It's fairly unusual that I get really into a peice of pure science fiction. Historically, Peter F. Hamilton has been one of the few sci-fi authors that can really suck me in. Pandora's Star was absolutely no exception.
Back of the book summery: Humanity discovers a potentially hostile alien race. Coping ensues. With wormholes.
So what makes this book different from the hundreds of other sci-fi books that fill the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble? First of all, Hamilton is a fantastic world builder. The world of Pandora's Star (which is very different from his earlier work. It is a much nearer future with very different technology) will entrance you. The technology progression is believable, and forms the framework for a fascinating political situation rife with powerful families vying for power, terrorist groups fighting for the good of humanity, and governments in the pockets of shadowy powers (or are they?).
But again, good world building is hardly unique in the world of sci-fi. What really sets Hamilton apart from the pack is his deftness in creating interesting, believable characters. I can't think of any characters in Pandora's Star, no matter how minor a role they play, that didn't make me want to read more about them. The characters feel how real people feel, are rational like real people, and interact like real people. The political drama doesn't focus on personality conflict, the players are too professional for that. Instead Hamilton manages to make the balancing of agendas, the give and take of people trying to turn a bad situation to their advantage while simultaneously genuinely striving to fix the problem into a page-turning read. He even manages to get inside the minds of a completely alien race, a strange and baffling way of thinking and making it seem... justifiable. Not right, not good, but you understand where it's coming from. Though their methods seem baffling at first, Hamilton doesn't neglect to ensure that even the Big Bad has real motivation.
The last thing that sets the book apart is the lack of Star Trek plot devices. The warp cores don't explode, and if they did, I imagine the engineers who built the boat had redundant systems and spare parts. When the final solution comes around, I can pretty much guarentee that the answer will have nothing to do with the technology or the time that the story is told with.
Pandora's Star is the first in a series. Knowing Hamilton, there will be plenty of pages between here and the end, and that's okay with me. I'm writing this a couple months after I finished the book and while I sit here I find myself wondering what faction X is getting up to, or how Hamilton will decide to use Entity Y. For a guy who can hardly rarely remember the main character's name a week after putting novel down, that isn't unimpressive. Not unlike reading the first Song of Ice & Fire book, I find myself wishing more of my friends had read the book, because I am interested to hear what theories they came up with. So what are you waiting for?
[details: Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton, pb]