I’m funny about not completing a book, it’s a compulsion, not finishing just seems to leave something hanging, an itch that hasn’t been scratched. So you can imagine what it took to contemplate not finishing Pandora’s Star (I was thinking of a piece I read some time ago about how life’s to short not to abandon books). In fact, I ended up putting it down for several months, reading a few other books, and then picking it up again to try and give it another go, I’m glad I did.
I’m a fan of Hamilton’s work, I’ve read quite a few of his books, most of which aren’t small, so it wasn’t the size that daunted me. The reason for almost abandoning it is that the book takes a long time to get going, with the first 300 pages or more spent jumping from place to place and filled with tediously detailed introductions to the myriad of characters and the universe they inhabit. The depth is breathtaking, giving you almost complete back stories and motivation for even the smallest character and every possible functional detail of every bit of science and technology that pops up, but it’s like trying to find a story in a manual for the star ship Enterprise. Sometimes it’s nice, but overall it feels like Hamilton is just showing off, demonstrating how smart he is and how much of a grounding in science his creations have. He must have spent a long time thinking them up and making sure they could work, good on him, but the reader, unlike most teachers, doesn’t want to see all his working, we’re willing to go along with it. It reminded me of the endless walking that takes place at the start of The Lord of the Rings, although it continues throughout the novel. I found myself skipping entire pages of exposition at times.
Once you’re over that hump, however, it starts to warm up, by about halfway through you’re humming along, and then I could hardly put it down (even if there are still large chunks of exposition to wade through). Unfortunately it ends on the proverbial cliffhanger, with everything still in the air, and you have to wait until the follow-up novel, Judas Unchained, to find out how it ends (which is a great way of selling more books, but can cause resentment in the readership).
Anyway, the main story is about the mission to investigate two distant stars which have suddenly vanished from the night sky, and far too quickly for it to be a natural event. While the Commonwealth finds the last man to fly a space ship (from the mission to Mars, ever since then wormholes have been used to link planets on an intersolar train network) and builds a ship capable of faster than light travel to investigate, the Guardians of Selfhood, a terrorist group who believe a malevolent alien intelligence is manipulating the Commonwealth and will eventually try to destroy it, is plotting to destroy the ship and seek revenge on the alien. When the ship arrives around the hidden stars and finds hostile alien life, they rush back and the race begins to build a navy and defend the Commonwealth planets.
The story is told from the perspective of a number of different characters, from all walks of life and spread out over numerous planets. They are lots of personal journeys, some of which impact a great number of people, but which are slowly overtaken by the main thread of hostile aliens. Numerous alien species, technologies, worlds and governing systems are introduced and, as with most of Hamilton’s work, are done in such a way that makes them unique, interesting and closer to reality, there are no humanoid aliens with grey skin and almond-shaped eyes here.
I think it could have done with someone to sit down and strip out the information we don’t need to further the plot, and they book would have been a racey 500 pages without losing too much, but it’s worth persevering with, though probably a book for Sci-Fi fans only.