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Literature / Commonwealth Saga

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A series of Science Fiction novels written by Peter F. Hamilton.

The Commonwealth Saga starts off in the 24th century, where cybernetics and biotechnology have advanced to the point where immortality becomes optional. Wormhole technology has also been developed, allowing easy transportation through space. The series itself is a space opera with numerous characters.

The series includes the books Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. Misspent Youth takes place a century or two earlier in the same universe but is usually excluded from the "Saga" designation, including on the author's website, since the plot is unrelated. The Saga is followed 1500 years later by the Void Trilogy and the Chronicle Of The Fallers, which take place roughly in parallel. Together these series comprise the "Commonwealth Universe".

Tropes specific to one of the books should be listed on that book's page. Use this page for tropes that describe the Commonwealth Saga as a whole.


This series provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe: The Primes are this. Primes exist as sentient, immobile "immotiles" that control vast armies of sub-sentient "motiles" and battle each other for resources and out of paranoia. You can guess what happened when they started building nukes. Also, the moment one of them discovers wormhole technology, it exterminates all others and starts building a vast fleet in order to kill off every single living thing in the universe, other than itself. Its own psychology and lack of imagination prevent it from realising the utter futility of its endeavour until it is far too late for it.
    MorningLightMountain: There is only one Universe and it can only contain one life. Me.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Sentient Intelligence is not evil. However, it will choose odd times and places to intervene. This sometimes comes off as a Hand Wave, but when done well it adds to the idea that the SI has an alien perspective on things that humans cannot comprehend.
    SI: If we rush to your assistance at every hint of trouble, your culture would become utterly dependent on us, and we would become your masters. If that were ever to happen, you would rebel and lash out at us, for that is the strongest part of your nature. We do not want that situation to arise.
  • Alien Kudzu: The Primes flood local waters with their base cells, which are essential to reproduction; these invasive organisms kill off most other things that are in the water with them.
    • It ends up utterly hating a certain species of fish for persistently eating its base cells.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Some of them.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted. Prime intra-species communication is entirely through direct-brain linkages.
    • Tochee doesn't speak or even understand the concept of sound since it can't hear. Its species communicates through body language and flashing ultraviolet light from one of their eyes.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Averted. Wormhole technology allows the ever present CST to use its exploration wormholes to scout new solar systems for "H-congruous" planets capable of supporting human life. The Commonwealth spans a vast amount of space, and most intervening systems between H-congruous planets are untouched completely by humans.
  • Always Gets His Man: Paula Myo fits this trope to a T. Genetically engineered to be an incorruptible super-cop, she has been working for the Serious Crimes Directorate for centuries, and in all that time has only failed to solve one case. Which she is still pursuing, after a century and a half. When circumstances force her to decide between arresting the Well-Intentioned Extremist perpetrator and saving the human race from extinction, she suffers a near-fatal nervous breakdown.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Most species who reach their Singularity do this.
  • Augmented Reality: Humans can control objects, send messages, and watch emailed videos in their minds thanks to digital implants.
    • Several particularly rich and/or tech-savvy humans keep an expanded consciousness that inhabits the computer systems in their home (or whatever local computer processors they're around).
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Primes are organized into motiles, which are basically feral animals, and immotiles, which are made from 4 or more motiles melding together and multiplying their brainpower, thus becoming sentient. Immotiles can produce more motiles, and control each one with a direct brain-to-brain link, by touching the nodules on their heads together (they have no language to speak of; when they discovered radio, they started sending signals via transmitters; immotiles also gained sight at this point, since they lose the motile's eyes when they meld). Each immotile identifies itself with the last image the motiles that created it saw before melding (having identities like ColdLakePromontory, TemperateSeaIsland, or SouthernRockPlateau). Each immotile is practically immortal, since it only have to create another immotile next to it and link up to transfer consciousness (each collective is actually millions of immotiles grouped together).
    • Not to mention the Silfen, who have three circular sets of razor-sharp teeth (but otherwise come off as space elves). Also they have an adult stage which changes their physiology to something more humanoid, yet airborne.
