Friday, November 30, 2012

On Peter Hamilton's books

I've been postponing writing something about Peter Hamilton's work for a while. I first became aware of his work through the Night's Dawn trilogy, more precisely the Reality Disfunction (1st book of the series). I saw the synopsis and it looked really exciting, so I bought the book and read through it. I was amazed by the depth of the plot and the detailed and fast paced narrative. This was truly a space opera, and I went through the entire series, book after book.
Having enjoyed that series so much, I bought the 2 books in the commonwealth saga (his first work) and the 3 books in the Greg Mandel series. The latter, despite having a totally different style, was just as good as the Night's Dawn trilogy (unfortunately, I still have not had the time to read the former). More recently I went through the Void's trilogy, which I found superb.
Indeed, the books I have read so far by Hamilton are on par with the classics by Frank Herbert or Isaac Asimov. I find his typical style of multiple threads followed in a sequential cycle to prevent any possible boredom and to allow a natural flow of the story. Not only are the plots rich in technological detail and offer interesting and innovative science fiction, but the characters are adequately characterized and explored. While many books I have read in my life fail to sparkle any memories, I vividly remember characters and plot lines from all of Hamilton's books. Some of his characters will certainly be remembered throughout my entire life. Reading these books has been a great experience and gave me much joy.

Here's what I have from Hamilton right now:

*Night's Dawn trilogy*
- Reality disfunction: Part I - Emergence
- Reality disfunction: Part II - Expansion
- The neutronium alchemist: Part I - Consolidation
- The neutronium alchemist: Part II - Conflict
- The naked God: Part I - Flight
- The naked God: Part II - Faith
*Commonwealth saga*
- Pandora's star
- Judas Unchained
*Greg Mandel series*
- Mindstar rising
- Quantum murder
- Nano flower
*The void trilogy*
- The Dreaming void
- The Temporal void
- The Evolutionary void
* single novels *
- Fallen dragon

Hamilton's work has been mostly published by Pan Macmillan ( through the Macmillan imprint, and also Del Rey ( Macmillan publishers were kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the Evolutionary Void (#3 in the Void series).
I look forward to continue reading Hamilton's fantastic work.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The nano flower

Peter F. Hamilton
Pan Books, 1995 (my copy is from Pan Books, 1995)
Size: Average (my copy has 566 pages)
Theme: Futuristic mystery
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Greg Mandel
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

In this final of three books in the Greg Mandel series, several years have passed, and the retired psychic operative is again brought back to active duty as a favor to Julia Evans, since her husband Royan (an old friend and comrade of Greg) has been missing for several months. With his empathy and - particularly - his intuition, Greg is the perfect detective to follow the small clues that Royan has been leaving in an apparent attempt to lead Julia to his current location. Everything is triggered by a particular and very special flower secretly sent by Royan to Julia. This time, the story revolves around more personal issues than the previous essentially corporative-driven problems.

Unlike the two previous books, set exclusively on Earth (with very minor descriptions of space activities involving satellites), this time a significant part of the plot takes place in the New London asteroid, brought to Earth orbit by Event Horizon. Also, there is plenty more combat and destruction by hardliners and tekmercs, including by Event Horizon’s crash team, compared to the preceding two books.

The novel follows the pace, style, depth and narration of previous books. The cast is not too extensive, which allows characters to be adequately explored; furthermore, many readers will already be familiar with most of them. The plot works fairly well as a detective story, despite the fact that it is predictable and almost everything is given away in advance. While on the upside I enjoyed revisiting the characters in the Greg Mandel universe, this third book failed to fully meet my expectations. I was not particularly impressed with the part of the novel concerning the origin of the new technology, and until very late in the book I hoped there would be a twist and that there was a different explanation for the nano flower and for the new technology that Royan kept hinting at. Unfortunately, the explanation was the expected one that Hamilton had been laying out through the entire book. The ending also seemed too commonplace. Still, I continue a great fan of Hamilton’s work, and although I did not find this story to be up to par to his other books, I highly recommend this entire series.

