This enourmous tome (hardback 652 pages) weaves a richly complicated story peopled (plus aliens) by believable characters. Those who have read Hamilton's more recent stories will meet old friends and plenty of new too. However, the book can be enjoyed without having read the previous works as Hamilton fills in necessary background; this is helpful to old hands also since memory dims with time; that said, the greatest pleasure is likely to come to those already familiar with Hamilton's universe so do enjoy the previous works first. This first step in the trilogy is obviously not complete in itself: it leaves many tantalizing lines to be followed up. Yet, it breaks off at a natural point where the true identity of a seemingly mythical character mentioned throughout the book is revealed. My comparison with Asimov, based on the inventiveness and quality of the writing, begs a contrast too. In Asimov's far future Foundation stories the technology was advanced but human beings were essentially the same as now (except for those in the Second Foundation). Hamilton has postulated an array of medical advances each of which is at least tenuously credible in terms of modern biological understanding. What neither author has changed is the seemingly invariant characteristics of humans: nobility, duplicity, greed, generosity, love and lust.