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Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Manhattan in Reverse" by Peter Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Peter Hamilton Website
Order Manhattan in Reverse HERE
Read FBC Review of The Dreaming Void
Read FBC Review of The Temporal Void

INTRODUCTION: Peter Hamilton needs no introduction since he is one of today's leading science fiction writers and the ‘King’ of modern space opera. Even his second tier space operas are head and shoulders above most everything written in the genre. But at his best like in The Night's Dawn trilogy which is my all time favorite finished sff series, or in “Pandora's Star” with its vividly described future and multilayered plotlines that converge in so many interesting and unexpected ways, the author evokes a sense of wonder that is unrivaled…
Manhattan in Reverse is the author's second collection after the superb A Second Chance at Eden which brought together all the stories related to his Night's Dawn universe. While in Manhattan in Reverse, the Commonwealth stories - most notably the two Paula Myo ones - have an unifying theme, the rest are more eclectic and do not have any commonality beyond "sense of wonder".

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As I have read each story here close to original publication, I will present each story with comments including how they stood out the test of time for me.

Watching Trees Grow (very good) - Justin Raleigh is murdered in his quarters but police and the family representative Edward Raleigh cannot figure why; this happens in an alternate 18th century, where the Roman Empire never fell, technology developed quicker and consequently people are already much longer lived - here we see an embryonic form of the author's immortality theme that is so prominent in the Commonwealth and Void series. The story goes on in flashes for centuries, technology advances, Edward Raleigh is still around and the murder is still unsolved for a long time; an apt title and a story that still resonates though mostly for its world building than for the generic characters.

Footvote (mediocre) - a new planet is to be colonized by people escaping Earth's economic hardships, but there is one man that controls the entrance through the unique wormhole there. He makes some rules that reveal more of the author's beliefs than make sense; could be read as a parody I guess but it is mighty unimpressive otherwise, though it is quite short and thankfully ends fast.

If at First... - (excellent) - a sweet riff on the themes of time travel and multiple universes; would not do to spoil it beyond that but it brought a smile to my face when I read it long time ago; sure, it's a bit wish fulfillment but to be honest a lot of what Mr. Hamilton writes is anyway.

The Forever Kitten (pointless) - the shortest story of the collection and written to some stringent page limits for some mainstream magazine from what I remember and it shows; waste of creative talent here.

Blessed by an Angel (excellent; recounted in The Dreaming Void too) - the conception and birth of Inigo. Great overview of Commonwealth life between the end of Judas Unchained and the start of The Dreaming Void too. This can constitute a great introduction to the Void trilogy though it needs the Commonwealth books for full appreciation.

The Demon Trap (best story of the collection) - Quintessential Paula Myo in action on a colony world. This can constitute a great introduction to the Commonwealth duology that starts in Pandora's Star, but the main attraction is seeing at novella length why Paula is one the author's greatest characters and arguably the best of the whole Commonwealth/Void universe.

Manhattan in Reverse (very good) - The one new offering in the collection, this story takes place right after the end of Judas Unchained, when Paula Myo finds herself mighty unpopular for prosecuting and convicting a war hero for the recently discovered crimes of his youth. So she is "advised" by a senior Dynasty member to take a break and as it happens he knows the right place for Paula to go; while not quite a police matter, there is a puzzle with some non-sentient natives and their recent interactions with the human colonizers; an apt title gives a clear clue at how the story goes, while the tale remains very entertaining to the end.

Overall, Manhattan in Reverse (A+) is a great collection which brings together all the author's output at short length after the Night's Dawn series and I would highly recommend it for both fans and readers that are interested to see what the fuss is about Mr. Hamilton's doorstopper novels. Three very good to outstanding novellas and two excellent novelettes offer lots of value with the mediocre offerings being precisely and of course very unsurprisingly those at short to very short length.


Straker said...

You've sold me, though unfortunately the collection isn't available in the US until the end of February 2012. I loved Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, and I'll look forward to reading the Commonwealth stories in this volume before moving on to the Void trilogy.

Ron Buckmire said...

Me too...I wasn't as big a fan of the Void books (well the way it ended mostly) but I love the Judas Unchained/Pandora's Star saga.

I wish he would write more in the Night's Dawn universe...

Anyway, any more of Paula Myo I can get and I will be there!


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