The Night's 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. More recent prints in the States have gone back to the three volume format, in all their 1000+ page gloryThe 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.
Ain't 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.
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 Earth-Like: 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.
Balkanise Me: After being granted independence from Earth, the colony on the planet Nyvan fell into a period of political and ethnic unrest escalating into civil war. By the time the period of war had ended, Nyvan had Balkanised into individual nation states.
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.
Those races that have survived discovering the true nature of physical death do not consider these to be any sort of immortality, since your soul goes off and does whatever it was supposed to do when your body dies anyway. These all produce a new person, which may have a soul of their own. This troubles the B7 people considerably when they find out that it means the afterlife has multiple versions of them, from each point they changed bodies.
Bee People: The Tyrathca are an alien race that evolved along a path convergently similar to both insects and mammals. A Tyrathca family consists of a monogamous pair of intelligent adult breeders, a couple breeder children...and a large number sterile, and unintelligent vassel castes that perform specilized tasks such as Hunter, Soldier, Farmer, Builder, etc.
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.
Cannot Tell a Lie The Tyrathca are fundimentally incapable of lying, not for moral reasons, but because they lack the imagination needed to fabricate plausible scenarios that don't exist, so instead they act evassive or withhold information in situations that they believe call for it.
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".
Also, Nyvan, both before and after Quinn Dexter has his way with it. Before it was divided into rabidly nationalistic and xenophobic nation states that where openly hostile to one another, and went out of their way to destroy each other's economies, rendering the entire planet impoverished. About 50,000 people a year leave the planet with next to nobody immigrating to replace them, and since the only people who can afford to leave are middle class professionals, the planet as a whole also suffers from a constant brain drain, further retarding economic development. So intense is the mistrust between the different countries, that Nyvan doesn't even have a single global internet, with each nation maintaining it's own communications network, and not even attempting link with their neighbors. There isn't even a pretense of planetary government, no UN type body, and only three of the planet's over 20 nations are even members of the Confederation, instead the planet is dominated by a complex and shifting system of alliances lead by the "big four" planetary powers, Tonala, (the wealthiest and most developed nation, officially a democracy, but in actual fact a single party state dominated by wealthy industrialists) Isfahan, (A fundamentalist Muslim Theocracy that's already conquered three other nations) Nazareth, (A fundamentalist Christian Theocracy) and New Georgia, (A federal republic based on the model of the old United States, and the only one of the "big four" nations that's actually a full democracy.) The lack of a centralised planetary government, and the constant threat of war made the planet a magnet for organised crime, pirates, and mercenaries. Afterwards it became literally uninhabitable.
Cyborg Helmsman: Captains and pilots have large amounts of neural implants for controlling the ship.
In fact, all shipboard systmes are controlled this way, to the extent that someone without a set of implants of some sort is incapable of serving as crew of an Adamist ship. Edenist ships, of course, can only be crewed by people with Affinity, which basically leaves Adamists out.
Divide and Conquer: A huge part of how Quinn Dexter was able to take down Nyvan. He took advantage of the fact that the various planetary nations hate each other to the point where their defensive systems are designed primarily to defend against other nations, rather than to protect the planet from external threats of the kind which he proved to be.
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.
Double Standard The Tyrathca put a much higher value on the life of a breeder then any of the other castes. A Tyrathca Clan will fight to death to protect a breeder child, and a breeder will literally loose the will to live if his or her monogamous mating partner dies, but the loss of one their lower caste children will merely be seen as "regrettable."
Drone Deployer: Adamist ships carry up to a dozen combat-wasps to supplement their firepower. Wasps carry a variety of lasers, missiles, cannons, and electromagnetic warfare packages, and sometimes their own sub-drones.
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.
Emotion Eater: The Ly-cilph identifies Dexter as a low-level one during his sacrifice ritual in the jungle. He gets more than just a kick out of seeing people in agony; Quinn's soul absorbs some of the dissipating energies. It was this energy exchange that prompted the Ly-cilph to go nosing into the lower levels of reality, inadvertently stumbling into the Beyond and opening the way for returning souls in the first place.
Apparently very few humans have that sort of energistic sensitivity. Quinn and Father Horst are the only ones mentioned.
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.
Presumably, the fate of the species that constructed the titular Naked God, assuming they are not the "Tinkerbell species". It claims to have been built for such purposes.
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 actualFirst 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.
For the Evulz: There's really no other motivation to Quinn Dexter other than revenge against his former cult leader and pure, uncompromising suffering for everyone else in the Universe. He's actually offended by the existence of decent, selfless people, swearing that he'd rather kill their souls than share Hell with the likes of them.
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. It is worth noting that said suicide was done with the knowledge of how to avoid being trapped in the wrong part of the afterlife, they ascended in a way.
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.
Similar to the Kulu Kingdom is the Oshanko Imperium, another interstellar empire, and another major Adamist power, but this time made up of Japanese Ethnic worlds (as opposed to Kulu's Christian/European Ethnic make up) and ruled by the Emperor of Oshanko, who's a descendent of the Japanese Imperial family on Earth, in much the same way as the Kulu royal family is descendent from the European royal families.
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.
Having Earth become uninhabitable outside domed cities.
How humanity, seeing a large number of inhabitable worlds within reach, has, on every planet it has discovered with life, has continued the same process of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and expansion to new habitable worlds.
How by mining their own sun for the hydrogen needed to create the resources that keep their economy going, the Modsva are accelerating it's aging, and are thus in the long run, accelerating their own inevitable extinction when their sun goes supernova.
