Mindstar Rising

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with a look at his first novel.

My 2001 self didn’t seem to understand the common British use of “gear”.

Raw Feed (2001): Mindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton, 1993.Mindstar Rising

I was reluctant to read this series even though really liked Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.

Stories about psychic powers have never been my favorite type of science fiction (though my favorite novel, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, features them), and I suspected that protagonist’s Greg Mandel’s psychic abilities would just be too convenient to provide interesting stories.

However, Mandel’s power is really little more than a heightened sense of intuition — a power that fictional detectives frequently have and, usually when seducing women, an ability to empathize.

To be sure, there are more exotic talents here like Gabriel Thompson’s precognitive ability which merely looks at the short term probabilities of certain events and the twins who protect Armstrong from psychic detection. (Hamilton has a Mandel cleverly using Gabriel to save time by having her see what people would say if he were to interview them.

Hamilton, for dramatic purposes, wisely puts limitations on these powers. A surge of internally produced chemicals  make the powers possible — and limit them in certain circumstances. In Gabriel’s case, she is pathetically scared to do much or peer far in the future because she usually sees her death. Her reward for helping Mandel is to have the gland which produced the neurohormones necessary for psychic powers removed. Continue reading

“The Suspect Genome”

I’m doing my Peter F. Hamilton series in the order I read his work.

This story is actually a part of his Greg Mandel series — which I’ll look at it future postings.

Raw Feed (2001): “The Suspect Genome“, Peter F. Hamilton, 2000.

I was curious as to what this story would be like since it featured Greg Mendel, the hero of a series of books Hamilton wrote before his very good Night’s Dawn trilogy.

Mendel is a psychic detective, and I am not very fond of sf stories with psychic powers, but Hamilton handled his abilities well.

Mendel comes across not as someone with strange visions but very reliable intuition, and many a detective story features heroes with reliable intuition.

Hamilton mixes the psychic powers in well with a future police procedural story and a somewhat interesting setting of a post-Greenhouse England, specifically the backwater of Rutland which is where Hamilton is from.

The odd part of the story is the structure. Continue reading

The Naked God

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with the conclusion of his Night’s Dawn trilogy.

If I was less lazy, I’d actually check to see if “dickcities” is an inspired typo or actually used in the novel.

Raw Feed (2000): The Naked God, Peter F. Hamilton, 2000.

It was perhaps inevitable that such an enjoyable epic, a saga so long and complicated that an index would have been nice, would have something of a let down at the end.

To be sure there was, like the earlier two books in the Night’s Dawn trilogy, a lot to like here.

The center of this book is the quest for the Sleeping God, and I liked that part very much:  the surprise revelation that the plodding, unimaginative Tyrathca pose a military threat with their imperialist, genocidal history, the quest for the location of their Sleeping God, the Mosvda and their desperate dickcities, faction wracked, and orbiting a dying sun.

I also liked the antimatter attack on Tralfalgar; the secret masters of Earth, B7, and the secret human observers (and interferers) employed by the alien Kiint, and I especially liked the harpoon missile attack on Ketton to generate an artificial earthquake.

I was interested in how the possessed of Norfolk began to adapt the personalities of those whose bodies they inhabited.

I liked the assault on Martonridge.

I appreciated the often logical arguments of the ultimately power mad and insane Annete Ekelund and how Hamilton continued the process of making some of the possessed sympathetic victims and fellow members of the human family found in a bind the result of a universe they did not design.

Hamilton ties his themes neatly together at end.

B7 and the Corpus are, ultimately, ineffectual. B7 can’t stop Quinn Dexter except by destroying an arcology. (It was nice to finally visit Earth’s arcologies which were somewhat reminiscent of Judge Dredd’s Mega-Cities.) The Kiint don’t have the power of the Sleeping God.) observers and sometime manipulators.

London’s Andy and Beth and Jed Hinton are signs, along with Lalonde’s colonists, of the poor of the Federation given a new chance by Calvert’s godlike exercise of powers. (I also liked the Skibbows dogged vengeance against Kiera and the trials of the Valisk habitat.)

