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Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Great North Road" by Peter Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


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. 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. 

On the other hand his standalone novel Fallen Dragon had great promise and a sweet wish fulfilling ending but ultimately lacked the sophistication of his main series as it was structurally weaker, so when another standalone, Great North Road, with the blurb below was announced, I was both very excited and a little worried how it will go.

"In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra. 

 Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo. But the expedition is cut off, deep within St Libra’s rainforests. Then the murders begin. Someone or something is picking off the team one by one. Angela insists it’s the alien, but her new colleagues aren’t so sure. Maybe she did see an alien, or maybe she has other reasons for being on St Libra ... In this stunning, standalone adventure, Peter F. Hamilton blends fast-paced narrative with vividly imagined future-worlds"

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: On finishing my first read of Great North Road, I was a little mixed: an addictive but very self-indulgent read, a new universe and a somewhat fresh take on the author's usual themes - long life, the rich, sense of wonder, detailed world building, "alien aliens" - but also same thematic repetitions becoming a bit too much; not to speak of pages after pages dedicated to the burning issue of identifying a missing taxi in the all-around surveillance world of the 2300's... 

I also thought that Great North Road was a book that should have been slimmed down considerably and could have easily done with much less from the Newcastle police investigation which takes probably about half the novel and gets very boring after a while. Similarly the parochial mannerisms from that thread are funny once or twice but get tired quite fast, with "pet" the worst offender by a lot.

On the second read when you know that you can skip a lot of the bloat and lose nothing, the novel improved in so far I knew to avoid the large chunk dealing with the Newcastle police investigation and just focus on Angela's saga which is actually excellent, so I suggest the following strategy to all the new readers, strategy that will improve considerably in my opinion your experience of Great North Road:

Read Angela's story and only browse through the Newcastle investigation; especially if you get stalled early into the book, start at page 232 and look up the first chapter with Angela in prison and then skip everything that takes place in Newcastle - no loss as anyway what happens there is updated for the heroes of the space opera part in a few lines every now and then - except towards the end when the stories converge; this way you will have one of the most gripping reads of the author as the space opera/planetary adventure part is superb.

The many details that add depth to the world building - the billionaire only planet Monaco - of course with lots of "non-citizen" help, the North clone brothers, their different paths and their many progeny which emphasize how the super rich will be always different, the personal story of Angela and of course lots more - are vintage Hamilton and I cannot emphasize enough how good are those 600 pages dedicated to the alien/Angela thread.

The tuckerization of fans and Tor people is a nice inside joke and it's good to see the coming of age of the online community expressed this way in important novels like Great North Road or Dance with Dragons; if you are not aware of this, it's worth digging a little for details.

Overall, Great North Road is a highly recommended novel of 2012, while missing my top 25 where I had expected it to place.


Yvonne said...

I am only 300 pages in and agree with the comment in relation to the annoying use of "pet". A bit of an overkill in my opinion.
The investigation in Newcastle is becoming a bit tiresome, but I am thoroughly intrigued with Angela and her story - this promises to be the real "guts" of the tale.
I keep getting the feeling that it has been written deliberately to translate to the screen; unlike his previous works which were are are my favourite SCI Fi reads and written unashamedly as books pure and simple. Will see how it progresses!

Liviu said...

someone from the area said that "pet" is a real common Newcastle used all the time term, but still I would have cut it out for the rest of us who frankly do not really care...

Anonymous said...

I'm about 750 pages in. I like the Newcastle bits quite a lot. I think the police procedural aspect of the story is very strong. The "pet" isn't annoying at all to me, although the "crap on that" is.

I agree that it could have been a bit more tightly written - but long, maybe overly long, books is almost Hamilton's signature feature.

Anonymous said...

I am only at page 250 and what I really would have appreciated is a glossary explaining the huge list of acronyms that the author constantly uses.I am forever having to flip backwards to remind myself what the various abbreviations mean. Also without wishing to get political I wish Peter Hamilton had been a bit more revolutionary with respect to the Israel/Palestine conflict. 2047 and still no mention of Palestine on an equal footing with Israel. A pity.

Anonymous said...

I've just finished the book and enjoyed it a lot. I'd like a sequel as I think the Angela character was excellent.

Regarding skipping the Newcastle police station sections, I'm not entirely sure I agree, but I'm sympathetic as I had the same reaction to the void trilogy and on the second read, skipped all the Edeard sections.

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