Peter F. Hamilton
The Night's Dawn Trilogy (1996–99)
Reviewed: 2003-04-12


  1. The Reality Dysfunction (1996)
  2. The Neutronium Alchemist (1997)
  3. The Naked God (1999)

Billed as a trilogy, this is actually a single, humongous novel. And what a story it is. A massive, audacious, roaring space opera, with a liberal dose of supernatural horror. With its multitude of intertwining plot lines—Hamilton starts out by opening five or so—and bewildering cast of characters, it's impossible to give a fair synopsis.

The year is circa 2600 C.E. Some 850 settled planets, along with countless lesser bodies and space habitats, make up human space, losely united in a Confederation much like our contemporary U.N. Humanity has forked into two major branches, Edenists and Adamists. The Edenists freely use "bitek" organic technology, quasi-telepathy, organic spaceships, and living space habitats, whereas the Adamists use more conventional technology and "nanonics". Both meta-cultures are nominally antagonistic, but little so in the practice we see. People and ships from both serve jointly in the Confederation Navy which enforces the single Confederation-wide prohibition: possession of anti-matter, the banned weapon, is a capital crime.

Within the Confederation, there are worlds governed by probably every political system ever tried. There are big corporations and independent traders, regular armies and mercenaries. There are cyborgs and aliens, and mostly everybody is gengineered to a varying degree. There is the valiant gifted young starship captain, charming and womanizing. There is a freeport, whose absolute ruler is a young girl from a renegade branch of a famous monarchy. There is a doomsday weapon and the scientist who invented it in exile. There is a ruin ring with the remains of thousands of alien space habitats that were destroyed millennia ago for mysterious reasons. There are scavengers who make a living from exploiting the ruins for surviving artifacts, and there are scientists trying to understand the secrets of the ancient builders. There are many exotic worlds and worldlets, each with a carefully crafted history. There is a renegade Edenist, genius scientist turned supercriminal and most wanted man in the Confederation, believed to be dead but actually lying low on a backwater planet and silently continuing to work on his agenda. There are settlers struggling to reclaim a new existence from their colony world, aided by involuntary transportees serving their work-time. There are battles in space and on the ground. Now there is an immense, incomprehensible danger from the beyond that has found a gate to our world.

And this is just the beginning.

At its core, Night's Dawn is a simple adventure/horror story, but a well executed one. Too well, in some respects. It feels weird mentioning this like a flaw, but at times the novel is just too overwhelming. There is too much of everything, too many characters, too many settings, too many ideas, stressing the reader's capacity in the extreme. The ending feels comparatively rushed, tying up innumerable loose ends too neatly, and resting quite literally on a deus ex machina. Writing a space opera of such scope is an absurdly ambitious project, but if you manage to wrap your head around it, Hamilton pulls it off. The pacing is superb, there is length but little longueur. The background tapestry is rich in detail, well conceived, and often fascinating. The many plot lines, each one quite straighforward for itself, make for a complex but not overly convoluted story.

By its sheer scale a very impressive work.

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