Monday, December 22, 2008

Peter F. Hamilton's Paradox

I've been reading quite a bit of British SF recently. I'm still not sure that I like it.

Peter F. Hamilton never fails to weave a compelling tale. So far I've read his Novel Fallen Dragon, the Commonwealth Saga, and a third of his Night's Dawn Trilogy. All are in the Space Opera genre.

From these books I have concluded that his greatest talent lies as a world builder. Unfortunately this leads to his greatest flaw, excessive bloat in his novels. What is bloat? Basically it's the fluff inserted in what should be a 300 page novel that makes it into a 700 page novel. So many times when reading these books I had to fight the urge to just skip a few pages. For instance, every transition in narrative is lead by a description of the planet, region, city, neighbourhood, or any of those in combination, no matter if he has previously introduced the area. Such a description can range from the cultural to the economic, the political to the personal, or the geographic to the biological.

Fine, that at least can add to the atmosphere. What really gets me are the long segments where politics and economics are discussed. It's kinda like watching CSPAN or asking an accountant how his day went.

Another major annoyance I have found with Peter Hamilton's novels is the constant shifting of POV (point of view) between a large number of characters. In the larger novels there can be so many characters that when the narrative shifts I'm often left wondering, "Who is this?"

Potential readers should also be warned that Hamilton's work is rife with violence and fairly graphic sex.

So now let me get to the point implicit in the title of this post:

My favourite Hamilton work so far is Fallen Dragon. It's gritty and often quite dark, yet I found it compelling and the characters easy to relate to. Also, it has a unique set up regarding space travel in that while FTL (Faster than Light) travel is available, it's too expensive. Furthermore they don't have artificial gravity so travellers must cope with the effects of zero gravity. However, the plot of revolves around one huge chronological paradox.

(Major spoiler alert!)

Okay, here's a quick rundown of the sequence of events that lead to the paradox (please, if you haven't read the book, don't read any further):

A rich teenager finds out that his dad hired a girl to be his girlfriend (remind me again why he hates his dad) so he runs away. To get off planet a friend of his gives him some very powerful hacking software. A violent military career follows until he travels to a planet where he finds out that the hacking software came from alien technology. More plot ensues, he learns about an alien time portal which he uses to go back in time to before he left his home planet. Using technology gained from the aliens he makes himself young again but changes his identity and becomes the friend that gave himself the alien software to begin with.

So how does that work? He's only able to leave his home planet in the first place because he's given the alien technology. But his future-self wouldn't get the technology unless he left his home planet. So how does the cycle begin? Furthermore, he wouldn't be aware of or be able to infilitrate the base of the humans using the technology without having the technology himself.

Rating for Fallen Dragon:

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