Louise Cavanaugh’s acceptance of nanonics and sexual liaison with Andy – both against the mores of her native Norfolk – foreshadow Calvert and the Sleeping God determination that the segregation of technology – Adamists vs Edenists – must end.

The theme of the rich attempting to maintain their advantage by limiting technology is highlighted by B7 initially trying to keep affinity technology to themselves. The idea of a core-Confederation is also an example of the rich trying to maintain a status quo by abandoning the relatively poorer worlds.

Indeed, the overarching theme is the necessity of evolution. The possessed of Ketton, who flee into another universe m,ust accept a new life in order to return. The Kulu worlds turn to proscribed biotek to fight the possessed, with whom, eventually, some peace must be made. (Though the book is of a split mind here. Ketton’s possessed get to return to our world while the rest of the possessed are banished from the universe.)

Calvert arranges man’s worlds to force a new economic order. Calvert abandons captaining a starship, a job radically changed by his actions.

The devotion of loved ones is a theme here with the Skibbows, Al Capone and Jexxibella Calvert and Louise.

I didn’t mind the Sleeping God’s nature – a naked singularity capable of manipulating wormholes in our universe and into others. The very name of this book, the search for the Sleeping God, prepared me for the almost deus ex machina ending.

I thought Quinn Dexter – a memorably evil character not matched even by his monstrous creator, Banneth – was dispatched too vaguely, too neatly. I also thought the revelation that Fletcher Christian’s body is almost a “simulacra” was a cheap attempt to make him more sympathetic. I also wanted more Manani who made a welcome return from The Reality Dysfunction.).

However, I thought a couple of the novel’s ending philosophical points were rather arguable if not banal. The solution to our problems is ultimately, according to Calvert and the Sleeping God, to have faith in ourselves and in our visions. While this may give us the confidence (a la Calvert) to meet the challenges of change, to help evolve ourselves and society toward a better state, in doesn’t help much to define the goal, to judge the mechanisms of change.

The book has Calvert adapting almost an extreme of tactic of n aenvironmentalist. He unilaterally realigns reality so that a new order is forced by denying humanity the ability to expand, binds man to an artificial star cluster so that he’s forced to eliminate poverty, physical drudgery, and enable mental advancement. This may fit in, as a goal, with Jay Hilton’s observation that man, to be satisfied, needs to build. However, simple, personal conviction of the desirable order of things is explicitly attacked in the character of Quinn Dexter whose utter conviction and desire to bring Night’s Dawn, is a jarring counterargument. (That the possessed must accept restrictions on their power, the limits of their wishes is a neat story point and, also, an argument for not thinking mere wishes can order reality, an argument undercut for regular humans by the existence of the Sleeping God.)

The origin of the possessing souls as being too fearful to move on in their evolution was hinted in previous books.

The other philosophical point I disagreed with was the guilt heaped on Hiltch for seeking a violent resolution to the possession problem of Mortonridge. While his guilt over sacrificing Edenist souls via the sergeants was understandable, his guilt over trying to remove the possessed was a bum rap – they were harming regular humans. I think Hamilton wants us to take Ekelund’s claim that violence wasn’t the answer, that the possessor-human conflict would be solved by other powers undercuts the book’s other statements.

Calvert, via violence facilitated by the Sleeping God, banishes the possessed, and it seems that part of the thematic message is that each of us must embrace evolution and not rely on external powers as Louise, after B7’s failures to stop Quinn Dexter, goes to talk him out of his course of action and as Calvert has to find the Sleeping God since the Kiint won’t help.

It may be that Hamilton intends some philosophical ambiguity here, to undercut the neatness of the end; however, the tone makes it seems as if his heart lies in these two questionable philosophical points (and the end is very neat with the fate of every character wrapped up).


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The Neutronium Alchemist

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues.

As with the last one, I’m treating these two novels, at least in the original American edition, as one book which is the way it was published in the UK.

