The Temporal Void is the second volume in Peter F. Hamilton's latest trilogy, which started with The Dreaming Void last year. This one, like its predecessor, will appeal to fans of space opera, of (what I have called) Fat SF, and of buying books by weight. Hamilton gives us unadulterated adventure sf—with some fantasy tropes mixed in—and although it has some of the problems associated with that forlorn not-the-fun-introduction-but-not-the-climax-either status of second books, it's good stuff.
However, fun as it is, I hasten to add: Don't start with this volume! Go back and begin at the beginning. Hamilton makes no effort to bring readers up to speed; Temporal Void begins directly where Dreaming Void left off. My ARC lacked even a dramatis personae, which would have been helpful given that there are at least 15 point-of-view characters, and that it had been about a year and half since I read the first volume.
For those in need of a refresher, the tale to date: Once upon a time, a couple of millennia from now when humans are effectively immortal, a man named Inigo had a series of dreams, and communicated them to his followers via the gaiafield. This became the core of a new religion, the Living Dream. His dreams showed life in the center of the galaxy, where a human hero, the Waterwalker, rose up in a vaguely medieval setting. Eventually Inigo disappeared. Since then, the Living Dream has aimed to organize a pilgrimage into the core of the galaxy. This presents difficulties: with the exception of the ship that landed the humans there originally, no other ships, beings or probes have been able to enter the core. Furthermore, once upon a time the Core underwent an "expansion phase", wiping out many planets and solar systems. Various alien races in the galaxy strongly object to a human pilgrimage, since they believe it will trigger another expansion phase.
The Living Dream pins its hopes on a "Second Dreamer" who appears to be communicating somehow with the Sky Lords in the Core and passing on the communication into the gaiafield, just as Inigo did. However, the Second Dreamer is not a member of Living Dream and doesn't share their goals. Hence the race to find and control the Second Dreamer is on. At the same time, there are political-factional conflicts going on all around. Paula Myo, detective extraordinaire (introduced, along with several other characters and this universe's background in Hamilton's Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained duology [2004-5]) is chasing a guy named Troblum. He's obsessed with the Starflyer War (from those earlier books) but has a role to play in the current conflict. An ancient serial killer may or may not be free and running around the galaxy wreaking havoc. At least one faction has also sent out an agent to try to find Inigo himself, wherever he's gotten to. And finally there's an honest-to-god organized Navy, with a somewhat traditionally organized government consisting of representatives of the different factions, that has to figure out what threats are being posed to the Commonwealth (human) worlds from enemies foreign and domestic. Whew!
Interspersed with these chapters, in both volumes so far, are the details of Inigo's dreams. We follow the Waterwalker from his youth in a rural village, his travel to the Big City when his village is plundered and burned by bandits, his entry into the city constabulary, and his rise to fame as the psychically powerful Waterwalker.
The Dreaming Void ended with the Second Dreamer's first contact with the Sky Lords, and the Waterwalker's first public triumph. In The Temporal Void, all the plots inch closer to convergence. One representative of humanity manages to get into the Core, and is trying to talk to the Sky Lords. The Second Dreamer is identified, and has to go on the run. Some characters are involved in the hunt for the Second Dreamer, others in aiding their escape. The Core has started expanding again, and several alien races blame humanity for it, causing the Navy to mobilize. Troblum is trying to do something to help before fleeing for his life, and Paula Myo is tracking him down. The agent going after Inigo continues to single-mindedly pursue his goal of getting the First Dreamer to his shadowy factional masters.
Amongst all this chaos, it is the Waterwalker chapters that really stand out. Hamilton seems to have the most fun writing them, and given that they are long chapters all foregrounding a single character, they are relaxing compared to the "Wait, who's this guy again? What's his faction/motivation/goal?" tumult of the massively-multiple-POVs in the "main" chapters. In its blending of fantasy and science fictional tropes (the Waterwalker is using telekinesis instead of magic, but is obviously a "Chosen One"; the setting is vaguely medieval but with genetically engineered animals; there is a strict class arrangement in the city but there is an election for Mayor), these chapters seem to follow the dramatic arc of a comic book hero story. The Waterwalker at first doesn't understand his powers, and we only see a little of his potential as he has to flee a childhood trauma. Next comes his first major public performance of his powers; now he has to figure out how to live a "normal" life as well as the life of a hero. He decided to fight the criminal element in his town. He scores minor victories against them, they retaliate. He develops his powers further, they escalate their attempts to kill him. They realize he can't be killed and attempt to discredit him instead. He overcomes and wins political victory. They retaliate with out-and-out undiscriminating violence. Along the way friends are made, he falls in love, he loses some innocence, some of his friends are killed. Hamilton knows how to keep pages turning and moves through highs and lows seamlessly.
However, while these sections are the most focused and enjoyable, they also have some of the biggest flaws, of which the most serious is that the Waterwalker is never laid low as you would expect from the traditional hero's journey. He bounces back from each setback much too quickly, and just when you think that he's finally gotten the incredible smack upside the head from which deep soul-searching will be required to recover, the author gives him a get-out-of-jail free card. This card keeps him from having to live with the consequences of his screw-ups, and it is going to be really tricky to handle such a powerful plot device in the third volume. One hopes that Hamilton knows what he's doing.
The Waterwalker also buys into a "sometimes you have to do wrong in order to do right" philosophy, and gets away with it every time. In the name of a campaign to restore order, justice and the rule of law to the city, he: tortures individuals, commits arson, perjures himself and unlawfully detains those he suspects. It's OK, because he only does it to the Bad Guys. And he knows exactly who all the Bad Guys are because he's psychic (although not telepathic, hence the torture to get information from the Bad Guys). The only consequence he suffers for doing these things is to win. While that is unfortunately typical of many heroic narratives, even comic books usually slap the characters around a bit en route. Hopefully he'll get his comeuppance in the concluding volume, but given the hyper-powerful ability he gains at the end of this book, and various character's reassurances that his life ends happily, one doubts that he will ever learn that Torture is Wrong.
So, what we have in the end is the second book of a trilogy. Out in the "real world" where the hunt for the Second Dreamer is on, many plot threads get advanced slightly. In the Dream World of the Waterwalker, we have the enjoyable but morally questionable story of a young Hero, one which is in some danger of falling into the realm of "overpowered superhero not being fully reined in by his author." I can't imagine that all of this won't wrap up in a satisfying manner in the concluding volume; certainly Hamilton did justice to his multitude of plot threads at the end of Judas Unchained (although it will probably be a drawn-out climax, with each character getting their bite at the apple). Having enjoyed turning the pages up to this point, I am looking forward to finding out all the answers. There's also an entirely unworthy part of me that is watching Hamilton's trapeze act as much to see if he falls as to see if he succeeds: can he keep all the players in the air without a moment of inattention causing him to miss one of the bars and fall to his doom? Only time (probably about a year) will tell.
Karen Burnham is vocationally an engineer and avocationally a speculative fiction reviewer. She lives in Long Beach, CA, and blogs at the Spiral Galaxy Reviewing Laboratory. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.