Review: The Abyss Beyond Dreams

The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Peter F. Hamilton, Random House/Del Rey) is a sequel set in the author’s Commonwealth universe, which earlier included one duology (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained) and a trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The The Temporal Void, The Evolutionary Void). It brings back one of the major characters (the scientist/leader Nigel Sheldon) on a mission to discover the true nature of the Void at the heart of the Galaxy.

The Void is a pocket universe which threatens to enter an expansion phase that would destroy everything. It is a gigantic artifact of some kind, but neither its builders nor purpose are known. Castaway cultures of humans live inside it, gifted with psionic powers in life and harvested by the enigmatic Skylords in death. And Nigel Sheldon wants to know why.

This is space opera and planetary romance pulled off with almost Hamilton’s usual flair. I say “almost” because the opening sequence, though action-packed, comes off as curiously listless. Nigel Sheldon’s appearance rescues the show, and we are shortly afterwards pitched into an entertaining tale of courage and revolution on a Void world. But things are not as they seem, and the revolutionaries are being manipulated for purposes they cannot guess…

The strongest parts of this book show off Hamilton’s worldbuilding imagination and knack for the telling detail. Yes, we get some insight into what the Void actually is, and an astute reader can guess more. But the final reveal will await the second book of this duology.


  1. Hamilton seems to have mostly shot his bolt with the absurdly and successfully ambitious Night’s Dawn and less ambitious Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained. Hamilton has enough clever ideas cleverly told in just those works for the entire careers of some SF authors, or more.

    I didn’t like the Void trilogy. For me the story within a story didn’t work. His other work I like is Fallen Dragon. Hamilton’s latest before this reviewed work was Great North Road. GNR almost amounts to self-parody or even self-plagiarization so familiar is the ground and Hamilton’s usually interesting side-stories devolved into empty red herrings.

    I don’t blame Hamilton if he’s burnt out. No SF author in 100 years has ever so deftly handled the amazing amount of words and story threads in Night’s Dawn. It amounts to a revival of the entire history of SF that came before. In terms of pure story-telling ability, fun and inventiveness on the level of say, Van Vogt in his prime rather than the mostly unwieldy attempts at higher literary expressions in the last 40 years, Hamilton is probably one of the all-time greats since 1970.

  2. @esr, what books do you have in your for-review backlog, or at least how long this backlog is?

    1. >@esr, what books do you have in your for-review backlog, or at least how long this backlog is?

      Currently 6 books – two novels, three short story anthologies, and a surprise.

  3. Well, if you ever got around to it, and a challenging series, you can try out John C. Wright’s Count to the Eschaton, which is currently slated to be 6 books. Book 1-3 are out, and it’s another one of the really big ideas series. Interstellar commerce/relationship without faster than light. The name of the first book “Count to a Trillion” give you the scale of things he’s crafting. One trillion seconds (given the times taken off while sleeping) is approximately how long a character have to wait for a certain thing to occurs. One word of warning, buy both book 2 and 3 at the same time, as they’re one book cut into two for length reason.

  4. “Fail Burton”, GNR is definitely similar to Hamilton’s other work, but IMO it’s similar to the best parts. I couldn’t plow through Night’s Dawn, but thoroughly enjoyed GNR. I thought GNR was a nice way-point as being a world of global colding, compared to the Mendel Files world of GW.

    I too got tired of the story of the water walker in the Void books until the emotional payoff at the end. I’ll be happy to dip back into the commonwealth. I’ll have to review the last Void book, because I thought the Void collapsed/opened up at the end.

  5. Hamilton is one of those writers whose work I can easily divide into “pretty good” and “sucks roadkill.”

    The Greg Mandel trilogy was workmanlike SF, and I might read it again in the future. I thought “Great North Road” was excellent. The “Night’s Dawn” books, on the other hand, were overlong, repetitive, tedious, repetitive, tedious, and a waste of wood pulp. I haven’t read any of the “Void” books yet.

  6. It might depend in which order you read Hamilton. If you read Great North Road before Fallen Dragon or the Judas Unchained stuff, it looks pretty darn good. I don’t understand some people’s reaction to Night’s Dawn. No one in SFF history has ever pulled off that word-length, world-building and without losing the dramatic tension. In short, no one has ever done it, and there’s a reason for that. It does what “epic” is supposed to deliver and almost never does. His Void work fails on that score, with entire passages one wants to skim, because they are ultimately without meaning and aren’t particularly inventive or interesting as a world.

  7. My order reading Hamilton was:
    Fallen Dragon (recommended by Steve Gibson on his Security Now! podcast)
    Pandora’s Star + Judas Unchained
    Void trilogy
    Mendel files
    Night’s Dawn (abandoned early in first book)

  8. I’m anxiously awaiting Hamilton’s newest. The first Hamilton story I read was Pandora’s Star, which I found when looking through Audible’s contemporary sci-fi, and it was true serendipity because Pandora / Judas is now in my short list of greatest science fiction stories of all time.* Beyond Pandora / Judas, I’ve finished everything except Night’s Dawn (will get to it eventually) and I’ve enjoyed them all, really. But Pandora / Judas, wow! More sci-fi fans need to read his amazing stories.

    * Pandora / Judas is far from perfect. The sex scenes are often sleezy and juvenile, and there was a bit of deus ex machina in Judas (although I suppose that could be attributed to the Starflyer). But, wow, what an incredibly rich and complex story! Can you imagine the imagination and organizational ability he has to keep all those threads straight?

  9. As somebody whose native language is NOT English, the Abyss beyond Dreams was entertaining and not too difficult to read. Nice setting, consistent setup and meeting old pretty known characters. Who wants more from a nice weekend novel?

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