Commonwealth Saga

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Commonwealth Saga
Author Peter F. Hamilton
Country UK
Language English
Genre science fiction
Published 2004 (2004)-

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). Hamilton has also written several books set in the same literary universe. Misspent Youth (2002) takes place 340 years before the events of Pandora's Star. The Void Trilogy, consisting of The Dreaming Void (2008), The Temporal Void (2009), and The Evolutionary Void (2010), takes place 1,200 years after the events of Judas Unchained; several of the main characters from Judas Unchained and Pandora's Star also appear in the Void trilogy.

Two additional novels, set in the time after "The Void Trilogy", were released in 2014 (The Abyss Beyond Dreams)[1] and 2016 (Night Without Stars).[2]

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.[3]

Plot[edit]

Pandora's Star[edit]

Pandora's Star
Pandora's Star.jpg
Author Peter F. Hamilton
Cover artist Jim Burns
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Commonwealth Saga
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Pan Macmillan (UK) & Del Rey (US)
Publication date
2004
Pages 882 (UK hardcover), 1,152 (UK paperback)
ISBN 0-330-49331-0
OCLC 57201315
Followed by Judas Unchained

The book opens with a short section providing backstory. As part of the first mission to Mars, a team of astronauts exits their spacecraft for the first time, only to see another man standing there, connected to an air hose that leads through a wormhole to a laboratory in California. The wormhole generator's inventors, Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Isaacs, chose to test it by beating the crew, by moments, to be the first human on Mars. The saga then moves onto the Commonwealth era in 2380, when humanity has used the wormhole technology to colonise several hundred planets across hundreds of light years.

On a distant planet, Astronomer Dudley Bose performs the first detailed observations of a mysterious 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), disappeared some time in the past. 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. Lacking contemporary astronauts, it is commanded by Wilson Kime, one of the members of the original Mars mission. Using a self-enclosed 'flowing' 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. Formerly imprisoned inside 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, and by the time of the story, only one remains alive, MorningLightMountain.

Primes had colonised Dyson Beta using slower-than-light starships and enslaved its native inhabitants in the process. Disconnected from their originating immotile groupings, and provided with novel biological forms, Beta's Primes started to routinely alter themselves through genetic manipulation and mechanical augmentation. This was an anathema to the Alpha Primes, who referred to them as AlienPrimes. No longer under the control of Alpha's Primes, a war began between the two systems. The war appears to have continued until the barrier was erected around the stars by forces unknown.

After capturing two crew members of the Second Chance, one of whom is Bose, MorningLightMountain eventually discovers the location of the Commonwealth. Upon learning of the Commonwealth's existence, MorningLightMountain makes it its primary objective to destroy it. Having been in almost continual combat for its entire evolution, MorningLightMountain believes that it is necessary to eliminate all other life in the Universe to secure its survival into the distant future, it views all life that is not under its control as a potential threat.

Woven through the main narrative of the Prime encounter are several other stories. Among these is the ancient spacecraft Marie Celeste, found crashed on one of the Commonwealth planets, Far Away. An enigmatic figure, Bradley Johansson, claims the original passenger of the spacecraft is alive, an alien he calls the Starflier. He claims that it is using mind-controlled agents to manipulate events in the Commonwealth, and created the events that led to the discovery of the Primes. He is dismissed as a crazy terrorist by the Commonwealth forces, and his attempts to interfere with the voyage to Prime are thwarted.

Judas Unchained[edit]

Judas Unchained
Judas Unchained cover.jpg
Author Peter F. Hamilton
Cover artist Jim Burns
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Commonwealth Saga
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Pan Macmillan (UK) & Del Rey (US)
Publication date
2005
Media type Print
Pages 949 (UK hardcover), 1,230 (UK paperback)
ISBN 0-330-49353-1
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, the Commonwealth forces slowly realize that Johansson is correct, the Starflier is in fact an AlienPrime which, by chance, escaped the enclosure event. After crashing on Far Away it has been plotting how to destroy both the Alpha Primes as well as dangerous Humanity by manipulating events to force both races to commit mutual genocide. Beta Primes would then become the dominant lifeforms. Through a long trail of companies, it funded Bose's "discovery" of the enclosure and snuck agents aboard Second Chance with a device to deactivate the enclosure generator.

As the Starflyer attempts to return to Beta, human forces engage in a desperate chase to prevent the Starflyer from escaping. Their forces fail, but Johansson's Guardians of Selfhood have been preparing for this event, marshalling the weather of the entire planet and unleashing as a massive directed hurricane, destroying the Starflier's ship. Johansson is aboard the Marie Celeste, and the action ends with him preparing to kill the Starflier.

Technological concepts[edit]

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.

Longevity[edit]

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. This is the "re-life" process, which effectively makes all humans equipped with a memory crystal immortal. Even if still threatened by the loss of their body, the memory crystal implant and "secure store" enable a seamless transition between 'death' and any given human's next life. Not all humans, however, 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.

Man-machine symbiosis[edit]

Cyberware is used extensively in the Commonwealth, and most people possess several implants. One of the most common implants is a memory crystal. 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.

Aliens[edit]

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.

Sentient Intelligence[edit]

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[edit]

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", which take place between Judas Unchained and The Dreaming Void (published in The New Space Opera (2007), ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan), "The Demon Trap" and "Manhattan in Reverse" also occur in this universe. All three are published in Manhattan in Reverse.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Eric (2014-11-20). "The best science fiction novels in October – review roundup". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  2. ^ George Williams (4 March 2017). "Sci-fi writer Peter F. Hamilton takes humans to a galaxy far, far away". The Australian. Retrieved 10 March 2018. 
  3. ^ "Space Operas Are Extremely Difficult To Write". Inverse. Retrieved 2018-03-10. 

External links[edit]