The Night's Dawn Trilogy
British author Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy consists of three science fiction novels: The Reality Dysfunction (1996), The Neutronium Alchemist (1997), and The Naked God (1999). A collection of short stories, A Second Chance at Eden, shares the same universe, and The Confederation Handbook documents that universe in non-fiction style.
The sprawling narrative deals with a far future where humanity struggles and wages war against past souls flooding back into the land of the living via possession (Al Capone and Fletcher Christian are among the returnees). Hamilton's future is expansive and primarily optimistic, with huge sentient space-cities that can closely resemble a natural Eden. He extrapolates on current trends concerning the blurring of technology with biology, and environmental devastation. Poverty, sexual exploitation and cruelty are prevalent in Night's Dawn civilizations, and the coalition opposing the Possessed are faced with a difficult choice: they cannot destroy them without also killing their host bodies.
Humanity in the 27th century
In the Night's Dawn trilogy, humankind, although now united under an organization known as the Confederation, has been broken up into two major divisions, Adamists and Edenists. The economy is dominated by the Edenists, who maintain a powerful monopoly across the Confederation by harvesting He3 ("helium 3") from suitable gas giants. This resource is used by all Adamist starships as a primary fuel source. The use of the only other major energy source, antimatter, is illegal due to its devastating military potential, and its possession or production is a capital crime.
Adamists are the larger of the two groups, and consider themselves to be normal humans. They allow themselves to use some genetic-engineering improvements (referred to as "geneering"), but do not generally condone the use of "bitek" (organic/bio technology) in their culture. They are a vast group of people of various cultures and backgrounds, and realistically, the Adamist group encompasses any non-Edenist humans. The majority of Adamists, who are at least nominally religious, do not utilise bitek because it was banned by the Pope during the 21st century. Instead, they use nanotechnology, which they refer to as "nanonics". Nanonics perform many of the same physiological feats as bitek, and the two technologies are relatively compatible. Adamist starships use fusion-energy based drives, and as such much of the human economy is based on the proliferation of He3. Use of the ZTT (Zero Temporal Transit) faster-than-light drive allows Adamists to colonize star-systems, usually through the settling of both planets and asteroid belts.
Edenists are, for the most part, a single culture. They are an idealized, egalitarian, utopian society which, while not believing or practicing religion, do not prohibit it. The majority of Edenists live in huge, multi-kilometre space stations called 'habitats' orbiting gas giants. Each individual habitat is a living organism, fully sentient, and is the perfect arbitrator of its community. Habitats cannot be bribed, are perfect impartial judges, and are aware of almost everything that occurs within them and immediately around them. The most important aspect of any Edenist is his/her use of affinity. Affinity is an advanced form of mental communication similar to the present-day concepts of telepathy or entanglement. Edenist affinity allows them to transfer their memories into the habitat at the time of death. This is regarded as a form of immortality. However, no habitat has yet died of old age (nor will for day) and could in turn pass their memories and personality on to another habitat were they ever to die. Adamist religions reject this as an attempt to avoid God's judgment on the soul after death, and it is this which is the root cause of the schism between the Adamist and Edenist cultures.
Edenists have access to faster-than-light travel through large, fully sentient bitek creatures called "Voidhawks". They, along with their crews, make up a vast armada of Edenist merchant vessels operating throughout the Confederation as well as a large fraction of the Confederation Navy. Voidhawks are born and live in the vacuum of space. They are naturally attuned to the magnetic fields and energy fluctuations of space around them, and can generate and precisely control a distortion field to manipulate space around them. By manipulating space in this way, Voidhawks can open wormholes and jump long distances (many light years) instantaneously. Such jumps are known as "swallows". Another product of the distortion field is the ability to affect gravity in and near the Voidhawk. This is used to reduce the effect of high-g manoeuvering on Voidhawk crews. By using the full power of their distortion fields, Voidhawks can attain a speed and manoeuvrability unmatched by Adamist vessels (except those powered by illegal and highly dangerous antimatter).
Edenists heavily genetically modify their children, including the gene which allows affinity to develop from conception. They also use modified "servitors" which are often chimpanzees with affinity which carry out small tasks and leave Edenists to concentrate on more important matters. Edenists operate cloud scoops in gas giants in order to extract the rare isotope helium 3 which can be used for fusion energy.
The story of the Night's Dawn Trilogy is separated over three books: The Reality Dysfunction (1996), The Neutronium Alchemist (1997), and The Naked God (1999); but is also supported by "A Second Chance at Eden", a collection of short stories which provide insight into the history of Hamilton's universe.
The story is divided in many threads, based on primary, secondary and tertiary characters. These delve deeply into the rich and complex texture of the Universe providing a great sense of verisimilitude, also exploring some of Hamilton's darker themes. These story lines include Dariat's struggles inside Valisk, and the Deadnights' voyage to their 'Saviour'.
