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The Nights Dawn trilogy is an epic Space Opera series written by British author Peter F. Hamilton. This Doorstopper of a series was released as three immense novels in Britain; The Reality Dysfunction (1996), The Neutronium Alchemist (1997) and The Naked God (1999). Each volume was broken into two, slightly more manageable books when it was released in the States; The Reality Dysfunction into Emergence and Expansion, The Neutronium Alchemist into Consolidation and Conflict and The Naked God into Flight and Faith.
The story is set in the 27th century, after humanity has developed faster-than-light travel through the use of artificial wormholes. Human society has been divided into two cultures that are more or less at peace with each other: Adamists, who are your typical space-going humans separated and diversified by living on a variety of worlds with different governments, economies and ecosystems, and the Edenists, who have genetically modified themselves to allow universal telepathy between each other, and their biotechnological (or bitek) constructs. Both are loosely bound in The Confederation, which also includes two species of sentient aliens (or xenocs).
Some friction exists between Adamists and Edenists, because Edenism's universal use of the "affinity gene" has led them to cheat death (sort of) by storing their memories and personalities indefinitely in bitek space habitats, and they are socialists who breed synthetic lifeforms instead of building machines. These practices were condemned by the unified Pope and other religious leaders long ago. In addition, due to the versatility of bitek, Edenists maintain a near-complete monopoly on Helium-3, the fusion fuel used everywhere in human space. Adamists, on the other hand, are far closer to the typical human civilization of space opera, making use of mild genetic engineering to cure diseases and relying on nanotechnology implants to link themselves to their technology and each other. Many conversations in the book take place using this form of technological telepathy ("datavising") or the Edenists' form of actual telepathy.
The dense and multi-threaded plot follows too many characters to note here, but runs the gamut from simple, pre-industrial settlers to the obligatory starship captains, through onto kings of interstellar empires and even the sentient bitek minds of orbital habitats. The story concerns humanity's trials and tribulations when... get this: the souls of the dead begin forcefully possessing the bodies of the living. The premise, while fantastic, is actually treated as a natural (albeit poorly understood) phenomenon, and oddly does not shift this series' place on Mohs Scale of Sci Fi Hardness. As for the novels' SF hardness, space is treated like space while retaining some elements of Space Is an Ocean (like navies and pirates and so forth), and most futuristic technologies are described in believable detail.
This series is so long and far-reaching that it can't help but run flush up against a million and one SF tropes, in most cases smashing through them, or on the other hand, playing them so straight (and cool) that you'll wonder why they never worked as well before.
This series includes examples of:
- Afterlife Antechamber: The Naked God reveals that The Beyond is actually the "place" where souls go when they can't accept their death and desire to continue living as they did. The souls have the power to turn wish into reality, but since they are dead they can't interact with the universe, and are stuck in a sort of semi-perceptive limbo, along with uncountable others, and because they still crave the sensations of life, they can only leech on each other's memories for the faint traces of life they contain. The real afterlife is the Omega Point, the final end of the Universe where all souls go to merge with each other and create a new Universe, but going there can only happen if one accepts death and leaves their old existence behind. Everyone else is stuck in the Beyond, taking The Slow Path to the end of the Universe and shrieking in agony all the while.
- A God Am I: Quinn Dexter, total goddamn psychopath. Anette Ekelund also has a stab at it.
- Aint No Rule: Antimatter is horrendously illegal. However, as Joshua Calvert points out, there's no law against having an antimatter drive so long as you never fuel it. He also has a battery of signal masers that can punch a message right through somebody's hull.
- Al Capone...IN SPACE!.
- All Crimes Are Equal: Earth's population is so huge, and its cities so desperately overcrowded, any and all crimes with a guilty verdict tend to result in the convict being sent off to be used as manual labor on colony worlds that have just been established.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Played with. He describes how some terra-compatible planets are not Earth like. Of course in this series Earth is not even Earth like, by our standards.
- Antimatter : One of the highest crimes possible is to possess or produce antimatter (via stations orbiting distant stars). Production stations are destroyed on sight, and possessing antimatter carries the death penalty, no exceptions.
- Well... mostly no exceptions; a ship is allowed to use antimatter in the save-the-whole-human-race flight across the galaxy.
