The Commonwealth Saga is a series of science fiction novels by British science fiction writer Peter F. Hamilton. This saga consists of the novels Pandora's Star (2004) and Judas Unchained (2005), preceded by Misspent Youth (2002) which takes place 340 years before Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. The Dreaming Void (2008), The Temporal Void (2009), and The Evolutionary Void (2010) constitute his latest trilogy, which take place 1,200 years after the events of Judas Unchained but occur in the same literary universe; several of the main characters from Judas Unchained and Pandora's Star also appear in the Void trilogy.
Like Hamilton's earlier The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the Commonwealth Saga is an epic space opera that extends across dozens of worlds and characters.
|Author||Peter F. Hamilton|
|Cover artist||Jim Burns|
|Series||The Commonwealth Saga|
|Publisher||Pan Macmillan (UK) & Del Rey (US)|
|Pages||882 (UK hardcover), 1,152 (UK paperback)|
|Followed by||Judas Unchained|
The Saga begins in 2380, the human race has had wormhole technology for over 300 years thanks to the work of Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs, and has colonised several hundred planets across hundreds of light years. On a distant planet, Astronomer Dudley Bose performs the first detailed observations of an astronomical event known as the Dyson Pair Enclosure. Two stars, located roughly 1,000 light years from Earth (750 light years from the edge of Commonwealth space), seemingly disappeared some time earlier. The theory is that they have been enclosed inside Dyson spheres.
Bose's investigations reveal that the enclosing of Dyson Alpha and Dyson Beta (as the stars become known) occurred quickly and simultaneously. These facts mean that the technology of the Dyson aliens, or possibly other unknown aliens, surpasses that of the Commonwealth; furthermore, did the Dyson Aliens enclose themselves, or did some other force enclose them? Was it for protection or to protect those outside the spheres?
To investigate, the Commonwealth builds its first interstellar ship, the Second Chance. Commanded by Wilson Kime, one of the first men to walk on Mars, using a self-generating wormhole for propulsion, the Second Chance travels to Dyson Alpha.
As they arrive and begin to explore what appears to be an enclosure generator, it is shut down by an unknown mechanism and the barrier around the star disappears. Inside the first imprisoned star system is an incredibly warlike and aggressive species, a race that come to be called the Primes. They consist of intelligent immotiles that breed and control vast armies of sub-sentient 'motiles' via electronically extended neural interfaces. The few immotiles constantly vie with each other for territories and resources.
Primes had colonised Dyson Beta and enslaved its native inhabitants in the process. Beta's Primes started to routinely alter themselves through genetic manipulation and mechanical augmentation and therefore were referred to as alienPrimes by the Alpha Primes. They also broke away from the control of Alpha's Primes and thus a war began between two systems. The war continued until the barrier was erected around the stars.
After capturing two crew members of the Second Chance, one of whom was Dudley Bose, the Primes eventually discover the location of the Commonwealth. Upon learning of the Commonwealth's existence, the dominant immotile grouping, MorningLightMountain, makes it its primary objective to destroy the Commonwealth. MorningLightMountain believes that it is necessary to eliminate all other life in the Universe to secure its survival into the distant future, because it views all life that is not under its control as a potential threat.
Following the capture of the two crewmembers, MorningLightMountain discovers the concept of wormhole technology, and quickly creates its own generator. Using wormholes to transport and detonate nuclear weapons within the defences of other immotiles, it secures its dominance over the Dyson Alpha solar system by becoming the only surviving sentient member of its species.
At the same time, an underground human organisation known as the Guardians of Selfhood is determined to prove the existence of an alien known as the Starflyer, which originated in the crash of an ancient spacecraft (the Marie Celeste) on the planet Far Away. The Guardians of Selfhood have been declared a terrorist organisation by the Commonwealth's government, and are pursued by famed investigator Paula Myo, working on behalf of the Commonwealth government. Throughout both books, Ms. Myo becomes gradually convinced that the Starflyer may be real and has organised the liberation of the hostile aliens for its own purposes.