In the 27th century humans have colonised nearly 900 worlds, have living, sentient starships as well as the conventional kind, and are also living in Asteroid communities and in large, living Space stations. Due to policies of 'Ethnic Streaming' by the colonisation authorities, worlds are generally united under a single government, with these governments collectively forming a Confederation. The Confederation includes both Adamists and Edenists, two alien races (the Tyrathca and the Kiint), has an armed Navy (which acts primarily against smugglers, pirates and anti-matter production facilities, which are highly illegal) and a central 'house' based on the world of Avon. Earth is still an important world, with a massive population, exporting a massive number of colonists (both voluntarily and involuntarily), but virtually environmentally destroyed after years of technological abuse.
The Reality Dysfunction
The opening sequence of the story revolves around a war between the planets Garissa and Omuta, both of which claim ownership of a tremendously valuable set of asteroids called the Dorados. Before Garissa is destroyed by illegal antimatter bombs called planet busters, sent from Omuta, several Garissan ships are sent to attack Omuta with a superweapon called the Alchemist. However, en route, the convoy is ambushed by Omutan-hired blackhawks, a type of living starship and variant of the voidhawk which is far more versatile in combat than its conventional opponents. After a short, furious melee the Garissan ships are damaged and/or disabled, leaving them drifting through the void of space. Dr. Alkad Mzu, the designer of the Alchemist, is among the few survivors. As the possession and/or use of antimatter is a capital crime (indeed, the prevention of the use of antimatter was the reason for the creation of the Confederation), the ruling cabinet of Omuta are executed and their world placed under stringent sanctions for 30 years.
Introduced next is young would-be space captain Joshua Calvert. Joshua lives on Tranquillity, a huge, living space station, which exists in orbit around a gas giant. Thousands of years ago, the native race of Tranquillity's star mysteriously committed suicide. Tranquillity was grown in order to investigate the Ruin Ring, the ruins of the unknown civilisation, which form an artificial circle around the gas giant. While exploring the Ruin Ring, Joshua finds a memory storage device. Containing huge amounts of information about the extinct aliens, the auction of the device fetches him enough money to refit his father's starship, the Lady MacBeth, and once again use her for commercial shipping and trade.
Syrinx, a young Edenist, is next introduced, leading life from a young age telepathically attached to a bitek starship called Oenone. As she grows she learns more about the world with her sentient starship, becoming best friends (as is the normal bond between bitek starship and owner). After a mandatory stint in the armed forces, including an encounter with Joshua Calvert in which he outsmarts her, Syrinx takes her ship and her crew into the realm of commercial shipping, becoming competitors with Calvert and his ship.
On the tropical world of Lalonde, the newest colony in the Confederation, a group of Involuntary Transportees 'Ivets' from Earth (it becomes clear that the basic sentence for basically every convicted person on Earth is transportation, as its population is far too large to sustain prisoners) is made to work while voluntary colonists set out to make a new life for themselves - some eager, some forced to come along with their families. One such girl is Marie, who wants to return home, and so hitches a ride back to the capital of Lalonde after settlement, in an attempt to return to Earth. The leader of the Ivets - the cruel, sadistic Satanist, Quinn Dexter - despite his evil nature is an apt leader. He organizes a campaign of murder in order to steal enough money to return to Earth to take revenge on the Cult Leader who put him there. His campaign accelerates until he eventually captures the local lawman, and is going to torture him. However, simultaneously an Alien entity known as the Ly-cilph, a non-corporeal race from a distant galaxy, comes into contact with the dying man. The Ly-cilph, its only purpose being to gather knowledge, is amazed when it detects a flicker of energy leaving the man's body (apparently the essence of his consciousness, his soul) through a spatial distortion leading to an "energistic vacuum". The being unknowingly follows and finds itself trapped in a threshold between this dimension and the dimension of souls (the beyond), where human souls go to after death. This results in the souls of the dead, most demented after countless aeons of 'imprisonment' being able to return to our universe and to possess human bodies, if the owning soul gives permission - which they invariably do after sufficient torture. These newly reincarnated dead - interstellar zombies - can harness superhuman powers - most notably the power to project "the white fire", the ability to alter form, and the ability to open the "channel" to allow souls to return to possess others. Quickly the possessed overrun the new settlement, claim spaceships and leave Lalonde to spread to the Confederation at large.
Calvert, having visited Lalonde, unwittingly gives the possessed Dexter (who later torments his possessing soul into returning him full access to his own body while keeping all of the possessors powers) a ride to the world of Norfolk. Dexter begins to infect the Norfolk locals while Calvert begins to trade in the extremely revered "Norfolk Tears", an alcoholic beverage, coming into opposition with Syrinx. Calvert begins an affair with a wealthy nobleman's daughter, Louise, who falls madly in love with him. The infection starts a short-lived military campaign by the local militia, which results in the total destruction of the social system, Louise and her sister fleeing for their lives.
Dr. Alkad Mzu, for years kept virtual prisoner on Tranquillity because of her knowledge of the Alchemist and her terrorist ambitions, escapes in a breathtaking sequence including using a Blackhawk to "swallow" inside the habitat to aid her escape.
Syrinx travels to the world of Atlantis, a world covered by water, inhabited by floating "islands" which themselves are sentient. But she discovers that the possession has also begun there. In the process she is captured and tortured badly, and suffers a psychotic breakdown.
