Last week, I finished reading Peter F. Hamilton’s book, Pandora’s Star.

The straightest, shortest dope on this book is this: If you don’t normally read science fiction, this book is not a good place to start. Having said that, let’s get into the heart of the matter.

Some reviewers of this book complained because some of the aliens in the book powers that could only be explained by the use of “magic.” Of course, those reviewers forget Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quotation:Anysufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magicThink about what Victorians might make of modern computers. If you could show them a modern movie with plenty of computer generated graphics (Spiderman 2; X-Men 2; The Matrix; etc.) on a laptop, those Victorians would be absolutely convinced that some form of magic was present.

What would true Vikings think of a modern aircraft carrier conducting flight operations?

What would Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan make of a modern armored division?

All of these technologies would be so far beyond any sort of experience that those historical figures would have that they would most likely be forced to consider the technologies magical.

How then, can we judge the possibilities of future technology in the here and now? If someone asked Ben Franklin what he thought of the Internet, could he even begin to offer an informed opinion? Of course not. Even though Ben was a smart guy, the Internet was so far beyond his knowledge and experience that he would have nothing to offer us on that topic.

To then say that aliens performing tasks X, Y, and Z several thousand years in the future requires magic, is the act of a very small mind.

To say that humans would require magic to travel from point A to point B using technology C requires one to prejudge both practicality and possibility of technologies that we have not even envisioned yet, much less attempted to build.

The book itself is a good, solid read. There are sections that seem more than a bit, um, unnecessary. And when a book is 768 pages long, even a few extra subplots can seem like egregious padding. However, Hamilton has a reputation for tying those seemingly unrelated subplots into the larger whole, so I’m trying to reserve judgement until the second book arrives on the library’s shelves in 2005.