The Prime attack on the Commonwealth is devastating, including widespread use of nuclear weapons to both subjugate and contaminate the human worlds, resulting in tens of millions of human deaths.
|Author||Peter F. Hamilton|
|Cover artist||Jim Burns|
|Series||The Commonwealth Saga|
|Publisher||Pan Macmillan (UK) & Del Rey (US)|
|Pages||949 (UK hardcover), 1,230 (UK paperback)|
|Preceded by||Pandora's Star|
Judas Unchained, the second part of the Commonwealth Saga, picks up where Pandora's Star's abrupt ending left off.
The story begins with the small human resistance that exists on what remains of the Commonwealth worlds attacked by the Primes. Human resistance forces have found two ways to fight back: using the Prime weapons (primarily directed-energy weapons) against the invaders, and disrupting communication between the slave caste (motiles) and the commanding caste (immotiles) of the Primes. Meanwhile, the humans in the remaining Commonwealth pursue other plans: to develop a set of weapons and warships to defend against the next Prime invasion and force the conflict back into Prime space; to develop a "quantumbuster superweapon" based on technology supplied, unbeknownst to most humans, by the Starflyer; and to prepare for the evacuation of known space altogether if necessary.
Eventually, the human forces decide that there can be no other solution to the conflict than to commit genocide and destroy the Primes entirely. However, it is revealed that the Primes are planning a much larger invasion, which humanity will be all but powerless to stop.
As the war rages, the human forces begin to build much faster, better armed, ships and fitting them with new "quantumbuster" weapons. These weapons function by converting the entire rest mass of an object into energy, and are thus capable of destroying an entire planet. Later on, a more advanced quantumbuster is deployed, which is capable of inducing a main-sequence star to go nova via a feedback loop where the energy from the conversion is used to further expand the radius of the effect field. Despite the original plan to use it on the Dyson Alpha star and thus kill the entire prime race, a modified field version of a normal quantumbuster is eventually deployed on the Dyson Alpha forcefield generator, destroying the mechanism that was interfering with the generator's systems. This allows the mechanism to reactivate, trapping the Prime aliens inside and avoiding genocide.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Starflyer is in fact an AlienPrime which, by chance, escaped the enclosure event. The human forces engage in a desperate chase to prevent the Starflyer from escaping the Commonwealth. After defeating the Starflyer's army and encircling the Marie Celeste, The Guardians of Selfhood destroy the Starflyer with a massive directed hurricane, freeing humanity from its thrall.
The series starts in the year 2380, when wormhole technology has developed ahead of faster-than-light drive systems, making the Commonwealth Saga markedly different from Hamilton's other works. One notable difference is the initial lack of spaceships. Instead, interstellar travel is accomplished by travelling through wormholes, most commonly via a train. This mode of travel is a commonplace experience, considered similar to commuting. Hundreds of planets are linked in this fashion. However, several colonies have chosen to withdraw from the Commonwealth by severing their wormhole connection.
Death may be postponed indefinitely in the Commonwealth. Most Commonwealth citizens have a memory crystal (which has been invented in the events of Misspent Youth) inserted at the base of the brain which is able to record memories including those before insertion. Commonwealth citizens undergo a process called rejuvenation, approximately every thirty to fifty years (also introduced in Misspent Youth). Rejuvenation is an intense process which leaves the subject's body aged around 20 with adjustment made for personal preference. Citizens can also create backups of memories which are placed in safe environment, called their "secure store". In the event of a fatal accident or premature death, a clone of the person is created and the stored memories of the original are inserted. If the memory crystal of the death is still intact, all the memories, including the one of the pain of the death itself, are reinjected into the clone. The process makes them effectively immortal, even if still threatened by the loss of their body, memory crystal implant, and "secure store". Also, not all the humans have chosen these implants. In particular, rebels of Far Away are usually not implanted. Most Commonwealth citizens must pay for rejuvenation insurance, similar to superannuation, although some citizens elect to forgo rejuvenation altogether. Rejuvenation is said to be akin to starting a new life, with those who have undergone the process being referred to as second-lifers, third-lifers, and so on. Psychologically, some people tend to shake off the responsibilities of their previous life including employment and marriage. Memories can even be edited to facilitate easy transition to a new life.
