Dancing with Myself

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Some of the stories here I had read before, but I’ve put my notes in from my pre-1997 readings of them.

This one also has science articles.

(Just keeping things straight for the future historians who will, of course, want to know all that.)

Review (1997): Dancing with Myself, ed. Charles Sheffield, 1993.

Cover by Stanislaw Fernandez.

Out of Copyright” — This story revolves around a clever idea: that in a future where cloning is routine a person’s surviving heirs have copyrights to that person’s genome. Eventually those copyrights lapse into the public domain. This story centers around companies competing in a test-of-concept in which asteroids are launched at Io. The companies clone long dead scientific geniuses whose genomes are in the public domain. The clones provide assistance on various projects. The narrator of the story heads one combine’s teams. His talent is not scientific but in sabotage of the minor and persistent sort which accumulates and dooms a combine’s efforts. Most of the sabotage involves a keen understanding of people for it is revealed, at story’s end, that he is a cloned version of Al Capone (though Sheffield doesn’t explicitly name him). [Peter F. Hamilton also used an Al Capone resurrection in his Night’s Dawn trilogy.] The story’s concept lets Sheffield talk about some of the quirks and talents of those historical scientists who were cloned. Sheffield also points out that cloned scientific geniuses do not always turn out to be valuable. Sometimes the original’s accomplishments owed more to environment than genes. [There was something in the air in 1989, the year this story was first published. It was also the year that Robert Silverberg’s Time Gate was published. It’s historical figures were resurrected via computer simulacra.]

Tunicate, Tunicate, Wilt Thou Be Mine” — This is Sheffield doing a sort of H.P. Lovecraft imitation. As in many a Lovecraft tale, the story is narrated in the first person by a narrator who writes desperately of awful things before some cosmic horror previously viewed closes in for the last time. Here, again as in Lovecraft – notably his “The Colour Out of Space” – the horror is an alien who has crashed on Earth. The alien is much like an earth tunicate, a strange creature combining the features of animal and plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate. Under its influence, the narrator kills his wife and friends. Continue reading

A Window into Time

Review: A Window Into Time, Peter F. Hamilton, 2016.Window Into Time

I stayed in the flat by myself for the rest of the week and watched the shows I wanted—old stuff like Stargate and House, MD, which was great. I like House; he’s smarter than everyone else, and he’s not scared to show it. I’m going to act like that when I’m older.

Julian Costello Proctor is an aspergy, obsessive, thirteen years old, and the kind of bright kid who could tell you the “brace position” on an airplane isn’t there to protect you. It’s to protect your skull so the airlines can identify your body. He’s also naïve and believes everything on the Internet.

He’s also the narrator of Hamilton’s surprisingly charming novella. Hamilton frequently does family stories, but this is his most condensed, and the one we can most identify with because of its contemporary setting and characters who aren’t the superrich.

Julian has a perfect memory which is why the worst day of his life isn’t going to go away. It’s his thirteenth birthday, his divorced dad is marrying a new woman only nine years older than Julian and Julian’s not invited to the wedding, and Julian’s mother dies after slipping on some birthday cake frosting Julian spilled on the floor.

Julian is packed off for a bit with Uncle Gordon, the only relative who realizes that, yes, Julian really does remember everything. Gordon, trained as a physicist but who spent many years touring with rock bands as their sound engineer, now scrapes by selling audio accessories.

It’s after Julian has a weird experience of recalling a memory not his own — Is it time travel? Reincarnation? Some strange ability Julian shares with his ex-pat paternal grandfather in Spain? – that Gordon brings up Haldane’s famous remark about the universe being queerer than we can imagine.

Julian finds out he’s getting memories of one Michael Finsen, a man living in the Docklands of London. And Julian begins to fear that Finsen has a threat in his future, a threat Julian has to stop.

The thriller plot is well done, but side-by-side with it is the maturing of Julian. By sharing the memory and experiences of adult Michael, Julian gains some understanding about adult life and its emotions and concerns, what’s true and what isn’t, the ideas of romantic love and sacrifice, and that the world isn’t simply a division of the smart and stupid. It’s not a complete understanding, but maybe he wouldn’t even have that without his odd experience.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

A Night Without Stars

Yes, it’s something new. There’s been some thick books read around here lately.

This one came from Amazon Vine.

Frankly, the review was banged out quickly. There’s some additional thoughts and observations with spoilers at the end.

Review: A Night Without Stars, Peter F. Hamilton, 2016.night-without-stars

It’s a night without stars on the planet Bienvenido because it’s far from the rest of galaxy, so far that the only sun in the sky is the one its planets revolve around.

It’s a solar system inhabited by members of the races doomed unsuitable for communion with the aliens that created the Void, that vast bubble of altered timeflow and physics busted up by industrialist Nigel Sheldon at the end of The Abyss Beyond Dreams.

Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten all you’ve read in Hamilton’s other Commonwealth novels or never read any at all.