- And I Must Scream: Why pretty much everyone is insane in the Beyond: they can just sense the real world, but are never capable of reaching in.
- Also goes for ghosts and whoever has the misfortune of ending up in the Melange.
- Artificial Gravity: Averted except for voidhawks & blackhawks; all space habitats rotate. The artificial gravity onboard bitek ships is induced by manipulating of the distortion field they generate for propulsion.
- In the short story "Escape Route", the derelict alien ship that Marcus Calvert finds has artificial gravity, and someone remarks on how it would cause a technological revolution and make them filthy rich if they brought it back to Earth. They are forced to blow it up, in the end.
- Automated Automobiles: Almost everyone uses them on the "civilized" planets. Described as "bullets on wheels" in regards to how fast they are.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Pretty much every sentient being transcends into energy form upon death (exactly like your priest/guru/rabbi has been saying all along). What happens afterwards, however, is species-dependent. The Ly-cilph hang around, collecting information about everything, while most species go to the Omega Point, or the beyond. Some unlucky ones end up as ghosts or fall into the dark Continuum.
- Body Surf: Edenists achieve "immortality" by downloading their minds into bitek habitats via affinity on death; they spend a few centuries as disembodied minds before gradually merging with the habitat personality. The B7 people do a body-to-body version, incinerating the old body when they download to a new one. Or, at least, so they thought. The Kiint reveal that a memory construct is different from a soul, and so both all the Edenists that died and the B7 folks (in several versions) are actually busy mind-raping each-other in the Beyond with everyone else.
- Bond Creatures: This is how bitek and Edenism started.
- Born Lucky: Joshua "Lagrange" Calvert. His father, Marcus, features in a side story set some years prior, and he's even luckyer.
- Britain Is Only London: This, along with New York, is one of the only Earth arcologies named, mentioned or seen. And you see a heck of a lot more of it than New York. Probably because Hamilton is British, so would focus there.
- Brown Note: The Anti-Memory device is basically a computer virus that deletes all memory. The "computer" here being the human brain. It is used as a soul-killer weapon against the possessed, killing both the possessing soul and the original host.
- Originally, the technology was used to imprint memories, knowledge and experience into people as a form of fast education, that eventually replaced schools and universities.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Eh, sorta, back in the 21st century Christianity formally unified, however most of the Church structure retained a very Catholic feel to it. By the 27th century a person who wished could easily say that Christianity is indeed Catholic in the dictionary sense of the word, Catholic does after all mean "universal".
- Cool Starship - The Lady Macbeth, and the Oenone.
- Colony Drop - The series starts off with Dr. Alkad Mzu's world, Garissa, being hit by planet cracking antimatter bombs deployed by the Omutan government.
- Also, Quinn Dexter does this on the human colony of Nyvan, as an "experiment" in preparation for doing the same to Earth and every other inhabited planet out there.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive The rulers of Earth, the 'B7 Security council'
- Cosmic Horror Story: an interesting variation, but it has all the common elements.
- Crapsack World - Earth.
- Also, Nyvan, both before and after Quinn Dexter has his way with it.
- Cyborg Helmsman: Captains and pilots have large amounts of neural implants for controlling the ship.
- Death From Above:
Soldier 1: Look, dude, a meteor shower... pretty.
- Demonic Possession IN SPACE!: Except they're not demons, they're the souls of dead humans... which, you know, makes it that much worse.
- Depraved Bisexual: Quinn Dexter, and his Satanist cronies. Most Light Bringer adherents are like this, really.
- Deus Est Machina / Deus Ex Machina: The Sleeping God
- Someone actually makes a sarcastic remark about military types expecting a deus-ex-machina solution floating in space somewhere.
- Domed Hometown - All the cities on Earth are domed, to protect them from the raging 'Aramada storms'. Before they were domed, a farmer's pickup truck was found stuck in the 70th floor of the Sears tower
- Doorstopper - About 3200 pages total, plus the 400 page "A Second Chance At Eden" short story collection.