Raw Feed (2000): The Neutronium Alchemist, Part 1:  Consolidation, Peter F. Hamilton, 1997 and The Neutronium Alchemist, Part 2: Conflict, Peter F. Hamilton, 1997.

I enjoyed this one every bit as much as its predecessor, The Reality Dysfunction.

Hamilton is not afraid to work out all the implications – including some not obvious to the reader – of his premises.

Mercifully, we don’t have as much of the vicious Satanist Quinn Dexter though he does learn some disturbingly new tricks that enable (after leaving a path of destruction behind and starting a world war on Nyvan – followed by an impact of asteroids) him to penetrate Earth’s  very elaborate and thorough defenses after discovering a world of ghosts.

Ghosts aren’t the only new wrinkle introduced (as befits the middle book of a trilogy) in the concept of the possessed. Alkad Mzu, during breaks in her vengful quest for her Neutronium Alchemist ponders on the nature of the dimension the possessed inhabit. She turns out to be an amazingly focused, ruthless, and clever woman who will sacrifice anything to retrieve the Alchemist, use it on the Omutan sun, and keep the technology out of any power’s hands. Ultimately, at book’s end, she realizes the outbreak of the possessed has rendered her thirst for vengeance irrelevant though she does rescue her lover in a 30 year old derelict hiding the Alchemist for its final mission.

Confederation researchers think the world of the possessed can not be timeless. The possessed are aware of time passing; therefore, time and entropy exist in the hereafter.  Nor has it escaped their notice that most of the possessed are evil, power hungry types or sad, pathetic creatures.

This is not universally true. Maya and Stephanie Ash (these volumes of the trilogy come with a cast of characters) on Ombey seem decent sorts, even rescuing children from the clutches of some of their fellow possessed though even the leader of the possessed on Ombrey, one Annette Ekelund. She seems less a vicious, power-hungry sort and more a ruthless, hardbitten practioneer of Possessor Realpolitick dedicated to preserving her new place in the world. The struggle for the planet, its initial infection by and containment of the possessed are exciting.  Perhaps they, like Richard Fletcher (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) feel they have unfinished business in the world of humans.

Other villainous possessed leaders include the seductive Kiera Salter, a Pied Piper whose sexual charms and knowledge of teenage psychology lures many youngers to their possession on Valisk; Jacqueline Couteur uses cunning legal arguments and moral appeals to her Confederation captors in order to launch unsuccessful escape attempts. I liked how her attorney, whose family lives on the possessed planet of New California, deliberately puts up only a token effort for her.

Al Capone is the most fascinating. Having spent most of his last years in a state of syphilis induced madness, Al didn’t have a painful time in the beyond. When his wits return after his return to our universe, Al proves adaptable and to have a genius for organization.  Of course, he’s brutal but, in his own way, he’s not vicious like Quinn Dexter or a hypocrite like Couteur. Like many a gangster, he runs a shadow government (which here becomes a real government) which, like governments everywhere, dispense favors in exchange for money and fealty. Al can even be generous, though, while he puts a damper on the possessed impulse to flee the universe, its pretty clear that if he conquers human space, his coalition of possessed and non-possessed will collapse because all the non-possessed will be possessed.

This volume reveals new facets to possessed society. They can communicate with the souls in the beyond and use it as a communication nexus for other possessed in the universe.  This greatly facilitates their espionage activities in the hunt for Mzu’s Alchemist.  However, new limitations for the possessed are shown. While they can change the appearance and gross features of an object, they can not alter substances at the molecular level. In short, they have to farm and attend to the other minutiae of maintaining society.  Life as a possesser will not be entirely carefree.

This novel features growing intimations that the universe is not only populated by aliens, humans, and the possessed, but also a group of long-lived, not entirely human, centuries-old observers. One may be the black figure dogging Quinn Dexter. Others appear to Joshua Calvert and Maya.