Hamilton quickly brings up you to speed. In the first 41 pages, we get reacquainted with dictator Slvasta, obsessed with ridding Bienvenido of the Faller menace — nasty, irredeemable aliens who digest and mimic (except for the blue blood) a planet’s lifeforms. Except Bienvenido has discovered it’s sharing the solar system with an even nastier alien menace, the Prime from Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. Laura Brandt, from Abyss, dies yet again.

And we’re off to the usual compelling Hamilton mix of detectives, spies, revolutionaries, fanatics, astronauts, politicians, nasty aliens and naïve young people thrown in the mix. Masks will drop, factions will plot, alliances will melt away and reform. (The sex in this one is actually fairly low key and short.) Continue reading

Misspent Youth

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with a retro review, from February 20, 2011, of one of Hamilton’s more obscure works.

Like the jihad mentioned in the past of Hamilton’s Greg Mandel, this one, in the wake of the Brexit movement, has a bit of a predictive air about it.

This is a review of the 2002 UK edition. Hamilton has said the 2008 US edition is noticeably different and better.

This concludes the Peter F. Hamilton series for now until I read his two most recent works which should be soon.

Review: Misspent Youth, Peter F. Hamilton, 2002.Misspent Youth

This is probably, not considering The Web: Lightstorm [which I don’t plan on reading], Hamilton’s most obscure and least respected work despite it being the first novel in his recent Commonwealth Saga. I myself read all the other Hamilton first.

In some ways, this novel returns to the beginning of Hamilton’s career and the Greg Mandel books which made his reputation. Like those, it is set in the near-future and in Hamilton’s hometown of Rutland, England. However, the usual detailed combat sequences, the crime, and the espionage usually in his books don’t show up here though the book does end with some riots. Continue reading

The Evolutionary Void; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with this retro review from December 4, 2010.

I see the mandatory Amazon title line of the review was “Too Much Superscience and Not Enough Tragedy”. Accurate and better than the usual tag lines I come up with.

As with the other books in the Void trilogy, Luke Burrage provides another perspective.

Review: The Evolutionary Void, Peter F. Hamilton, 2010.Evolutionary Void

Yes, if you’ve read the other books in this series, you will want to read this. (That would be, five, four, or two books depending on how you want to split them.) Yes, the Void series, if you haven’t started it yet, is worth the time as a whole.

Hamilton delivers in fusing, thematically and plotwise, the worlds inside and outside the Void. All secrets from the earlier books (except, perhaps, the Cat’s exact origins) are revealed including some mysteries brought up in this book.

Araminta continues her struggle with the Living Dream movement as its putative prophet. The demoralizing vision of Inigio’s last dream is revealed. Gore and Delivery Man seek alien technology. Ozzie shows up with his weird girlfriend. Aaron’s personality continues to deteriorate until we get a wonderful combat sequence told from the point of view of his emergency automatic personality. The rest of the characters continue their spying, sabotaging, fighting, law enforcing ways. New crises emerge. The fate of the galaxy is still at stake. And we get to meet a very old, very cunning survivor of our time.

Most importantly a prime theme of this series – should sentient species evolve by chance or deliberation (and, if so, by what sort of technology) and the spillover effects on those who don’t approve of the chosen evolutionary methods or goals — continues. And not just with the struggle of human factions but the Anomine, an alien race that faced a similar quandary.

But, at the end, the Void doesn’t completely satisfy. Continue reading

The Temporal Void

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with another retro review, this time from October 22, 2010.

Review: The Temporal Void, Peter F. Hamilton, 2008.Temporal Void

Well, if you’ve invested the time to read the 600+ pages of The Dreaming Void – not to mention the earlier almost 2,000 pages of Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained – you’ll want to continue with this book.

Hamilton resurrects – sometimes quite literally – characters and races out of those latter two novels.

It’s been noted (specifically by Luke Burrage of Science Fiction Book Review Podcast) that the Void series is all about power. The worthy purposes of power, the tactics of its use, and the effects of power on its wielders are the themes here. That ranges from the human factions which seek to steer humanity (in various flavors from the barely altered to the nearly post-human Advancers) in a particular direction to the ever increasing psychic powers of Edeard in his world of medieval technology. An election is even a major plot event in the alien city of Makkathran.

In fact, Edeard is the central character here, his adventures take up not only a larger portion of this book than the first Void novel, but they have an inherent interest and suspense, are no longer, as they sometimes were in the first novel, a story interruption. At novel’s end, Edeard faces not only a major challenge to his power but to his moral code. And story’s end provides a better understanding of the book’s rather enigmatic title.  Continue reading

The Dreaming Void; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with some other reviewers’ perspectives.

(“Wait a minute!”, you say. Wasn’t there a sequel to the last Hamilton work I covered, Pandora’s Star? Yes, there was. It was called Judas Unchained, and I read it just like a normal person. In other words, I made no notes on it at all.)

A retro review from October 8, 2010.

Other reviews can be found at Speculiction and the Science Fiction Review Podcast.

