Peter F. Hamilton's hard science fiction trilogy has taken a turn towards the fantastic. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of interstellar travel, amazing scientific advancement that has permitted technology that a 21st Century reader might very well consider magic, but so much is based on science and genetics and technology. Except for one little thing that has come to dominate the series: Possession. On the planet of Lalonde we were first introduced to the concept that some men and women were being "possessed" by some other intelligence, some other human intelligence. Now that we are beginning The Nuetronium Alchemist we have learned who exactly the Possessors are and some of what they want. The entities doing the possessing were human once upon a time. These are the souls of the dead. All of the souls of every human who has lived and died are in some sort of a void, as it has been explained so far, and something has happened that they can take over the bodies of living humans and there are far more dead than there are living people...even in a vastly expanded universe of trillions (or more). The Possessed have taken over two planets, have footholds on several more, and there is currently no known way to stop a group of them.
This is what we know when we begin The Neutronium Alchemist: Consolidation. Consolidation is the paperback first half of The Neutronium Alchemist with Conflict being the second half of the original hardcover publication. The primary focus of this novel (or half-novel as it truly is) is on the Possessed as they consolidate their hold on several planets and the danger they pose to the Universe. Of special note is a Possessed leader taking control on the planet of New California: Al Capone. That's right, the 1920's Crime Lord is one of the returned souls and he wastes no time in setting up a new Empire. His is a special charisma and leadership that is rare and powerful. We also are given perspectives on Louise Kavanagh, the young woman whom Joshua Calvert had a liason with on Norfolk and we see her planet being lost to the Possessed. We also see the responses of the Living and how they hope to combat the Possessed and how they can understand just what is truly happening. In a thick novel with an ever expanding scope of story we are given references back to events that happened a thousand pages ago and some things begin to make more sense. Reasons behind events and behind the scenes events come clear.
A negative to bring up is that the story is so large that some characters and viewpoints do not show up for hundreds of pages at a time. So, readers expecting Joshua Calvert or some of the voidhawks from the first book to jump off the page will have to wait several hundred pages before they show up here. Now, I fully expect they will have more to do in Conflict but it is worth noting. A major plus is that Hamilton has set up a story that is very broad and very interesting. I have no idea where Hamilton is taking this story, but I have fully signed up to go on the ride. He does heavily lace the novel with the "hard" science fiction technologies and terminology, but it does not overwhelm the story. Consolidation is still not as exciting and eye opening as The Reality Dysfunction: Emergence, but this is a story I want to read.