In Tranquillity the scale of the infection begins to become apparent to the Confederation, which immediately bans all non-essential travel between worlds. A team of mercenaries is assembled and ferried to Lalonde to assess the scale of the possession and its true source, assisted by Calvert.
The team discovers the small Tyrathca settlement, a race of (socially) insect-like Aliens who have suffered great losses to attacks by possessed humans, passing by a small temple being constructed even though the Tyrathca race do not have religion. Later, they stumble across a group of non-possessed children and Father Horst, a Christian priest who led them to escape the settlement, and try to protect them from the attacks by the increasingly effective possessed humans, the weapons of the mercenaries of limited use, and their numbers insufficient to fend off the attackers. In a climactic final scene as Calvert fights a space battle above, the mercenaries valiantly sacrifice themselves defending the survivors from the hordes of the possessed until they are extracted by space plane.
The Neutronium Alchemist
The nature and breadth of infection becomes better known in the second novel, the possessers occupying several factions, including that of Al Capone on New California, Keira Salter on Valisk and Quinn Dexter as he travels from world to world, until finally reaching Earth.
Calvert and his group is tasked with finding Dr Mzu, who is believed to be searching for her doomsday weapon to complete her dream of slaying the Omutan people. The search takes her to the Disk-system which is now inhabited by the survivors of the Garissan genocide, and finally (with the aid of Calvert) to an uninhabited system to find the Alchemist starship which was damaged at the beginning of the first novel. The weapon is used to destroy a gas giant world, also destroying possessed starships controlled by the Capone organization.
Syrinx is psychologically reconstructed with the help of the founder of the Edenist culture.
Louise and her sister, aided by the possesser Fletcher Christian (one of the few possessers who are not universally sadistic or evil) find their way to Earth in search of Calvert. The possesser also reaches one of the Kulu colonies, resulting in the loss of a peninsula, which is transported by the local possesser into another dimension (this is what happens when the possessers reach a certain number on a planet or in a certain area).
The Naked God
The final book takes place (largely) with a mission to a far off system to discover the Tyrathca 'Sleeping God' (which was previously unknown, but learnt of in the first novel), which was discovered by the Tyrathca when they were travelling the galaxy, looking for new planets to populate. The Tyrathca praise it as a god, yet they are a species incapable of fiction, thus implying some true god-like ability. Syrinx and Calvert both participate, their ships and skills aiding each other considerably, to the Tyrathca home system then to the location of the "god".
Simultaneously Louise, on Earth, must fight Quinn Dexter who is subjugating the population.
The campaign to liberate the possessed peninsula becomes a bloody quagmire, with massive losses on both sides.
The Sleeping God is eventually revealed to be an entity created by an ancient, long departed culture, which was able to create a stable, naked quantum singularity. This singularity has untold knowledge and power, and talks with Calvert for some time, able to transplant its consciousness across time and space, to Earth and Louise, and to the point at which the possession began. Bestowed with the god’s power Calvert is able to exorcise the infected across the Confederation through the use of a specially configured wormhole that consumes the entire confederation and all its inhabited worlds and habitats (including people and ships) into a remote area outside of the Milky Way Galaxy while also de-possessing all people who had been possessed, also Calvert is able to receive a unique viewpoint of the whole story from the start of the possession right up to the point where his fiance Louise is about to stand alone against the evil Quinn Dexter.
When order starts to return to the Confederation and Joshua Calvert is questioned as to why he moved the human race to such an isolated space he justified himself by saying that this will allow humanity to avert another "reality dysfunction" as this isolation will force itself to look inwards and re-evaluate itself as a whole.
The story is epic and sweeping, encompassing and describing hundreds of civilizations, races and species on thousands of worlds. While not bestowing upon the reader any singular theme or underlying purpose, it shows that despite the obviously massive advances in technology, society and scope of human civilisation, we are still fundamentally the same. As described by the Sleeping God, the Confederation is (paraphrasing) "one vast middle-class estate", still suffering war, genocide, environmental destruction, hideous crime and greed, best exemplified by Earth as a rotten core to the confederation. On the other hand, the prospect of alien races, starships, genetic engineering and habitable worlds is hugely optimistic, describing the state of the Confederation as a "golden age of humanity".
There is also the recurring theme of duality, Adamists vs Edenists, Tyrathca vs Mosdva, Residents vs Ivets, Edenists vs Serpents, ESA vs ISA, even the Tyrathca have an internal divide. Each divide is a division of the natures of the individual. Edenist representing the logical nature of humanity while Adamists the emotional nature of humanity while in the end humanity is a whole. Tyrathca representing persistence while Mosdva representing creativity.
- Hamilton, Peter F. (1996). The Reality Dysfunction. Grove Pub. ISBN 1-56865-501-0.
- Hamilton, Peter F. (1997). The Neutronium Alchemist. Warner Books. ISBN 1-56865-762-5.
- Hamilton, Peter F. (1999). The Naked God. Pan MacMillan. ISBN 0-333-68791-4.
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