Related work:

This is the final of 3 books in the Greg Mandel series (Hamilton’s first); it was preceded by “Mindstar rising” and "A quantum murder". As the previous books, it can be read as a single novel, although you will greatly benefit from having read the previous books first.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A quantum murder

Peter F. Hamilton
Pan Books, 1994 (my copy is from Pan Books, 1994)
Size: Average (my copy has 376 pages)
Theme: Futuristic mystery
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Greg Mandel
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

As the second of three books in the Greg Mandel series, this novel follows again the adventures of Greg Mandel, an ex-mindstar operative, bolstering an ‘espersense’ through an implanted gland that enables him to sense other people’s feelings and emotions. After having retired after the storyline of the previous book, and trying to lead a quiet life with Elaine, he is brought back to active status to help Julia with problems at Event Horizon.

This time, the plot revolves around the brutal murder of a reclusive and very rich quantum cosmology scientist, double Nobel laureate for his discoveries which paved the way for technology such as the giga-conductor cells, and who was now working secretly on basics of stardrive technology for Event Horizon. The ritualistic assassination leaves everyone baffled as the isolated mansion was sealed tight and a heavy storm was blowing outside. The 6 resident young research assistants are all suspects, but are quickly cleared by Greg. Curiously, the murder setup has uncanny similarities with the technique of a mass murder psychopath who has been incarcerated for years.

As one could expect, the literary style, the fast plot pace, and the attention to detail are similar to those in the previous story. I greatly enjoyed reading through this book, as it brings detective stories into a futuristic perspective. I also found it to have a little more gore and sexual references than the previous novel. I was hardly able to put the book down each night and have already started reading through the third and final installment.

Related work:

This is book 2 of 3 in the Greg Mandel series (Hamilton’s first); it was preceded by “Mindstar rising” and is followed by "The nano flower". As the previous book, it can be read as a single novel, although here I would clearly suggest having read the preceding book first.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mindstar rising

Peter F. Hamilton
Pan Books, 1993 (my copy is from Pan Books, 1993)
Size: Average (my copy has 438 pages)
Theme: Futuristic mystery
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Greg Mandel
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This novel follows the adventures of Greg Mandel, an ex-mindstar operative, who now works as a private detective. Hired by the company Event Horizon, Greg is tasked with finding out who was responsible for tampering with a manufacturing operation, causing a huge loss for the company. As with all mindstar operatives, Greg has a gland implant, which in his case, enhances his psychological abilities, allowing him to sense people's feelings. Obviously, this makes him the perfect person to interview potential moles or saboteurs. However, the case will reveal itself to be much more complicated than suspected, and a plot of worldwide consequence will be unraveled.

The story takes places in a reasonably near future, after some quasi-apocalyptic societal revolution, due to major events such as global warming. The most obvious technological innovations are in biotechnology, military gear, and space exploration. Greg's military background provides fuel for his current activities and, simultaneously, seamlessly brings in other ex-military as well as rebels whenever required by the plot.

This is a great sci-fi detective thriller, with plenty of action and romance, and with a complex enough plot to keep it interesting throughout. Although only a few characters exhibit some depth, and a few others could have been better explored, the cast is varied enough to allow multiple stories to develop simultaneously (although not even close to space operas such as his Night's Dawn trilogy). As you would expect, Greg is a really likeable character, with few flaws and an impeccable character; and, as you would also expect, adequate villains are provided in the mix. Like other Peter Hamilton's books, I enjoyed the level of technical detail provided, and the rich plot, even though his later works are - in my opinion - superior. Particularly, since this book follows a very traditional honorable detective storyline. Nevertheless, it is well written and the approach taken is novel enough to make it worth your time.

Related work:
This is book 1 of 3 in the Greg Mandel series and is followed by "A quantum murder" and "The nano flower". However, it can be read as a single novel, providing a conclusive end. It was Hamilton's first major story, and one of his best known works.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The white plague

Frank Herbert
G.P. Putnam , 1982 (my copy is from Tor, 2007)
Size: Average (my copy has 444 pages)
Theme: Drama
Narrative: third-person
Main character: John Roe O’Neill
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

A bomb attack in Ireland kills the wife and daughter of John Roe O’Neill, an American geneticist recently arrived to Ireland on a research grant. News of the American tourist family tragedy flows and is quickly forgotten. But not by John, who decides to share his great pain with the rest of the world. With his scientific knowledge on microbiology and genetics, he develops an innovative virus that targets only women and that leads to a very quick death. He moves on to deploying it in Ireland, Great Britain and Libya, as countries that in some way have contributed to the IRA bombing.

