Every so often I get sidetracked from my goal of reading and blogging about the top 100 science fiction novels of all time. It usually happens because I finish one of the books on my list – and like it so much that I have to read the rest of the books in the series, no matter how long it takes. The latest example of this curious phenomenon happened after reading Peter F. Hamilton’s epic tale of sentient planets, interstellar travel, doomsday machines, devil worshipers, and souls returned from the dead – The Reality Dysfunction. If it sounds crazy and ridiculous, that’s because it is. But it’s also one of the most gripping reads that I’ve come across on this list. And even clocking in at more than a thousand pages, I still finished the book wanting more. Thankfully there were two more books just as expansive and engrossing to tide me over.
Set mainly in and around the 27th century, The Reality Dysfunction starts by giving readers a condensed list of the major milestones of the past six centuries, including the degradation of Earth’s climate, the settling of the moon and other planets, discovery of the affinity gene (which allows for telepathic communication), first contact with three extraterrestrial races (the Kiint, Tyrathca, and Jiciro), and the invention of the ZTT drive which allows for instantaneous travel between points in space – among others. When we first dive into the story (or stories), we’re hit with a ton of different characters, conflicts and scenarios. There’s the planetary conflict between the world’s of Omuta and Garissa over mineral-rich asteroids. We witness the death (and birth) of a sentient starship known as a Voidhawk. We see a group of colonists from Earth arriving on a frontier world called Lalonde in search of a better life. We meet a brash, talented, and possible psychic young explorer named Joshua Calvert looking to make his fortune by exploring for treasure in the remains of an alien habitat. Oh yeah, and we meet the drop-dead gorgeous benevolent dictator of an sentient Edenist habitat called Tranquility. Still with me?
But all of that is just a setup for the real conflict to emerge. Due to a chance encounter between a variety of forces on the frontier world of Lalonde, a dimensional rift is created (The Reality Dysfunction) between our universe and one that seems to contain the souls of humans who have died. Finally able to cross from ‘the Beyond’ back into our world, the souls are able to possess the bodies of living people that they come into contact with. Each possessing soul then tries to “open” up other bodies to the billions of lost souls trapped in this terrible netherworld, creating a snowball effect as more and more people on Lalonde (and eventually other planets) start to succumb to possession. And in addition to the aggressive expansion and violence of the possessed, the entirety of humanity is also dealing with the knowledge that there actually is an afterlife and that it’s not a very nice place. Suffice it to say that as the threat of possession starts spreading through the galaxy (and affecting the characters we’ve started to get to know) – all hell starts to break loose!
Of all the incredible flights of imagination and well-research scientific extrapolation in Hamilton’s space opera, the thing I was most impressed with was his ability to make me enjoy and care about so many different characters and conflicts at the same time. Usually with novels that weave so many different threads together you have a few story lines that you like and others you don’t. With The Reality Dysfunction, I found myself enjoying and looking forward to almost every different one. To be able to maintain interest in each story while still organically developing the overall story and how it touches each character takes an incredible amount of skill. And to maintain a Hard Sci-Fi level of scientific accuracy while still keeping the story fast-paced and entertaining way is equally as amazing.
No matter how crazy the premise sounds or how wary you are to dive into a thousand page book with so many disparate threads, I urge you to give it a shot. If it can get me to abandon my list for a month and plow through two equally as impressive sequels, I’m sure it’ll have the same effect on you.
Buy The Reality Dysfunction