#CBR4 Maneuver #43 – The Evolutionary Void
Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Science Fantasy
Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by others equally determined to prevent – or facilitate – the pilgrimage into the Void. An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, but it is also a deadly threat. For the reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy drawn from planets, stars, galaxies – from everything that lives.
Meanwhile, the story of Edeard, the Waterwalker, continues to unfold. With time running out, Inigo, the first Dreamer, must decide whether to release Edeard’s dangerous final dream. And Araminta must choose whether to run from her responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival. But all these choices may be for naught if the leader of a rival faction enters the Void. For it is not paradise she seeks there, but domination. ”
After Action Report:
Okay, I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention to book two, but The Evolutionary Void definitely jumped the tracks a bit and careened off into the nebulous science fantasy genre. Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with science fantasy, but the effect is sort of like going to a Star Trek convention, passing out on the last day and waking up to the cosplay contest of an anime con. Not unpleasant per se, but definitely disconcerting.
Where book two, The Temporal Void, was mostly about the events within the Void, and by extension Edeard’s story, book three takes us back outside to resolve the ongoing problem of the Living Dream pilgrimage. The majority of the narrative is spent picking up plot threads from the first book that were left withering to make room for the copious number of dream chapters in book two. I should note that I started Evolutionary Void almost two full years after reading the first two books, and spent a substantial amount of time trying to remember who the hell everyone was with mixed success. Most of the protagonist groups have finally aligned against the forces of the Living Dream or the Accelerator Faction, but haven’t necessarily teamed up. All that aligning means less in the way of Ludlum-esque chases and more pseudo-scientific technobabble along with a fair portion of posthumanist philosophy.
But the end of the book is kind of a foregone conclusion. Hamilton’s transparent anti-utopia stance is never questioned, even by the most strident adherents of the Living Dream, who convert in a mostly symbolic testament to the reasonability of ‘people.’ With the ultimate conclusion somewhat obvious, the only thing left is how the cast will manage to pull it off. The final couple of scenes end up resembling the grand finale of a Broadway musical, as the entire cast is gathered up for a last stand™ and Hamilton turns the special effects dial up to eleven.
My real problem with Evolutionary Void was the introduction of the space elves. Well, not just the space elves, but the complete silliness that accompanied them. I guess the Silfin have been lurking in Hamilton’s Commonwealth setting for a while, but their appearance in Evolutionary is just stupid. They are a supersociety that utilizes dimensional manipulation technology so advanced it appears to be magical, even to the hyper-evolved human Higher civilizations. But in spite of their superior status, they are just as incapable of solving the problem of the Void as anyone else. The whole thing smacks of fantasy quests and the stupidly powerful people who orchestrate them, like they’re just trying to prove a point or something. This kind of storytelling has no place in proper science fiction. It’s just sloppy. And yes, that sentence is going to get me in trouble.
Between the poor handling of the second book, and the fanciful third, there isn’t a lot left to recommend the Void Trilogy. There is the nostalgia aspect of seeing all your favorite characters from the first Commonwealth Saga show up again, although that does raise some questions about individual longevity, not only as a body, but as a discrete psychology over more than a millennium of intervening time. The conclusion is predictable and pedantic, but the final scenes and the wrap-up are handled pretty well. And it isn’t like the books are terribly written. The problems exist almost entirely at the intellectual level and don’t really impinge on the real action or moment to moment storyline. There are still too many characters for the narrative to flow easily, but no one feels too extraneous.
What I’m trying to get at is that the books aren’t actually bad. If all you’re looking for is an enjoyable space opera on a grand scale, the Void Trilogy will definitely scratch that itch. Just be prepared to gloss over some of the structural problems.