One theme that is prevalent here is separated lovers and the power of their affection to mold events. Louise Kavanagh – is the most obvious example of this (and subject of the only plot line that, on occasion, I lost interest in) as she overcomes obstacle after obstacle to reach Joshua Calvert. Gerald Skibbow embarks on a hopeless, unplanned quest to rescue his daughter Marie from her possessor Kiera Salter. Mzu is partially motivated by the desire to rescue her old lover Peter as well as the Alchemist.  The intriguing psychological duel between habitat personality Rubra and his descendent Dariat – and their rapproachment to battle Kiera Salter and her followers is greatly colored by Dariat’s memories of a dead love.

Religious faith is also a theme. Religions and the common folk must deal with the provable existence of a purgatory-like existence in the beyond (but, again, not all may exist in the beyond spoken of by the possessed).  Edenists have to confront the idea that what is transferred into their habitats on their death is only a copy of their personality not their soul. Their atheistic concept of the afterlife (Edenist founder Wing-Tsit Chong didn’t plan on his culture to be so aspiritual) is challenged by the possessed.

The alien Kiint aren’t any help. They tell humanity that they have long knew of the possessed and their “reality dysfunction” but can offer no solution. Humanity must find its own solution so Kiint advice will allegedly do no good. Nor, necessarily, will the seeming mysterious sleeping God of the alien Tryathca.

I was a bit disappointed that the courageous Father Horst Elwes of The Reality Dysfunction didn’t have a bigger role. I did like the adventures of undercover agent Erick Tuakrar who, after battling the possessed and antimatter smugglers, reaches the end of his tether and demands to spend eternity in the suspension of zero tau.


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The Reality Dysfunction

Reality Dysfunction 1Reality Dysfunction 2

The Peter F. Hamilton series continues.

The circa-2000 me deserves some sort of corporal punishment for using the word “trope”. (See Lashing the Wind.) However, I am feeling clement today.

Raw Feed (2000): The Reality Dysfunction, Part 1:  Emergence, Peter F. Hamilton, 1996 and The Reality Dysfunction, Part 2:  Expansion, Peter F. Hamilton, 1996.

This is a departure from the usual procedure.

I’m doing two books at once because The Reality Dysfunction, first volume in a massive trilogy, was published as one book in Hamilton’s native Britain.  It’s an impressive work.

Hamilton fully immerses you in his universe, convinces you of its reality as few others, through sheer mass of detail. Hamilton is the type of author who not only tells you that the streets of poor, grubby colony world Lalonde are covered with crushed rock but what type of rock it is and the economics of how it got there. Continue reading

A Second Chance at Eden

Since the latest Peter F. Hamilton door jamb of a novel is on its way to me, I suppose its time to dig into the archives for material on the Hamilton titles I haven’t reviewed yet.

I won’t be doing it in their order of publication but the order I read them.

Raw Feed (1999): A Second Chance at Eden, Peter F. Hamilton, 1998.Second Chance at Eden

