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Pandora's Star presents a multifacted view of a future where wormhole technology has allowed mankind to colonize the universe, and genetics technology have made people practically immortal via rejuvenation treatments. Although the plot diverges in several directions, all of the story threads eventually become interwoven in a cliffhanger climax.
A quick summary of the numerous plot threads is as follows:
- Bumbling astronomer Dudley Bose observes an entire double-star system (Dyson Alpha and Beta) blink out of existence for no apparent reason, indicating a sort of instant-Dyson-sphere may have been erected.
- Humanity decides that either there is something bad inside the spheres that needed containing, or that there's something bad outside, and the Dyson aliens tried to protect themselves (it's the former). They construct their first ever interstellar ship (up to that point having used planet-bound wormholes and trains to travel between colonies) and send it to investigate Dyson Alpha. Dudley Bose is placed on-board as a political maneuver.
- A genetically engineered detective chases an interstellar terrorist, Bradley Johansson. Said terrorist is a conspiracy nut who constantly warns humanity of an unknown alien infiltrator.
- One of the co-inventors of the wormhole technology seeks the wisdom of intergalactic space elves regarding the Dyson pair, and gets stranded in the far corners of the galaxy, with an unknown alien and a young kid as his companions.
- The explorers sent to the Dyson stars discover a gigantic force field encompassing Dyson Alpha. Their arrival coincides with its shutting down for the first time in millennia (it's not a coincidence).
- Bad shit happens, setting up innumerable Cliffhangers for the next book, Judas Unchained.
It's a long damn book, and it's only the first half of the story.
Contains examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor: While Dudley Bose is a likeable goof, his lack of discipline unleashes a hideous genocidal monstrosity on the universe.
- Aliens Speaking English: Averted. MorningLightMountain is able to communicate with Dudley Bose only because it places his brain into another immotile; even such, its thoughts appear disjointed and alien.
- MorningLightMountain can only talk to the SI after the SI hacked into its communications network and by utilizing the knowledge gained while interacting with Bose.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Averted. In one chapter, a planet is methodically reached, explored, and rejected for settlement potential in the course of several hours.
- Brain In An Immotile: What happens to Dudley Bose.
- Can't Argue with Elves: The space hippie Silfen comprehend the universe in a way so different that they are barely able to communicate meaningfully with humans.
- Chekhov's Wormhole: Ozzie's personal asteroid and wormhole generator can get to almost anywhere in the Commonwealth, but is effectively useless for most of the book since Ozzie is outside Commonwealth space. Turns out to be important when Mellanie and the SI hack it to evacuate Randtown refugees.
- Cloning Blues: touched upon briefly by Wilson, as this is how the citizens of the commonwealth maintain their scientific immortality. It's implied that this is largely a vestige of the people who were alive pre rejuvenation, and that the younger generations have no problem with it.
- Complete Monster: At first, the Prime villain MorningLightMountain tortures and kills humans because he does not comprehend that they are sentient beings. Later, it comes to understand that every human is a unique snowflake with its own hopes and dreams. And it doesn't care. Emotions are as alien to it as the concept of "sharing".
- Conspicuously Public Assassination: How the Starflyer assassin kills Kazimir.
- Cool Starship: The Second Chance.
- Crowning Moment of Awesome:
- A human spaceship gets destroyed by being hit with 96 nuclear missiles from every direction at the same time.
- Mellanie becomes avatar of the Sentient Intelligence, grows gold electroplating all over her body, and single-handedly obliterates an enemy invasion fleet.
- Dating Catwoman: Kazimir and Justine's relationship has shades of this.
- Death World: A frozen wasteland where greenhouses barely sustain life, obscenely vicious natural predators, and people who are forced to live off the scraps the space elves leave behind.
- The Prime homeworld has been like this ever since those Prime bastards invented nuclear weapons. Not that they cared much about it in the first place.
- Dyson Sphere: It's actually an impenetrable forcefield.
- Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion: Averted. The Primes hit hard, and take out 23 planets in their first strike, with humanity barely able to respond.
- First Contact: It doesn't go so well.
- For Science!: Basically the reason humanity wants to poke its nose in something it probably shouldn't.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: It is over 900 pages of seemingly unimportant plotlines and occasionally entire chapters of flavor text. Thankfully it's to set up the second, and much more action packed book in the series.
- Emphasis on "seemingly" there - on a subsequent read-through it becomes apparent how many guns Chekhov left laying around.
- Ghost Planet: One of the destinations the Silfen Paths take Ozzie, Orion and Tochee to.
- Godwin's Law: Invoked when preparations for a Commonwealth Navy are deliberately modelled after the Third Reich's initial workaround of the treaty of Versailles.
- Hive Mind: MorningLightMountain disrupts all other Immotiles and takes over their soldiers, basically becoming the whole Prime species.
- Insistent Terminology: It's a flow wormhole generator, not a hyperdrive.
- Jerkass: There are a lot of characters which could be called this, but the cake goes to Nigel Sheldon, who revealed the wormhole technology he and his buddy Ozzie had been developing by basically going to Mars to make fun of the NASA astronauts who were just arriving.
- Memory Gambit: Criminals will wipe memorycells after committing crimes to prevent them from being read.
- Those of both victims and perpetrators.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: The Silfen Friendship pendant given to Orion by his parents. Helps him and Ozzie out on the Silfen paths a few times by pointing them in the right direction.
- Ramming Always Works: A colossal invasion by an alien fleet that outnumbers the human fleet tens of thousands of times over is thwarted when one human ship hijacks an alien wormhole to their staging post and rams it. At twenty percent of the speed of light. Hilarity ensues. Missiles are later developed to exploit this idea.
- Sealed Evil In a Dyson Forcefield: The Primes.
- Took a Level In Badass: Remember that space yuppie that was vapid and boring for the first 9/10ths of the book? Yeah. She becomes the avatar of the Sentient Intelligence and single-handedly annihilates an alien invasion fleet.
- The Watson: Hoshe Finn to Paula Myo and Orion to Ozzie. Orion's ignorance of Commonwealth society and tech gives Ozzie an excuse to pine for it while stuck on the Silfen paths and Hoshe gives Paula a chance to explain her super detective reasoning. At one point their relationship is lampshaded when they briefly mention having read Sherlock Holmes books.
- Wetware CPU: The Primes never discovered computer chip technology, meaning that MorningLightMountain controls all mechanical processes with different immotile units. Additionally, it is distrustful of the computer processors it discovers with humans.