- Eldritch Abomination- The Orgathe are creatures of the Dark Continuum, a realm of near-absolute entropy, where every soul becomes a ghost and everything eventually falls into a central mass of ectoplasm called the Melange, unable to gather enough energy to break loose. The Orgathe can only break free for a short time by forming out of multiple souls; they wander the empty realm, devouring any soul and shred of heat they might encounter until eventually falling back into the Melange. And Dexter tried to bring them all to Earth.
- Energy Beings: The Ly-cilph start life as small fish-like beings on a moon orbiting a humongous gas giant. In three years' time they grow to adult form, a cross between a snail and a deep-sea anemone. They venture on to the ground, and eat the memory fruit left behind by the previous generation of Ly-ciplh; the nodes contain the memories of previous generations, elevating them to sentience. They spend the next 6 years learning and observing the world around them until the 9-year mark, when a periodic flux tube discharge from the gas giant dumps enough energy on the planet for them to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, free to roam the Universe forever, gathering knowledge.
- Also, the "Tinkerbell species" encountered when the settlement on Ombey is taken to another dimension. They grew bored with the physical Universe and left it seeking something more exciting.
- Fantastic Religious Weirdness: Of all sorts, given the extreme religious diversity of the Confederation.
- Fate Worse Than Death- Possession by the souls from the Beyond.
- Also, The Beyond makes people wish that death were permanent.
- People in the Melange lead a pretty wretched existence as well.
- The Federation - The Confederation. It's not quite as good as it looks at first glance
- First Contact: it was kind of unimpressive: the Jiciro species were a pre-industrial agrarian civilization when first found. They've recently moved on to steam.
- The actual First Contact was with the Kiint. A human exploratory vessel jumped into their outpost star system and noticed the "Triad" of moons orbiting one of the planets in perfect symmetry and balance. It was obviously artificial, so they sent a greeting and offer of friendship to the surface. The answer came less than a minute later, in English: "YES!". Turns out that a) that is not the Kiint home planet, but an outpost they had in our galaxy, b) the Triad was an "old experiment" (their home system has a large number of habitable planets all sharing the same orbit), and c) they've been watching humanity since around the first century AD through immortal Artificial Human agents.
- Fridge Brilliance: Michael Saldana secretly gave the Tranquility habitat the ability to perform a huge wormhole jump in case of impending danger, fearing that whatever had destroyed the Laymil might return. Two hundred years later, guess who tried to blow up the place?
- Friend to All Living Things / Perfect Pacifist People: The Laymil had elevated themselves to a communal-society level that was universally benevolent and cherished every living thing. The notion of "weapons" didn't exist in their culture. During their possession crisis, after their planet got stolen by insane returning Laymil, their space-habitat constellation committed simultaneous mass suicide rather than submit.
- Good People Have Good Sex: In Free fall cages. Bad people have devil worshipping rape-sex.
- Good Republic, Evil Empire: not as much as you'd expect. The Kulu Kingdom (actually a benign interstellar empire) is the second most powerful Adamist faction (after Earth) and behaves with remarkable competence in handling possession outbreaks on their planets. It doesn't really help them; see the bit about a peninsula vanishing into another dimension.
- Gray and Gray Morality: Abandoning planets to the Possessed make sense, given the scale of things. Also, the returning spirits aren't universally evil, but most are driven Axe Crazy with lust for life.
- The Kiint eventually reveal that the people trapped in the Beyond are those who are, in some way, deficient in maturity at the time of their deaths (or in some way insane). They dealt with it by giving every single one of their dead who was trapped there a new body and nurturing them until they were ready to leave and go to the Omega Point. Joshua takes a somewhat more DIRECT approach to getting the human souls there.
- Heroic Sacrifice - The mercenary team at the end of Reality Dysfunction, who stand their ground to allow the planet's surviving children to be evacuated, in some cases fighting until they are literally torn to pieces.
- Arguably also Warlow, but somewhat subverted in that he converts to Edenism and uploads his personality at the last second.
- Hive Mind: The Edenist Consensus is formed via affinity by all sentient beings (humans, habitats, ships) in a star system when a big decision needs to be made.
- The Corpus Kiint is similar. The Laymil also had the permanent "life-harmony gestalt" around their planet, formed by multiple space-habitats/satellites linking individual clans and continents together.