Having the Kiint, thanks to their technology, be able build new worlds, and can now live a "post urban" existence on their own home worlds.
Genius Loci Edenist habitats are living sentient space stations. Voidhawks and Blackhawks, are living, sentient starships.
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.
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?"
"It communicates! Alive think"
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.
"It is a good thing I didn't have any eggs in my pouch, or I would've surely broken them."
Insufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Tyrathca are a caste-based society of phlegmatic assholes. 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.
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.
The possessed themselves are very hard to kill initially, since they have Reality Warper abilities and can repair wounds almost instantly. Then their vulnerability to electricity is discovered...
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.
Oh, wait... The ones on Hesperi-LN, their colony in the Confederation, have them, from humans. Oh Crap, indeed.
One World Order: The general rule is that every planet, including earth, has a single global government, with each continent getting it's own parliment. There are exceptions, like Nyvan, which is divided into nation states...and is lesson well-learned because of it.
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: One Two 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.
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.
Schizo Tech: The Modsva are less advanced than humans in some ways (being unable to travel FTL), and more advanced in others (Being able to mine their Sun directly for hydrogen and transform it into any element.)
It could be argued that each race has the technology it does because it didn't have the other, as both are in essence a different solution to the same problem of resources scarcity. The human solution to scarce resources was to go somewhere else and look for them, the Modsva solution was to stay where they where, but to more efficiently exploit the few resources that remain. Once this was solved in the short term, neither species had the need to develop the other technology. The humans, having FTL never needed to develop solar mining technology to acquire resources, as they could just jump to another system and set up mining colonies, where as the Modsva, having solar mining technology never had as much of an immediate need to develop FTL drive, because why go elsewhere when the local sun provides them with all the energy and matter they need? Unfortunately, the Modsva solution proved to be by far the most short sighted of the two, as by mining their sun for hydrogen, they're accelerating it's aging process, and since they never left their home system, when their sun goes supernova, their species would be doomed to extinction without FTL.
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)
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 with one subspecies resembling whales
While the Tyrathca vary greatly in apearence depending on caste, breeders resemble a cross between centaurs (four hooved feet and two arms, a horse like mane of "Hair") and some kind of insect (Antenna, compound eyes, a "dust" like coating similar to that found on the wings of a moth). Female breeders also have mulitiple sets of ovaries, each producing a different kind of egg, with a different chromosome count, that hatches into a different caste. Psychologicaly, Tyrathca breeders are phlegmatic, unimaginative and incapable of telling a lie. While Breeder children are known to show the entire human range of emotions, adult Breeders have only a few emotions, namely love for their children and monogamous breeding partner, Crippling suicidal depression over the death of their breeding partner, anger over territorial violations, and indifferent contentment over pretty much everything else. Other castes (excepting the Soldier Caste, which is almost as intelligent as the Breeders) are little more then beasts of burden, lacking the intelligence to do anything more then the tasks they evolved to do. Their entire society is shaped into a rigid hierarchical caste system with it's own social rules. For example, Only Breeder children nurse from the Breeder Females, the rest nurse from the males AND females of the "Nurse" caste, which the breeders use like a human would use a cow. It can't be over stated just how incredibly different the Tyrathca Breeder's way of thinking is from a human's. All the knowledge of the entire race is passed on, unchanged from one Tyrathca to another through chemical encoding, but often times they'll not make use of this knowledge, and act like they don't even have it until they feel it's needed. For example even though they have knowledge of both nuclear fusion and computers from the time they spent onboard the Arc Ships, they stopped using them once they settled on their new planet, only to start using them again almost immediately when they made contact with humans. humans for centuries believed that the Tyrathca didn't have a religion because they where never observed taking part in religious activity. Turns out they've had a religion all this time, they just never felt the need to pray to their God until the possession crisis.
The extinct Laymil are tri-symmetric, with 3 legs, 3 sensor heads and 3 arms, 3 "mouths" (one for breathing in, one for exhaling and speaking, and one for eatting); 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.
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.
Nyvan is a pretty crappy planet to live on too, mostly because it's one of the only planets divided into nation states instead of having a unified planetary government. Nation states that hate each other, war regularly, and do their best to get in the way of each other's economic development. Then Dexter came along and had his way with it.
Virtual Ghost; some real ghosts, too. The Edenists upload their memories into their space habitat's 'neural strata'
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.
To be fair, he ends up marrying Louise after he returns to Earth and finds that she's toughened up a lot since her sheltered life on Norfolk.
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.)
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Played Straight and inverted with the Modsva. The Modsva live in massive "disk cities" made out of old asteroids that survived their sun's expansion into a Red Supergiant. Since all the system's planets where destroyed, and every last bit of the original asteroids where mined out and used to build the disk cities, the only way the Modsva, lacking FTL travel, can gain new resources is to mine their sun for hydrogen and then use fussion to transform it into other elements. Since Iron is the heaviest element that can be created without a supernova, it's considered the most valuable, with one character proclaiming that an FTL drive would be worth "more than the sun's mass in iron", or in other words "more valuable than a chunk of the most valuable material know to our civilization, the size of the largest object known to our civilization." However, since carbon is much easier to create through fussion, and the Modsva have the industrial capacity to convert it into diamond, it's commonly used in a number of Modsva technologies, with Iron being limited to upper class bling, since apparently the Modsva don't need it biologically the way humans do.
Wretched Hive Nyvan had this reputation among the other human settlements of the Confederation, with good reason.