The book follows John as he goes to Ireland to observe the apocalyptic effects of his work. Other major characters include the teams struggling to find a cure in different countries, a couple which manages to isolate themselves from the virus, and a troupe of 3 unique individuals that travel with John for some time through Ireland in an attempt to expose him as the Madman. John goes through an inner conflict as he witnesses the devastating effect the plague had on Ireland. Women have become revered and the most prized 

I enjoyed the story and found the plot enticing and convincing. As is typical of Frank Herbert, this was groundbreaking work for its time. The level of technical details on the plague was appropriate, although some of that content will surely blow past most of the readers who do not have a science background. What I enjoyed the least was the pace of most of the story. A significant part of John’s trip through Ireland’s countryside has a very slow pace and I had to struggle a bit to find the motivation to keep reading. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Anvil of stars

Greg Bear
Warner Books, 1992 (my copy is from Warner Books, 1993)
Size: Average (my copy has 471 pages)
Theme: Space war
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Martin Gordon
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Anvil of stars is the sequel to Forge of God, which had been written 5 years before (see my review). In the end of that first novel, the Earth had been lead to destruction by a war faring mechanical alien race, termed the Killers. A different race, the Benefactors, has been trying to stop them for millennia or, at the very least, save some representatives of each dying species. After rescue, the Benefactors provide a Ship of the Law to a selected group from the survivors of that race to enact the Law, meaning, going after the Killers’ original planet/system and attempting to get revenge on them.

The children/teenagers maintain a rotating system of democratic leadership, and follow a particular moral and ethical code adapted to their situation. Despite the formidable power of the ship, going after an unknown civilization, with no idea of their current level of technology, is not an easy task. The children will encounter different alien races in their voyage, including one with which they will end up working together. As the ship travels along, sensors keep searching each system for proof that the killers might have originated there. But not everything is what it looks like at first glance, and deciding to exterminate planets or systems will be daunting to the children. Maintaining their sanity and health throughout the trip will be equally taxing, and dangers will come as much from outside as from within.

Overall I much enjoyed the novel. It keeps a good pace and provides meaningful characters, which are well explored. What I felt worked less well were the training exercises within the ship… It reminded me of Ender’s Game, but it pales in comparison. One should note that I rate Ender’s Game as one of the top sci-fi novels ever, so I would not expect to be dazzled here. The story is nicely built and there are many technological wonders and alien races to satisfy any sci-fi fan. As a sequel, it works as well as one could expect; the framework, cast, scenario and action are entirely different from the original novel. Also, the dynamics of space travel are very well - and realistically - described.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The dispossessed

Ursula K. LeGuin
Harper, 1974 (my copy is from Eos, 1994)
Size: Average (my copy has 387 pages)
Theme: Interplanetary social drama
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Shevek
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Orbiting each other, Anarres and Urras are two very different worlds. Anarres is a barren planet, with very limited resources, limited water and sparse vegetation. Some generations ago, anarchists from Urras abandoned the strict and settled Anarres. Since then, they have managed to make this new society work, by creating a strong sense of responsibility and common good. Personal and family relationships, ownership of goods, salary, and many other aspects of life are entirely different, and a xenophobic gap has grown between Urras and Anarres. There is a single spaceport that enables a measure of trade between the two societies. However, since the settlement, no one has ever travelled between the two worlds beyond the wall encircling the spaceport.

This is the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist, and the first person from Anarres invited to visit Urras. After struggling for many years to fulfill his role in the Anarres society, his work is finally recognized in that alien world. Decided to take this opportunity to share his knowledge to the benefit of the entire universe, Shevek will have to contend with the Urrasti greed and desire for power.

The plot does not unfold sequentially; it skips from Shevek’s childhood, to his time in Urras, to time he spent with his family before travelling to Urras, and so on. The novel is very interesting, both in how it showcases core issues in the human nature, and also in addressing how a split faction of a society could evolve under radical conditions. The main character is innovative and complex; yet simultaneously, endearing. The secondary cast fills in quite well, although always with a clear focus on Shevek. The pace is appropriate and the descriptions manage to retain your attention. I enjoyed reading it.