I finished Peter Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void yesterday, and I figured a bit of reviewing was called for. Spoilers follow, unsurprisingly.
Did we get that? Well, yes, in the main. One way in which Hamilton’s writing certainly has matured is in his dealing with politics. He touched on political manoeuvring all the way back when he was writing about the Confederation, and tried – not particularly successfully – to introduce more of it in his first books set in the Commonwealth. This time round, though, he seems to have gotten the hang of it. It’s not Dune, or anything, but for what this is – expansive, primary-coloured space opera, it serves well enough to give context to Hamilton’s apparent purpose here - to take a break from offering up malevolent external threats to humanity in favour of having ourselves fuck everyone else over for a change.
It’s telling that the two most troublesome alien races in this series are the Ocisen, who are noteworthy only because a Commonwealth faction are supplying them with aid, and the Raiel, who unquestionably are in the right almost every time they start gunning for humanity. This time the unquestioned technological and intellectual superiority of humanity is part of the problem, not the solution.
Indeed, the two key messages the third book imparts are as follows: absolute power corrupts absolutely (if not necessarily indefinitely), which we already knew, and absolute fulfilment arrests absolutely, which is a little newer. Not that much newer, of course, the idea that it’s adversity and the risk of disaster that motivates humanity (to say nothing of the rather unpleasant possibility that no human can be happy without being able to identify someone else who is demonstrably worse off than they are) has been around for a while. Hell, the idea that we have to face and solve our own problems has been a key theme of Hamilton’s work since the very beginning.
Even so, this is his best expression of it yet. It’s not exactly massively complex, for sure, but far more assured than the rushed and muddled ending to The Naked God (though in fairness, I was far less disappointed than the end of the Confederation Trilogy than most). Add in the genuinely impressive manner in which Edeard’s story is tied together with that of the Commonwealth characters is very nice (one quibble, though, if Makkathran’s architecture was so obviously similar to a major feature in the Greater Commonwealth’s sphere of influence, how come only Gore Burnelli made the link?)
I’m not sure this series will win over anyone who hated the Confederation Trilogy. It’s also fair to say that anyone who didn’t read the first two Commonwealth novels is going to find some of this a little baffling, if not in plot terms then certainly regarding why we should care about a lot of the characters. And yes, once again the story basically breaks down into a lot of time and energy spent searching for something much more powerful than humanity and asking them to bail us out. It’s not a change of tack for Hamilton, for sure. It’s simply the best example yet of him doing what he does.
 Sounds like the best ice-cream flavour ever.