- Horde of Alien Locusts - The possessed.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: The first time a child Kiint (a super-advanced caterpillar-like species) named Haile sees a human being, its/her thoughts are along the lines of:
"Panic. Alarm. Incredulity. Thing has not enough legs. Topple walk. Fall over not. Why why why? What is it?"
- Also, the Kiint have polymorphic hands, that can take many shapes. When invited to shake hands with a human, she can't quite replicate the human hand, and asks said human to tell her how. She's mortified at the thought that human hands can't change shape.
- The encounter with the Mosdva reverses the roles. Humans are much more advanced than they are, and one of them suffers a painful contraction of the marsupium when told that human ships can jump instantaneously between star systems.
- Insufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Tyrathca are a caste-based society of phlegmatic assholes, for the most part. Only the breeders are sentient, they rather lack imagination, and are fully complacent in their technological stagnancy. It's a mystery for everyone how they managed to build the ark that helped them leave their home system when their star, Mastrit-PJ, turned into a red giant.
- Also, the Jiciro and the Mosdva.
- It is revealed by the Mosdva that both them and the Tyrathca evolved on the same planet. The Mosdva used to be slaves of a previous warlike species that exterminated itself, and they had a way with machinery and technology, but were physically weak. The Tyrathca were strong herd animals that had only recently achieved sentience, and they enslaved the Mosdva themselves, forcing them to build the Arkships and leaving them to die on the planet when they were done. Bad move for the Tyrathca, because they couldn't repair their own vessels, and the Mosdva build massive diskcities around their dying star and survived.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold - Joshua Calvert.
- Kill It with Fire: the possessed have the ability to manifest their wishes and emotions in reality. Anger takes the appearance of their characteristic "white fire", which they fling around at people.
- Kill Sat: Most planets have them for defensive purposes.
- Latex Space Suit : SII smart silicon space suits, which is a black ball of silicon which when activated, surround the user with the silicon and form as a spacesuit.
- Literal Surveillance Bug - Edenist bitek spiders.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Lost Superweapon : The Sleeping God, a naked singularity and sentient AI.
- To a lesser degree, the Alchemist- see There Is No Kill Like Overkill below.
- Mega Corp - Earth is controlled by these, secretly. Oh, and the Corrupt Corporate Executives that run them are Really Seven Hundred Years Old and are Body Surfing between bodies
- Mind Rape: This, in conjunction with extreme physical torture and sometimes actual rape, is the prelude to possession, which is itself another flavor of Mind Rape.
- More Than Mind Control: what Kiera does to those Deadnight kids, to lure them to her.
- Myself My Avatar: The Super Soldiers.
- Naming Your Colony World : There are a lot of "New [Insert-Area-Name-Here]" planets, somewhat justified by most of the settlers all coming from said region. Many colonies have original names, as well.
- The Tyrathca have strange (for us) names like "Hesperi-LN" and "Goertht-WN".
- Nigh Invulnerability : Cosmoniks, which are described as having "diamond armor", and many redundant organs. Also, the possessed are almost immune to advanced weaponry, because of their electronics-scrambling energy, and still take quite a beating from regular bullets.
- No Transhumanism Allowed: Attempted, but ultimately failed. Part of the Backstory is that Genetic Engineering led to the discovery of a completely synthetic "affinity gene" that conveyed telepathy. The Fundamentalists had a colossal freak-out upon discovering that affinity permitted Brain Uploading - and that the creator of affinity did so specifically to make humans Outgrow Such Silly Superstitions. Why go to church to save your soul if Death Is Cheap? Unfortunately for him, the Catholic/Protestant split had healed by the time he succeeded, meaning a papal decree of excommunication(AKA "God Hates Freaks") held about as much weight as a Presidential declaration of war. The only reason it didn't result in a war was because the breakthrough occurred on a newly-independent space colony orbiting Jupiter. Instead, it resulted in a culture split; the fundies declared themselves "Adamists", named for the biblical Adam, who was "Pure". The augmented declared themselves "Edenists", mocking their opponents. Edenists then developed "bitek" to incredible levels; Organic Technology is commonplace, and their Living Ships outperform baseline vessels easily. Even their space stations are organic and sentient. In the face of such developments, the Adamists were forced to develop nanotechnology just to keep from being left behind, resulting in equally prevalent cybernetics. Super Soldiers are common, often bearing modular arms with gun attachments and extra forearms for More Dakka, and even totally bionic bodies with crazy-ass ceramic-gel skin. Dedicated spacers or "cosmoniks" casually let their bodies atrophy in microgravity or "astrophy", replacing organs as they fail until only the brain remains human, taking the Rule of Cool to a new height. The implication is that transhumanism is inevitable.