Cyberware is used extensively in the Commonwealth, and most people possess several implants. One of the most common implants is the "memorycell" insert mentioned above. Other common implants include a transceiver designed to interface with the Commonwealth's Unisphere, an interstellar network of computers. This system uses the network of wormholes to send data between Commonwealth planets. Each planet has its own Cybersphere which connects with other cyberspheres to create the Unisphere. This system allows characters to contact each other easily from anywhere within the Commonwealth.
OCTattoos (Organic Circuitry Tattoos) are also a major technological device. These are tattooed on the skin and resemble colourful, often metallic tattoos, and serve hundreds of purposes from transferring credits to serving as sensors. Their main function is to act as processors for other implants (which may function at reduced capacity if an OCTattoo is damaged).
Less common 'wet-wired' implants also serve many functions in the novels, including, but not limited to: implanted weapons, personal forcefields, explosives, and scanners. Often, such implants are illegal, and must be installed by the black-market clinics in the Commonwealth. Gore Burnelli is a notable user of wet-wiring in the series, so much so that his entire body is coated in a golden sheen of technological implants.
Non-human sentient civilisations have been encountered by the Commonwealth in its expansion through the Galaxy. The most prominent of these are the elf-like Silfen, who appear to eschew most forms of technology, as well as any participation in the politics or events of the Galaxy. The Silfen choose instead to wander across uncharted alien worlds on Paths, the Silfen equivalent of wormholes. The High Angel is an enormous sentient starship of unknown origin, acting as home for several colonies of alien species, most of which keep themselves away from humans. The Raiel are the exception to this – a race of large, somewhat self-satisfied creatures, capable of immensely complex computational calculations. All of the species encountered up to the start of the novel are peaceful, though few impart useful information to the Commonwealth.
Humanity has also spawned a powerful artificial intelligence called the Sentient Intelligence, or SI, which exists alone, its physical form spanning an entire planet. Like the Silfen, it offers little assistance to humanity, and its motivations are unclear. However, it has been known to offer aid where it deems it right to do so. Perhaps due to its isolation (the only connection to the SI planet is a zero-width wormhole through which only data can pass), it tends to contact those who would offer it unparalleled levels of information on the happenings of the Commonwealth, providing such people with favours in exchange for information. These favours range from ensuring their safety through observation of their local Cybersphere's communications, to controlling what it can in the physical world to offer help.
The SI is also the repository for humans who upload their "personality" into a communal existence alongside the SI. Some characters are offered deals by the SI because they have a "deceased" relative's personality stored in the SI. The deals often lead to the person in question being granted elevated access and control over the technology in the novels in return for gathering information that the SI cannot access.
In the same universe
Other books set in the Commonwealth Universe include Misspent Youth and the Void Trilogy. Misspent Youth is set in 2040 and focuses on the first human to undergo rejuvenation. It is in this book that Hamilton lays the foundations for the Commonwealth Saga, particularly the rejuvenation therapy that has become commonplace in the 24th century. The Void Trilogy continues within the same universe, but set a further 1200 years into the future. Many of the races featured in the Commonwealth Saga also appear in the Void Trilogy.
The short stories "Blessed by an Angel" (published in The New Space Opera (2007), ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathon Strahan), "The Demon Trap" and "Manhatton in Reverse" also occur in this universe. All three are published in Manhattan in Reverse.
- Peter F. Hamilton's Website
- Review of Pandora's Star at SFFWorld.com
- Review of Judas Unchained at SFFWorld.com