Sunday, June 26, 2011

The reality dysfunction – Part I: Emergence

Peter F. Hamilton
MacMillan, 1996 (my copy is from Warner Books, 1997)
Size: Long (my copy has 588 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Joshua Calvert
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This is the first book of what is commonly known as the Night Dawn trilogy from Hamilton dealing with the Reality Dysfunction universe. The story start in The Reality Dysfunction, continues in The Neutronium Alchemist and ends in The Naked God. Each of these three novels has 2 volumes (thus, depending on the edition, the series may be comprised of three or six books). You should be aware that this will likely be one of the most compelling stories, in one of the most detailed universes, you have ever read. In my opinion, it is entirely at par with classics such as Foundation and Dune, with the added advantage of having a few more decades of scientific developments to draw upon. I cannot imagine a sci-fi fan who will not be enticed by this story. After having read the first book, I immediately picked up the second, and continued so until I had finished the entire series.

The depth of the plot is considerable (my copy has 588 pages with a small font size), so you will be entertained for quite some time. This lends a truly epic nature to the universe created by Hamilton. You will likely remember the story and characters for years to come. As could be expected, in a story this broad, there are tens of characters that will come into play at different times, many locations where plot develops, and a plethora of little pieces of information that enrich the story. However, this does not create havoc to the reader, as there are two dozen or so key characters, and a dozen or so key locations, that help you quickly establish a coherent view of the entire plot. The characters are well explored and all major characters are memorable.

Note that there is gore and explicit sex throughout the series, although always deriving from the plot.
In this first book we are introduced to the Confederation and the different races that coexist in the universe (two of which human). Adamists are the traditional human, some of which have undergone physical modifications, such as mercenaries with special warfare implants. Another faction are Edenists and their voidhawks, who live in space habitats, communicate through affinity, and use biotechnology (bitek). There are also the mysterious Kiint, massive non-humanoid creatures who have extremely more advanced technology but share only limited bits with humanity.

The story could be said to revolve around Joshua Calvert, a young, intuitive, and exceptionally lucky ship captain, who is unwittingly involved in the unfolding galactic events. Joshua is one of the many people who scavenge the ruins of the Laymil civilization, a spacefaring race extinct millennia ago due to something they had encountered. Another pivotal element is Quinn Dexter, an evil youngster and a satanic worshiper. As he is placed in a settlement in Lalonde, a recent human colony, he sets up a sect and begins to conduct rituals. However, one of those rituals will rupture the frontiers of reality and force the Confederation to force the most dangerous threat it has ever encountered. In the jungles of Lalonde begins the ultimate trial; will humanity survive it?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The dragon in the sea

Frank Hebert
Tom Doherty Associates, 1956 (my copy is from Tor Books, 2008)
Size: Short (my copy has 268 pages)
Theme: Underwater action thriller
Narrative: third-person
Main character: John Ramsey
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Dwindling oil reserves, particularly important during war time, have led countries to exert extreme measures to ensure control of underwater drilling spots. A Western subtug is directed to bring oil from one such spot, directly underneath an enemy base. However, the path is riddled with dangers, both external and from within the subtug crew. The last 20 missions have been unsuccessful, and questions arise as to the cause of their failures.

This novel follows the mission of John Ramsey, a prized psychologist from the BuPsych, who is charged with incorporating the subtug crew who will conduct this dangerous and vital mission. The four-men subtug crews have not only to contend with the extreme ocean environment and lurking enemy subs, but also with the psychological hurdle of deep sea diving. Ramsey is expected to study his three shipmates and identify if there is a spy among them or whether they are likely to crack under the pressure.

The story is packed with action and thrills at every page. The crew has to escape multiple hunters as they infiltrate enemy territory. Along the way, accidents and sabotage make their job harder. They have to improvise and outsmart their opponents if they wish to return home. But equally dangerous is suspicion and the potential loss of total trust among four men who depend entirely on each other to survive. The characters in the plot are diverse and rich, although it would have been nice to learn even more about them. The enemy faction is left entirely faceless throughout the novel, which does not really hamper plot development. The novel would have to be considerably larger in order to tackle that side of the story. Still, the narrative provides an adequate and conclusive ending, unraveling the mysteries and motivations of the crewmen, as well as setting up a likely near future for the main character.