“Introduction” — A brief account of the origin of this collection as a series of previously unrelated stories built around the concept of “affinity technology”.
Sonnie’s Edge” — Gladiatorial combat stories have a fairly long history in sf, and this story is in that tradition. The important thing about working in such a sub-genre is that you do it with flare and bring something new to the idea. Hamilton largely succeeds on both counts. Here the combat is between engineered beasts (with just enough vital organs to keep them functioning in combat and things like liver and kidneys relegated to support pods hooked up between bouts), beasts controlled by affinity links which are cloned organisms implanted in two parties to enable a sort of telepathy. In this case, though, it’s not true telepathy since the beasts have no sentience and microprocessors to run part of their bodies. However, their handlers experience most of their sensations and use them as vehicles of surrogate combat. The “edge” of the title is the revelation that the narrator has her brain in the combat beast and not safely on the sidelines as is usually the case. Fear of death and damage is the edge. The main peculiarity of this story is a stylistic one. For reasons I can’t fathom, Hamilton, just as Sonnie is assaulted by the Spetsnaz assassin girl, shifts first person viewpoint to the girl than back to Sonnie. The twist end of the story works (Sonnie’s brain in the beast), but I think it could be managed without the jarring shift of viewpoints.
A Second Chance at Eden” — After reading this story, I can see why people make a fuss over Hamilton. In this story, he packs on an amazing amount of not only scientific and technological speculation (foremost the whole idea of a space colony grown from a modified coral polyp), but he also grounds that speculation in a believable matrix of plausibly extrapolated cultural, religious, and social speculation. Hamilton is also good at creating plausible characters with believable motives. He only falls down a bit in a couple of areas. Narrator and police chief, Harvey Parfitt, seems to provide too many infodumps and information (not that I mind infodumps) for what is ostensibly a story told for a contemporary audience. However, this can be rationalized stylistically in a couple of ways.  First, he’s a detail oriented policeman. Secondly, the narrative may be for posterity since Parfitt is present for Wing-Tsit Chang’s transference of his consciousness to Eden’s neural strata and the events that trigger Eden’s independence. The second flaw is Hamilton’s use of that old plot cliché of the detective sleeping with a woman, Hoi Yin, he meets in the course of the investigation. However, I think he handles the cliché fairly well giving it a context of marital trouble, trouble of interesting nature since the Parfits disagree on the morality of the affinity bonds that form the basis of Eden’s culture. And I like that ultimately Parfitt loves his wife even more than Eden and returns to Earth. Hamilton does an interesting turnabout at story’s end. After the traditional sf hostility against religion, the demonstration of the emotional (in an almost clichéd free love mode) and psychological experience of Eden’s affinity bonds in a most intimate way with Parfitt’s and Hoi Yin’s sexual union, we find, at story’s end, that maybe Cooke had a point. Here the Unified Christian Church is represented in Eden by Father Cooke. He is represented as a good man who does not believe the residents of Eden are evil, but whose fears that affinity technology will lead humanity into a hubristic reliance on itself for its spiritual and psychological needs.  Eden’s new culture and independence are triggered by a murder committed by the beloved Ching who practices a type of Buddhism. He kills the creator of Hoi Yin (engineered, originally, to be a geisha) who he regards as unfit to merge, as he does, with Eden.  Chong decides his victim Maowkanitz is just not the sort he wants in on the ground floor of his new civilization. At the very least, I’m ambivalent about Ching’s action. Parfitt seems even more disturbed. At story’s end, he calls Eden flawed, its children (in an allusion to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”) “naked”, and sees earth, in all its flaws, inviting.

Continue reading

Sleeps With Angels

Yes, it’s a new review.

I must have been more dismissive than usual when I turned down the chance to get a review copy of Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn. It seemed like some sort of metaphorical support for the failure of the EU and endorsement of Europe’s current civilizational suicide.

And who is this Hutchinson guy anyway?  Never heard of him. No doubt some literary author poaching the genre’s treasure, smugly thinking he has a patent on some new idea without checking on the prior art.

Well, the reviews of Europe in Autumn at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased and From Couch to Moon disabused me of the first notion. And a check on his entry in the ISFDB.org would have disabused me of the second.

Still, when the folks at NewCon Press were handing out review copies of Hutchinson’s collection Sleeps With Angels, I did take it (in, ahem, May 28, 2015 – the review process can be sclerotic at Marzaat). I’m a lot more willing to try an author in short form, even if I don’t think I’ll like them, than a novel even if I find collections and anthologies a lot more time consuming to review.

And I liked the previous NewCon Press collection I reviewed, Dark Currents.

Review: Sleeps With Angels, ed. Dave Hutchinson, 2015.Sleeps With Angels

The first thing I noticed about this six story collection is how many stories feature protagonists who have somehow reaped the benefits of social or physical apocalypse.

The heroine of “Sugar Engines” can work seeming miracles in a severely depopulated world. But this is a self-consciously “cosy catastrophe” where the weeds are under control, the sewer and water lines still work, and there’s electricity (if no internet). The miracles of Rae may have something to do with her dead husband’s research into nanotechnology, and the last surviving member of His Majesty’s Secret Service would like to know what really happened – because he has some hints that things are most definitely not what they seem.

