly 1000 light years away from Earth that seem to suddenly blink out of existence. Astronomers reveal that the disappearance of these stars happened instantly, and that it is very unlikely to be a natural event. Humanity gets together to send explorers to the area, only to discover that the two stars are enclosed in an impregnable force field.
For unknown reasons, the shield blinks out of existence when the explorers reach the stars. Beneath them, they discover an alien species that functions much like an ant colony, though they are in effect the same creature (the 'thinking' part being immotile, the 'drones' motile). The Primes as they are called are extremely xenophobic, to the point of hating the other few members of its species, and it quickly becomes evident that the use of nuclear weapons between the primes is not something they shy away from. One of the author's greater achievements in this work is the portrayal of the dominant Prime's mind. While many authors have difficulty making aliens physically different, Hamilton does an amazing job portraying MorningLightMountain (the Alpha Prime dominating the others), and his simple yet terrifying thought processes. MorningLightMountain manages to capture some of the humans and thus discovers wormhole technology, allowing him to effectively wipe out all the other Primes instantly. The Alpha Prime's xenophobia pushes him to attempt to commit genocide on the human race, and humanity must in term attempt to kill all of the Primes to save the galaxy using everything at their disposal as well as the help of other alien races.
During these events, Paula Myo, the most feared criminal investigator known to humanity (in part due to her genetically modified desire to pursue criminals and uphold justice) is after a group of terrorists that call themselves the Guardians of Selfhood. These terrorists, who live primarily on a backward world away from most of humanity, claim that a Starflyer alien has infiltrated humanity and is trying to eliminate them. While this side story may initially seem unlinked, the epic conclusion of these novels will blow minds.
Peter F. Hamilton does an amazing job building and describing the universe that surrounds the storyline, and despite the sheer number of characters makes the reader care about the outcome of the story. Some of the writing is pure sci-fi, some is police thriller, some is nothing but Armageddon. There's no getting bored in this saga, and one of the definitions of a good book is one where the reader wishes it could be that much longer. The Commonwealth Saga definitely meets that criterion (and also explains why Hamilton has expanded on this universe in other novels).
TALK ABOUT EVE
Hamilton's storyline ties in to Inquisitor's article on international relations and the different ways of addressing issues in society. In Null-sec there are a number of power blocks that are founded on different cultures/principles and/or personalities. It's no surprise that most who are involved in Null-sec can name the figureheads of most power blocks: Mittani, Vince, Elo, Shadoo, Montolio to name a few. Each of them have differing personalities, resulting in different followers. In short, the members of an alliance/coalition will generally have a similar mindset as their leaders (if they're playing EVE correctly that is).
One of the criticisms that High-sec and Low-sec players generally throw at Null-sec is that players become a cog in a machine. In a way, that is correct: by and large, the CEO of an alliance decides what the thousand-ish players will do, and generally they do it. Granted, this applies more for certain alliances more than others where leadership roles may be more spread out. Many argue that ultimately the 'individual' becomes a part of a greater whole. Taking a page from Hamilton's writing, are Null-sec grunts just the motile versions of their Primes? Are the majority of Null-sec players just vessels to put in effect alliance leaders' thoughts?
Pondering upon that thought, if the CSM's idea of bottom-up alliance funding is eventually implemented (looking likely given some of CCP's responses on the issues), how will that affect players' motility? Will the average grunt have more of an impact on their leaders' thoughts, or taking the idea even further, will CEOs be a product of the alliances' collective player base?