Review: The Dreaming Void, Peter F. Hamilton, 2007.Dreaming Void

Peter F. Hamilton fans won’t be disappointed with this, a return to the universe of Misspent Youth and the Commonwealth Saga approximately 1,200 years after the events of the latter. [That would be after the end of Judas Unchained.] Hamilton’s usual themes and motifs are here: fantasy combined with science fiction (here a world in the ravening Void at the heart of the galaxy, a world where psychic powers are quite common and technology rather limited); a keen visual sense exhibited in his combat action scenes and descriptions of architecture and clothing; outré sex (here an important character coupling with a man who shares one mind across several bodies); worldbuilding that combines economics, politics, law, technology, and geography to make credible several settings; godlike technology, and a plot with elements of espionage and police thrillers.

What is that plot? Well, I’m going to be lazy and leave it up to other reviewers to give you the broad outlines and dramatis personae. I will say that, at its core, the novel is about a very human tendency – even though many characters strive for a post-human, post-physical existence: the fear and belief that other humans just shouldn’t be allowed to make their own lifestyle choices. Several characters take the justifiable position that sometimes those choice are threatening to outside parties. Here the argument is how much humans should modify their minds and bodies or even abandon them altogether, if man is to bootstrap himself into a Rapture or if it will be an alien god. Continue reading

Pandora’s Star

Since I haven’t made much headway on the backlog of titles to be reviewed, the Peter F. Hamilton series continues.

Raw Feed (2005): Pandora’s Star, Peter F. Hamilton, 2004.Pandora's Star

As with his Night’s Dawn trilogy and Fallen Dragon, Hamilton’s exhibits his characteristic strengths of worldbuilding — the technology, politics, science, topography, geography, and most especially (and rarely — and least in a credible sense — for sf writers) the economics of his worlds.

In a certain sense this is a fond, sf version of the British Empire in the Belle Époque era, a Commonwealth of worlds literally bound together by trains that travel through wormholes, the only fly in the ointment being (as with troubles in the Balkans pre-World War One) some terrorists who are convinced that the government has been infiltrated by a vast alien conspiracy.  This rather utopian world is then suddenly propelled into a war with aliens.

Despite the absence of a schism in the human ranks as represented by the Adamists and Edenists in the Night’s Dawn trilogy, the flavor of the Interstellar Commonwealth is quite similar to the Confederation. The world of both features mysterious aliens and alien ruins.  In Night’s Dawn it was the Kulu and their ruins. Here it is High Angel and the mysterious, rather moronic seeming Silfen.

The longevity of the humans — people put aside money for their physical regenerations like we put aside money for retirements and “first lifers” are regarded sexually, psychologically, and socially as something special by those who have lived long enough to undergo rejuvenation therapy — is reminiscent of the longed lived characters in Hamilton’s stand alone novella “Watching Trees Grow“. (Those whose physical bodies are actually destroyed and who find their edited and recorded memories loaded into cloned bodies have a traumatic time of it.) Continue reading

The Nano Flower

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with the conclusion of the Greg Mandel trilogy.

Raw Feed (2001): The Nano Flower, Peter F. Hamilton, 1995.Nano Flower

Apart from the rather clunky title, this is probably the best of the Greg Mandel series, certainly the most ambitious though I do find it curious that, given its publication date (certainly in the middle of sf writers discovering nanotechnology) and “nano” in the title, Hamilton chooses to depict a future where researching is almost an afterthought even amongst the powerful kombinates.

This is a very cyberpunkish book in that it delights in breaking the world into data and basing a plot on manipulating that data and sending it around in various exotic formats often with the data (and its attendant manipulation of various systems) arriving in the nick of time. That includes, if you stretch the point, the alien Hexaemeron with its toroidal genes which contain the instructions to duplicate an entire ecosystem.

Hamilton’s prose is effective but certainly not the flashy poetry of the most famous cyberpunk of all — William Gibson. Continue reading

A Quantum Murder

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues.

Raw Feed (2001): A Quantum Murder, Peter F. Hamilton, 1994.Quantum Murder

Hamilton tries to put some of the psi powers in this series on a rational footing by evoking quantum physics in the figure of the roguish, rather hippish Professor Edward Kitchener who takes syntho drugs to try peer, through interlinked wormholes, into the the past and other time tracks and, possibly, develop a stardrive as well as coming up with grand unified theory combining all of physics with psychic powers.

While I found this novel enjoyable, I didn’t like it as well as it’s predecessor, Mindstar Rising. The mind control program beamed into the brain via laser beam was not convincingly rationalized though it made for an interesting fight at novel’s end with Mandel confronting a group of zombies.

The novel seemed to dwell longer on Julia Evans then strictly necessary for the plot, but then Hamilton is once again, as with Ione Saldana in his Night’s Dawn trilogy, creating a young, likeable (if flawed) princess type character that everyone is either in awe of or loves.

I did like the simmering conflicts between the Trinities and the remnants, just a suburb away, of the People’s Socialist Party constabulary (and the scene where Mandel confronts a pathetic old PSP constable was good) and how most people want to put the PSP days of England behind them.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.