The apocalypse of “Dali’s Clocks” is social (if very mellow in result). Most everyone in the world feels the compulsion to create something. And they all want the narrator, who is one of the rare ones who doesn’t suffer this compulsion, to critique their work.

The narrator of “The Incredible Exploding Man” is one of the few who can navigate the dimensions sanely after a lab accident at a superconducting supercollider throws a group of humans out of our normal space. But he, and the rest of the world, about what will happen when the others figure out how to do the same. They are particularly concerned about what will happen when the world’s greatest physicist, and not very nice person, figures out how to control his destructive powers.

It’s an elven apocalypse in “All the News, All the Time, From Everywhere”. In the middle of what seems some sort of European civil war, the elves of England reassert their power, ban almost all technology, kill a bunch of people, and reintroduce the efficacy of prophecy via animal sacrifice. The latter is how newspapers (about the only communication form still permitted) like the one the narrator works for get some of their news. This protagonist is privileged by having a contact in the elvish version of MI-5 working at crushing rebellion. He may have done – and forgotten – some favor he did for the elves in the past.

The supernatural also shows up in “The Fortunate Isles”, a murder mystery, with a nice detailed opening, in Ireland’s West Country in a rundown, poorer future of retirees, like the detective protagonist’s detective father, existing on the scraps of broken pensions. (It’s one of two stories in the collection in which we get a nod to the last surviving member of U-2. Ah, the future is not all bleak.)

The second thing is that Hutchinson uses a variety of English and European settings which are refreshing. We’ve come away from the days when Peter F. Hamilton’s publishers chided him for including too much local detail for the Rutland, UK setting of his Greg Mandel series. The one exception to this rule is the “Sioux Crossing” mentioned in “The Incredible Exploding Man”. For some reason, Hutchinson put his supercollider in Iowa (it was once planned for Texas). I think he just wanted to have a Midwest tornado.

The third thing I noticed is that a couple of these could have been longer which Hutchinson acknowledges for “All the News, All the Time, From Everywhere”.

My favorite story, just because I favor mixtures of history, mystery, and science fiction (not to mention Roman history) was, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”. Its narrator, an archaeology student turned journalist, is dragged into helping an old professor examine the excavated villa of one Lucius Claudius Setibogius, a provincial of Roman Britain who did very well for himself by supplying some strange creatures for the Coliseum’s gladiatorial games. The story is original to this collection, and it rather put me in mind of Michael J. Flynn’s Eifelheim.

I can’t guarantee I’ll read any more Hutchinson. But I won’t dismiss him.


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Great North Road

Another retro review, this time of a rare Peter F. Hamilton singleton.

Being a Hamilton fan, I was happy to get this via a review copy from Amazon.

From January 18, 2013 …

Review: Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton, 2013.Great North Road

After something of a misstep with his Void Trilogy, Hamilton is back in top form.

This has almost everything you expect in a Peter F. Hamilton novel: a murder mystery, soldiers, mysterious tech billionaires with ambitious ideas for transforming the world, gazillionaire families, detectives, a sort of technologically mediated telepathy, spies, an astronomical mystery, life extensions, aliens, sex and easy, casual travel between planets.

The plot is relatively straightforward. A North turns up dead in Newcastle, UK. Norths are the male clones that fill many of the upper echelons of business in this society. The trouble is not only is it not obvious who killed him but his exact identity is unknown.

And the method of death wakes the professional paranoia of the Alien Intelligence Agency. They already have one alien menace to contend with — the Zanth, who have destroyed one human inhabited world. They don’t need another, but the murder weapon seems possibly related to a 20 year old mass killing done by one Angela Tremelo.

The story centers around two main characters: Sid Hurst, the detective heading up the Newcastle murder investigation, and Angela, who is taken out of jail to serve as technical advisor on a mission to the planet St. Libra, the site of her alleged murders – which she has always claimed were done by an unknown alien.