    • The Ralei, who have elephant like bodies, six joint-less legs, and their "arms" are a cluster of tentacles protruding from their chin and neck. They can also absorb the memories of humans from memorycells, to the point that they can recall those memories even better than the original owner could.
  • Bizarre Human Biology: Genetic modification allows the realization of a lot of things.
  • Brain Uploading: See Save Scumming, below.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Silfen, who are largely incomprehensible to humans and have no problem stranding people in weird parts of the universe. It's not entirely clear they understand why this is bad.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: with trains (and a Portal Network).
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Anything introduced at all will have some factor later on. Anything. If not here, then in the far future of The Void Trilogy.
  • Cliffhanger: Literally. The first book ends while Ozzie is falling down seemingly bottomless waterfall in a raft.
  • Cool Horse / Hellish Horse: The genetically modified cyborg warhorses the Guardians of Selfhood use to raid the Halgarth institute.
  • Cool Train: Not so much a Cool Train, as a Cool Railway. Thanks to wormholes, every human world is connected via an interstellar railway network. The trains themselves are massive and often nuclear powered. Some even include weapons platforms.
  • Corralled Cosmos: Averted. The author makes it clear that, if anything, humanity has too much room and too many resources.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Commonwealth overall fits this bill. Despite it's advanced technology, abundance of resources and near physical immortality, there are many problems. Poverty still exists (on the more isolated worlds) and terrorism attacks occur (most of which are done by a socialist group). Many people are vain, selfish, jaded and/or manipulative (genuine loyalty is hard to find even among the protagonists, and charities are almost unheard of) and crime is rampant, it's just better concealed from the general public and law enforcement. All of this is before relations to alien races are factored in.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: Misspent Youth features some rather ham-handed antipiracy propaganda, assuming a future where the authorities stopped caring about copyright in 2010, at which point all art turned to crap. We see later in the Commonwealth Saga that the world has evolved into an almost-utopia nonetheless (which, this being Hamilton, doesn't last) leaving us confused as to Hamilton's actual message. Especially as fans, and Hamilton himself, consider Misspent Youth one of his weaker works.
    • It is likely that instead of trying to convey a message Hamilton was simply trying to extrapolate what he thought was likely to happen to media from technological trends. This is how he comes up with most of the social and technological developments in his books.
  • Electronic Eyes: Virtually all citizens of the commonwealth have Virtual Vision, giving them an Augmented Reality display over their normal vision.
  • Eternal English: Justified. Regeneration allows near physical immortality - so the centuries old aristocracy maintains the general vernacular.
  • ET Gave Us Wifi: A more believable "future" variation of this trope - force field technology as an industry was created by the Halgarths reverse engineering the crashed alien ship Marie Celeste.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Lampshaded. In the attack on the factory where the starship Second Chance is being built, three military-grade killbots become unexpectedly involved in the attack - the Famed in Story Alamo Avengers. Characters are awestruck by their presence (or also horrified, in the case of the ones on the receiving end of their assault), and the text describes them as somewhat resembling dinosaurs.
  • The Federation: The Commonwealth.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The Commonwealth Saga follows something like seven plots all at once, and they'd each be enough for a book of their own.
  • Free-Love Future: Polyamory, polygamy and alternate sexuality is pretty common in the Commonwealth.
  • Hive Mind: Prime Immotiles control their Motile minions via radio receivers implanted into each one, making each Immotile into an intellect spread across a vast number of individual bodies.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Prime.
  • Hyperlink Story: All of the many plot lines come together at the climax of the story.
  • Infodump: In copious amounts.
  • Inspector Javert: Paula Myo. While she's genetically designed to be that way, she has no qualms with this until the end of the first book, where a conflict of interest causes her to nearly have a nervous breakdown.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Mellanie realizes this while investigating Cox Educational Charity.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: A favored weapon in starship combat is the Douvoir missile. Essentially, the idea is that it's possible to control the speed at which the endpoints of a wormhole are moving. It is therefore possible to leave a wormhole at whatever relative speed you want, without spending time or onboard fuel to accelerate to that speed. Douvoir missiles are simple projectiles that are shot out of a wormhole at a significant percentage of light speed, and as such do an enormous amount of damage.
  • Literal Surveillance Bug: The spindleflies.
  • Master Race: MorningLightMountain wishes to be the only life in the universe.
  • Mega-Corp: The railway operator Compression Space Transport, or CST.
