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Judas Unchained
Peter F. Hamilton
Del Rey, 848 pages

Judas Unchained
Peter F. Hamilton
Peter F. Hamilton was born in Rutland, UK in 1960. In addition to the three Greg Mandel novels, Mindstar Rising, A Quantum Murder and The Nano Flower (all from Tor), he is the author of the UK bestseller, The Reality Dysfunction, which, along with The Neutronium Alchemist, form volumes 1 and 2 of Night's Dawn trilogy.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Misspent Youth
SF Site Review: The Reality Dysfunction
SF Site Review: A Second Chance at Eden
SF Site Review: Greg Mandel Trio
SF Site Review: A Quantum Murder
SF Site Review: The Neutronium Alchemist

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

At first glance, the most striking thing about Judas Unchained is its sheer length. An eight-hundred and fifty page novel that is a sequel to a nearly eight-hundred page novel makes reading Peter F. Hamilton's latest is a fairly substantial commitment of time and attention. It's a good thing, then, that Hamilton makes it worth the effort. Judas Unchained contains a story big enough to fill all its pages, with a cast as wide as the many-hundred-planet Commonwealth whose culture forms the backdrop for murder and treachery, friendship and lust, courage and intrigue.

Readers of Pandora's Star will recall that that novel ended with a doozy of a cliff-hanger ending. Judas Unchained jumps forward from that time, as the leaders of the Commonwealth are attempting to deal with an attack that was far beyond anything they had anticipated. Some suspect treachery, a few individuals have started to believe that the Starflyer is real, and that the Guardians, known for a hundred years as a terrorist organisation, may have been right all along.

These are merely the two main plot threads, as the human species faces a war not of conquest or exploitation, but one of total annihilation. The logic of MorningLightMountain, the machine intelligence let loose in Pandora's Star, allows no room for peaceful co-existence.

From these elements, Hamilton composes a space opera in the grand old style. The setting is vast, the ideas big, and the fate of billions hangs on the actions of a few. Judas Unchained bristles with the energy of golden age SF, but the style and characterization are polished and modern. The Commonwealth too is a more modern creation, it hides most of its gosh wow technology behind a seemingly twenty-first century suburban surface. The most glaring technological innovation is controlled wormholes, allowing human beings quick and easy access to many planets. Unlike Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky though, they aren't necessarily roughing it.

That level of wealth is a pointer to the one area Judas Unchained falls a bit short. The Commonwealth is a society with practically unlimited energy resources, and yet a traditional capitalist/labor/investor business model still dominates. It's convincingly portrayed, but Hamilton's own points in The Night's Dawn Trilogy, where changing just such an economic system was necessary for the continued existence of humankind, would seem to argue for the Commonwealth's economic structure to be somewhat different than our own. Or the point may be that while a world of nano-tech and artificial intelligence lies behind the familiar surface of Commonwealth society, the relationship between money and power remains the same..

Such debates, however, are the fuel for late-night discussions in the corner of the bar. It's one of the enjoyments of reading books like Judas Unchained that they can provide fodder for just that kind of discussion. In Peter F. Hamilton's future, the people are enough like us, their lives and jobs are enough like ours, that the wondrous, exciting, and strange things that happen to them feel like they could be happening to us. That makes their lives and adventures worth reading, and worth talking about.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson looks forward to the day when, like the characters in Judas Unchained, he can take a train to another world. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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