- Oh Crap: Multiple moments throughout the series, however the biggest one was when Calvert and crew realized that the Tyrathca, who were known to have exterminated at least one species and enslaved another to accomplish their own ends, had spread throughout the entire galaxy with their slower-than-light Arkships, and their diaspora now outnumbered the Confederation ten-planets-to-one. Good thing they don't have ZTT drives.
- Omnicidal Maniac: You've read this far; take a wild guess!
- Organic Technology- The Edenists base most of their technology on living creatures; they have sentient Living Ships, sentient living space stations, and organic computers and servitors. They aren't entirely organic though; most common technology is still inorganic/non-living (They use electric jeeps in their habitats), and their ships/stations use non-living technology (like fusion reactors) when using living versions would be impractical or impossible.
- Laymil technology was about 80% biological: habitat interiors were closer to what we'd call a jungle, and spaceship interiors were like humid, cramped beehives. It was probably the reason for their quick downfall.
- Our Wormholes Are Different: They're short-lived (0.005 seconds at most) and have a pitch-black event horizon. They come in spherical (for Adamist, technological ships) and portal-like (for Bitek starships) varieties, and God help you and your ship if you touch the edges.
- The bitek habitat Tranquility can create a humongous one in order to escape immediate danger, in the same manner as voidhawks and blackhawks. That "trick" took everyone by surprise.
- There's also something called a "Fantasy Wormhole" at one point. It's implied to be a recreational device with a nice name, and it most likely involves sex.
- There's also that portal-like time-travelling variety that Joshua's father Marcus encounters in the derelict alien ship.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: subverted, in that many characters are quite religious, practicing faiths more-or-less indistinguishable from modern religions, including pioneer-style Protestantism, Sunni Islam and, largely for purposes of kicking the dog, heavy metal-style Satanism. Edenists are overwhelmingly atheist, however. They don't enforce atheist or any other beliefs, but Edenists definitely lay a mild stigma on believers.
- Penal Colony:
OneTwo of the most despicable characters are dropped there (together with one minor crook whose only other appearance was a single page some 2000 pages earlier). This is also where you get sent if you are part of a crew whose captain was found transporting Antimatter. The captain gets shot, by the way.
- Powered Armor; the Cosmoniks, people who have been so heavily modified for life in space that they are barely recognizable as humans, as well as a few instances of actual (light) powered combat armor.
- Combat-boosted mercs and soldiers have big, hulking armors with enough weapons to level a city.
- Power Perversion Potential: Give 26th-century sexually frustrated nerds the powers to bend reality to their every whim and you have the very definition of this trope.
- Put on a Bus: This seems to befall many of the minor characters who appear, do something, contribute to the mess of a plot, and disappear.
- Religion of Evil: the version of Satanism practiced by Quinn Dexter and his sect.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Sacrificing that dude in an alien jungle while being watched by a nosy Energy Being was probably a bad idea, Dexter.
- Shown Their Work: The author put a lot of work into this series. As it happens, its also one of the most widely-acclaimed modern Space Operas.
- Smug Snake: too many to name.
- Solar CPR: the Alchemist's "Violent" setting is used to turn a gas-giant planet into a nascent star.
- Spheroid Dropship: The series features a lot of spherical spacecraft (e. g. The Lady Macbeth). They are mostly used by the Adamists.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Kiint are the resident super-civilization, with outposts in multiple galaxies, secret immortal spies in almost every known civilization, casual intergalactic teleportation, and a home star system that has a collar of inhabited planets sharing the same orbit. They can also casually Walk On Water. Their solution for their own possession crisis was to clone trillions of mindless bodies for the returning souls to inhabit. The planet that the Confederation knows of is just an outpost in our galaxy, and the accepted explanation for its almost-complete lack of infrastructure is that the Kiint got so advanced that they grew bored with big technology.