  • Memetic Badass: Ozzie in-universe, to the general public in the Commonwealth.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played with. While religion is not as influential across society and its implied that the alien races are non-religious, at least two real-life religions are depicted as still practiced and existing (two minor characters get married in a Christian church - even hearing a 22nd century hymn, and one minor character is a reporter who's Muslim) along with various religions spread out across humanity being alluded to. While the reduced influence of religion is not stated to be a bad thing in the novel, the setting does display an accompanying moral decline (see Crapsaccharine World above). Religion features more prominently in later works later. The Guardians of Selfhood have their own religion based on Bradley Johansson's experiences with the Silfen.
  • Portal Network: The worlds are linked through wormholes even before (much slower) FTL starships are developed.
  • Powered Armor: The Commonwealth soldiers wear extremely powerful exoskeletons with advanced forcefields, massive strength amplification and tons of built-in firepower. Unfortunately for them, the Prime troops have similar equipment – and outnumber humanity about a million to one.
  • Proud Scholar Race Guy: The Silfen are definitely type 2 - a portal network that consists of walking through the woods, technology damping fields, etc.
  • Sapient Ship: The High Angel is a pacifistic alien ship, which lets aliens and humans alike live in giant crystals that it grows on itself depending on how it feels.
  • Save Scumming: Humans of the future carry "memorycells" that provide insurance against death. When a person dies unexpectedly, their memorycell is placed into a cloned body. If the memorycell is destroyed, a previous memory file is uploaded instead. Destruction of a person's last body and their save file is the only way to permanently kill someone, and is regarded as the most heinous of crimes. See also Immortality.
    • While most people accept a clone with a previous memory file as being the same person, the older generations who remember actual mortality don't put as much stock in them, regarding them as just that - a clone with a previous memory. Note that the difference between this and a memorycell is that the memorycell most certainly IS the same person, because it was recording that person's life right up until their death.
      • Well, leaving aside the issue of whether "souls" exist. It's certainly the same person to all outward appearances, though.
  • Shout-Out: Ozzie and Nigel share some similarities with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
  • The Singularity: This has happened to many, many species who go post-physical, leaving the universe behind.
  • Space Amish: Ozzie, sometimes. Also, some planets with eccentric owners.
    • Also, The Hive, a world where everyone is geneteically programmed to have proficiency in a certain field (ie, doctors, police officers, etc.) The planet is described as beind kept in a Medieval Stasis of approximately the early 20th century.
  • Space Elves: The Silfen, who are almost physically identical to traditional elves and were the inspiration for elf legends (those legends were specifically of The Fair Folk and their morality proves to be alien in a somewhat similar fashion).
  • Space Is an Ocean: A spaceship is built for exploration (because their wormhole technology doesn't reach far enough). Then a whole fleet is built for defence and deterrence against spacefaring aliens, and even arkships in case the war goes wrong. Somewhat justified because the first one was conceived by 21st century astronauts, and they acknowledge the fact that the design of both the ships stems from 20th and 21st century science fiction. In the Void Trilogy (set 1500 years later in the same verse), spaceships are comparable to nowadays ships, in terms of use, design, and diversity.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Setting
  • Starfish Aliens: A stranded alien Path Wanderer is too alien for anyone to communicate with or relate to, until Ozzie discovers it communicates with ultraviolet visual signals.
  • Starfish Language: See above.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Silfen, who are basically elves that can travel between planets by walking the Silfen Paths. Even though humans are pretty sure the paths are actually disguised wormholes, they aren't able to understand how they work, or even to detect the paths.
  • Surfer Dude: Ozzie Isaac is pretty much a surfer dude, despite being a scientific genius responsible for the wormhole network that binds the human Commonwealth together, and owning slightly less than half the company that keeps the wormholes up and running. Due to being one of the inventors of this incredibly important technology, he's also a multi-gazillionaire, which allows him to really make the most of his surfer dude needs, desires, and philosophies.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Thanks to functional immortality and having multiple spouses (either at once or from multiple marriages over the years), family trees in the Commonwealth can get pretty big and tangled.
  • That One Case: Paula Myo's hunt for Adam Elvin and the Guardians of Selfhood.
  • Terraforming: How Far Away came to be habitable once again, after being sterilized by a mysterious solar flare.
  • The Singularity: The Sentient Intelligence is mysterious and its true nature is likely incomprehensible to mankind.
  • Uterine Replicator: People can opt to have children via Womb Tank rather than give birth naturally. It's so common that a woman going through pregnancy and childbirth is an anomaly and a plot point.
  • Walking Spoiler: The Starflyer. Just the fact that it's real is not at all clear until nearly the end of the first book, despite driving so much of the plot.