Hamilton keeps the pace cranked at full level. At about midway, the story of the St. Libra expedition becomes even more compelling. Its isolation, stalked by an alien force from without and, maybe, from within reminded me a bit of the Alastair Maclean novels I used to read, especially Night Without End. At this point, when he’s got you hooked, Hamilton makes a lot of diversions to backfill the story of his characters’ lives. Some of these may strike the reader as a bit too long, but I didn’t mind all that much.

What I did mind, but it didn’t ruin the experience in a major way, was a couple of things at the end. The first was a bit of silly, eco-centered moralizing. The second was a bit of happy talk and improbability about the fate of a minor character.

As perhaps a sign of the times, this is not an almost utopian world like Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga. There is a note of economic anxiety throughout it. I also liked the air of casual corruption, especially tax evasion, amongst the Newcastle police. I also note that Hamilton, in his depiction of his Grande Europe political alliance, shows some of the Euroskepticism that marked his Misspent Youth.

And, yes, this truly is a standalone novel. Everything meaningful is wrapped up, so there’s no reason to wait to start this one whether you’re new to Hamilton or an old fan.


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The New Space Opera

Posting this retro review will be one of the few productive things I did today.

From July 18, 2009 …

Review: The New Space Opera, eds. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, 2007.New Space Opera

What is “space opera”? The introduction succinctly and accurately calls it romantic adventure science fiction told on a grand scale. It then traces the history of the sub-genre from its stirrings in the 1890s to its full-fledged birth in the 1920s to its nadir in the 1960s and 1970s, when the New Wave made it unfashionable, to its rebirth, while American authors were developing cyberpunk, at the hands of the British in the 1980s and 1990s.

For that grand scale, I’d specify vast scales of time and space and weaponry. The fate of species – their lives or at least their sanity and cultural viability – should be at stake and not some mere individual’s happiness or survival. Some of the stories in this collection are good but not space opera. Some are both. But there aren’t enough good stories of any type to give this collection a higher rating. [I gave it three stars at Amazon.]

The following stories fall in the unsuccessful and not even space opera category. The setup for Gwyneth Jones “Saving Timaat”, the narrator helping in the negotiations between representatives of two warring groups, the one cannibalistic predators on the other, is good, but the emotional connection of the narrator to the cannibal chief and her motivations are too oblique. James Patrick Kelly’s “Dividing the Sustain” is a would-be comedy of manners about a courier aboard a ship of communist colonists and the steps he takes to get close to the captain’s estranged wife, subject of an unaccountable infatuation, and to avoid getting “stale”, a consequence of longevity treatments. Not at all interesting.

Nancy Kress has put out some wonderful work, particularly when she engages in speculating about the consequences of biotech. However, her “Art of War” seems just a writerly exercise in developing the title phrase into a story and playing around with the cliché of stern military father (here a stern military mom) and a disappointing son. The story’s war between alien Teli and humans and the place each species’ art plays in the struggle just didn’t have the grand feel of space opera. Continue reading

Fallen Dragon

I continue to be immersed in the intricacies of pre-World War One diplomatic history, so you get another retro review.

This one is a Peter F. Hamilton book, one of his few standalone works.

From November 23, 2003 …

Review: Fallen Dragon, Peter F. Hamilton, 2002.Fallen Dragon

As the novel states at the beginning, the fault of most things in the universe is money.

And money is the problem with space exploration in the mid-24th century. Space exploration and colonization just isn’t paying for itself. Colonies take centuries to repay investors. To make matters worse, some declare themselves independent of their corporate founders on Earth. The solution? The “asset-recovery mission”, legalized piracy where corporate armies swoop down on colonies to plunder them.

Lawrence Newton is a sergeant in such an army, and, when he gets word of an impending mission to the planet Thallspring, he starts to plan a little private asset realization of his own. On Thallspring, we get the story of a mission frustrated by local resistance headed up by Denise Ebourn who is much more than the simple storyteller and schoolteacher she appears to be. Continue reading