- The Tinkerbell aliens and the creators of the Sleeping God are even more advanced than the Kiint. Both have learned how to create Naked Singularity Gods and have used them to leave the universe in search of something more interesting.
- The Sleeping God states that it had nothing to offer the Kiint that which they could not get for themselves, and that, in time, they would learn how to create its kind as well.
- Space Amish : Recently colonized worlds, and pastoral worlds such as Norfolk, where most technology past the 20st century is banned. (though there is a basic phone network and power grid)
- Space Is an Ocean: Played with.
- Starfish Aliens: A trademark of Hamilton's sci-fi is that all aliens are bizarre and have non-human mentalities. The Kiint are like giant philosophical caterpillars ( one subspecies resembles whales) while the Tyrathca resemble horses with hands, and are phlegmatic and unimaginative. The extinct Laymil are tri-symmetric, with 3 legs, 3 sensor heads and 3 arms; their society is a bit like a Hive Mind. In a bizarre subversion, they also wear clothes. The Mosdva resemble zero-G-adapted sea horses, the Tinkerbell creatures are like floating omnipotent crystals, and the Orgathe... we don't talk about them.
- Survival Mantra: "This is not happening therefore I can feel no pain" — Syrinx's mantra when being tortured by the possessed.
- The Nothing After Death: At first. Then it became overpopulated.
- Telepathy, whether it's the nanotechnological radio-like telepathy of the Adamists or the Applied Phlebotinum of the Edenists' "affinity gene", making the Edenists a type of Telepathic Spacemen. Non-Edenists can still receive affinity by using an implanted brain symbiont.
- The Kiint can also use an affinity-like power (even on people who don't have affinity themselves). The extinct Laymil also used a similar ability in a planet-wide gestalt. It was why their possessed spread so much quicker.
- Teleporters and Transporters: The Kiint have them, and they can be used on an intergalactic scale at a moment's notice. They use them to escape immediate danger, such as the imminent destruction of the Tranquility habitat at the hands of Al Capone's spacefleet.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill : Starships and SD platforms are armed with everything from X-ray lasers, kinetic missile drones, antimatter drones, drones which shoot more drones, etc.
- Also, the Alchemist. It can create a black hole on the "humane" setting. Or, of course, you can use the more destructive setting.
- The World Is Not Ready: The Kiint state that every civilization encounters a crisis when they find out about the afterlife, and they either collapse or emerge as a more mature, spiritual society. Of course, it was a bit early for us humans.
- Also the Alchemist - the Confederation know very well they're not ready for it, and do their utmost to keep the knowledge bottled up.
- They Would Cut You Up: and they will!
- Utopia - Edenist habitats.
- Dystopia - Earth. Just Earth.
- Virtual Ghost; some real ghosts, too. The Edenists upload their memories into their space habitat's 'neural strata'
- What the Hell, Hero?: Joshua could be considered one.
- YMMV. The worst Joshua actually does is get Louise Kavanagh pregnant. Let's face it, he's one guy and he and his crew do what they can - there isn't really an example of him doing anything bad/evil or even stupid, because he's Born Lucky.
- Aside from giving Quinn Dexter a ride off Lalonde. Fair enough he didn't know it at the time, but even weeks or months later he doesn't seem to twig to the fact that all those system glitches the ship experienced on that one trip add up to him having delivered the Possessed to Norfolk.
- There was also the small matter of being involved in transporting antimatter containment equipment at one point. (Strictly illegal EXCEPT in the system where he picked them up. When he left, the ship was stopped and searched, but the antimatter containers weren't there any more. He'd done a complex series of maneuvers to switch the antimatter containers with fusion reactors of very similar design on another ship that the police ships never detected.)
- YMMV. The worst Joshua actually does is get Louise Kavanagh pregnant. Let's face it, he's one guy and he and his crew do what they can - there isn't really an example of him doing anything bad/evil or even stupid, because he's Born Lucky.
- Zombie Apocalypse IN SPACE!. Except that the "zombies" are intelligent Reality Warpers. One of them is Al Capone.