The Abyss Beyond Dreams
The Abyss Beyond Dreams starts off The Chronicle of the Fallers, another series in Hamilton’s Commonwealth universe. Though billed as space opera, it often reads more as urban fantasy since most of the story occurs on the planet Bienvenido inside the Void where steam engines are their most advanced technology.
The story feels derivative at first because it parallels Edeard’s from the Void Trilogy (started in The Dreaming Void). Young psychic Slvasta joins the army, leaves his rural home for the capital, realizes the seemingly benevolent rulers are corrupt, and decides to overthrow them.
The core difference lies with the Fallers—an alien terraforming weapon that consumes and replaces any person it touches.
There are two interwoven storylines:
A violent, working-class revolution against Bienvenido’s authoritarian government ruled by a monarch who is descended from the captain of the crashed ship. Slvasta and friends challenge them first through politics and then armed uprising.
An “Outside Context Problem”1 created by Nigel Sheldon, who has infiltrated the Void and came prepared with advanced biotechnology designed to work in the physics-bending pocket universe. He uses his advanced technology and knowledge to initiate and steer the revolution so that he can steal advanced weapons from the king’s palace to fight the Fallers.
The revolution sections are tense, but still drag. I could not wait to get back to the Sheldon sections.
Surprisingly, the book contains a complete story arc, whereas Hamilton normally splits the story across the entire series. But this did make the story feel a little too quick. Several challenges I expected would build to climatic confrontations were resolved in under a page.
But these complaints are minor. The writing is great and the pacing kept me on the edge of my seat. A book I could not put down!
Coined by Banks in Excession:
An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilizations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.