Defeated by Pandora's Star

Staring wide-eyed at shelves teeming with fantasy and science fiction epics as far as the eye can see, I cannot, despite knowing better, stop myself from wanting to pick up the thickest books, in the vein hopes of it living up to its sheer size.

But, sitting here, feeling defeated—being absolutely unable to fight my way through Peter F. Hamilton’s 1144 page opus, Pandora’s Star—I think I’ve learned my lesson.

Parts of it were even pretty damn good—chapter 10 for instance, the Alamo Avengers attacking the shipyard, was downright white-knuckles-intense, and really got my hopes up. But ultimately Pandora’s Star falls into the same mindless verbose world-building hole of boredom so many other science fiction and fantasy books seem to end up in.

Not to mention the plethora of uninteresting—and nearly 900 pages in, seemingly irrelevant—characters inhabiting this detail-saturated, sub-plot-dense but unfortunately rather momentum-deprived brick of a book.

Ironic as well, considering that the last two truly great sci-fi books I’ve read were Rendezvous w. Rama and Starship Troopers, both of which are light-weight page turners, coming in at around 270 pages (even if Starship Troopers feels rather one-sided in its military masturbation).

I’m probably flawed, having grown up on movies, rather than with my nose buried in books, and I gladly take that on me, but after 900 pages and less ‘action’ than in the 272 pages of Starship Troopers, I have to begrudgingly call it quits..

Not all is bad though, the rejuvination—rebirth, so to speak—was handled particularly well, with its social and societal repercussions well laid out and thoroughly incorporated into the world. And then of course, the ‘hi, I’m a man and I like but guns’-moment of chapter 10, of which I bring you a small remix:

Huge dark metal shapes were rising out of the debris on vivid columns of violet flame. They looked like armoured rectangular dinosaurs, with blunt wedge-shaped heads. Thick cannon barrels jutted out from where their eyes should have been, while smaller guns protruded from the front of the head, like lethal mandibles. Three stumpy legs were folded back against each side of their flanks as they went airborne. The air shimmered around them as force fields came on. [...]

The three horrific machines swung round in unison; their exhaust jets vectored horizontal and they accelerated away over the station’s wilderness yard. ‘They’re Alamo Avengers, ‘ Lennie shouted into the howl of the rockets, praying his audience would be able to hear. ‘You’re seeing real live Alamo Avengers in action.’ He just managed to fight down the impulse to cheer them on. [...]

The Alamo Avengers stormed over the highway at barely a hundred meters altitude. When they were a kilometre from the force field, they opened fire with their particle lances. It was as if sheet lightning was bridging the gap between them and the dome. The entire sky transformed into a blinding white maelstrom as the air disintegrated from the tremendous energy discharge. The soundblast alone shattered every window on the cars and vans and buses below, people were hurled about by the sonic wavefront. Ears and eyes ruptured, capillaries tore apart; blood started to foam out of their mouthes and noses and ears, unprotected skin liquefied.

The force field maintained its integrity under the strike. Right across its surface, air molecules collapsed and punched upward in a seething coronal cloud. From above it looked as though a small red dwarf sun had become buried in the ground.

And finally:

They didn’t so much land, as fall out of the air. Their rockets cut off while they were still twenty metres up. Legs stretches out and absorbed the impact, leaving them in a crouching position on the black smouldering earth.

So yeah, despite feeling drained by the sheer girth of this (the first of the two in the series) epic, I at least came away with something…