Science fiction and spirituality: the Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton [Part 2]

Last week I began this series of posts dedicated to the Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton, offering an overview of the books, and summarizing the backstory from which arises the plot of the series. You can read all this in the previous post.
But today I want to focus on the spiritual and religious elements contained in this British author’s work. First I will make a list of topics (a discussion on common religious themes in science fiction can be found in this post) and then I will show some examples, trying to avoid as much as possible any spoiler on the plot.


Spiritual and religious topics of the Void Trilogy

1) Presence of a religion within the story. In this case I’m referring to the Living Dream. Religion is a very common element in space opera, along with politics. In this series these two aspects, as often happens in reality, get confused, so we have the case in which the religious element anchors the reader to the real life and at the same time supports the suspension of disbelief.

2) Elements mentioned in the story that are reminiscent of well-known religious topics or archetypes. There are numerous references above all to Christianity in general and to the great monotheistic religions, which are used in different contexts, but remain quite recognizable.

3) Metaphor of the spirit and the immortality of the soul. Thanks to technology a form of immortality is recreated through the perpetuation of a digitized form of consciousness.

4) Seeing the wondrous and magical elements as a simple expression of a science that we don’t know yet. This is also a recurring theme throughout the bibliography of Hamilton.


Examples of spiritual and religious topics in the Void Trilogy

After listing the topics briefly, below I present some examples taken from the series.

Let’s start obviously with the Living Dream. This has got a typical religious structure that can recall that of the various Christian churches. Since Hamilton is British, I suppose he referred to Anglicanism, even if the model is ascribable to most clerical structures.
In addition to the religious structure in itself you can see the fanaticism of believers (another very topical theme), who are very determined to find the dreamer, because they feel they need him to enter the Void and wouldn’t stop in front of anything to achieve their goal.
Religion is used here as the main engine of the events, because the whole story arises from this intention of the believers of the Living Dream, and at the same time it connects the reader to everyday reality, in which such phenomena are sadly common.
But here we observe Hamilton’s cunning in using the typical elements of existing religions, but in fact in describing a kind of fanaticism that looks more like that one addressed to celebrities. Although Edeard is seen as a sort of messiah (and the dreamer as a prophet), actually this fanaticism is not spiritual, but very materialistic. Believers want to go to Querencia, the planet in the Void, to live with their bodies that wonderful life seen through the dreams of Inigo. There is just nothing mystical in this desire.

Then there are a whole series of references to religious themes within the story, they are cleverly used as well, because ultimately there is nothing spiritual in them.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you who the Waterwalker is, but it is obvious that something reminds us of the Gospel, isn’t it?
Another example is the religion existing on Querencia (a kind of religion in the religion) in which they venerate a certain Lady and there are women (priestesses/nuns) who dedicate their lives to this kind of pseudo-divinity. The Lady is depicted in a statue in a church-like building and apparently this can recall the Virgin, although reading the story this turns out to be a female figure more like Mary Magdalene.

It is clear that these similarities are not accidental, but they are - perhaps a bit irreverent - citations by Hamilton, made to bring before the reader something known and easy to understand, in a text that is instead full of elements going well beyond our ability to grasp their meaning and requiring a huge effort of imagination.

In the series it is also referred to angels flying on wings, another typically religious element, but in reality these wings are force fields and angels are spaceships.

At one point the author describes a population called Silfens, which is presented in a pastoral and mystical way (it is a kind of fantasy drift in the work, like the events narrated on Querencia). This aspect, however, is only a facade that hides a complex technology. The Silfens, for example, use the quantum entanglement to communicate (the same used for the Gaia Field).

Then we can see the spirit that is assimilated to files stored in a server, a digitized consciousness, which can be loaded into the mind of an enhanced clone of a deceased person, so it represents the illusion of defeating death (I talked about something like that also in the article on Battlestar Galactica). This can be seen as a kind of metaphor for the immortality of the soul.

And yet, the desire of believers of the Living Dream to go into the Void undoubtedly recalls the Exodus of the Jews and their desire to reach the Promised Land.

Similarly the spaceship with which the first inhabitants of Querencia arrived can be assimilated to Noah’s Ark and they are like the only survivors giving rise to a new civilization, which therefore arises from a previous one. It is also a subject that is very dear to science fiction.

Lastly, the Void itself can be likened to a kind of paradise.


Spirituality reduced to science

These are just a few examples that I still can recall more than three years after reading the series. Probably many more would come out with a more careful analysis. The point, however, is another.
On the one hand we have Hamilton that spreads many religious, spiritual and paranormal elements in this beautiful trilogy, but he does so only in appearance, and then at the end he gives everything a pseudo-scientific explanation. It is not hard science fiction, because there are ftl engines and many other scientifically impossible things, though they are less than you can imagine, but the author lingers in reducing everything to material terms, which are put in contrast to the spirituality that seemed to characterize them.
In other words we have a trilogy stuffed with spirituality with the purpose of denying it.


In the next post I will try instead to offer a my personal comments on this series by  Hamilton and in general on this author that, in addition to being one of my favourites, is without doubt one of the most interesting storytellers in the panorama of contemporary science fiction.