Sunday, 14 October 2012

Curled Up Next to the Fire: A Quantum Murder

It's that old temporal mechanics trick again. It's been a little while since I've done my little "literary" segment of the blog. Such a little while, in fact, that seasons have changed and the title has come full circle from spring/summer's "Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree" to autumn/winter's "Curled Up Next to the Fire". I mean it is rather a tad chilly down here. If I had a fire and the time to relax curled up next to it, I would. But alas and begone with these lamentations, I have a book to talk about.

Today I'm going to babble about A Quantum Murder by British sci-fi author Peter F. Hamilton. First, a tiny bit of rambling context.

I've been trying to expand my sci-fi reading horizons for a good while now. I'll be honest, I watch far more sci-fi than I read. The journey began in 2007, as I was going to university, when I obtained William Gibson's irrefutably genius debut novel, Neuromancer. Since then, the road has been slow going, winding, but in the last year or two, I've been making far more steady progress. And in all the hours (cumulative, not continuous) I've spent in the little sci-fi section in the local Waterstone's (I refuse to adhere to their new spelling/punctuation thing, it's stupid), my eyes eventually came to continually rest upon the second book in the Greg Mandel Series and its intriguing title, A Quantum Murder.

Now I'm a little bit on the borderline of being OCD. I've reached a point where I can't read books in a series out of sync, not without good reason. So when I picked up A Quantum Murder, read the enticing blurb on the back then caught the part that said "Volume Two", I cursed and had to put it down. Luckily volume one, Mindstar Rising, was right next to it.

In classic whimsical style, I didn't blog about Mindstar Rising, though it was a very enjoyable book. So it gets this honourable mention before I blab on about A Quantum Murder.

Okay, so we're down with rambling context. Time for the relevant context.

From dates given in A Quantum Murder, I've surmised that the book is set around 2044, in a slightly broken England. It's decades since an event called the Warming caused sea levels to rise and changed not only coastline of Britain, but the entire climate as well. It's now a tropical paradise...or would be if the entire country wasn't emerging from a decade of communist rule under the People's Socialist Party (PSP), who aren't the novel's villains but their legacy and villainy pervade throughout.

The novel focuses on the murder of one Doctor Edward Kitchener, a renowned "quantum cosmologist" and general eccentric physics genius. It's one of those impossible murders - the security at his remote lab facility was too great for any of his potential enemies/rivals to get in. Which leaves his six resident students as the only likely suspects.

One of Kitchener's former students, a prominent scientist for British megacorporation Event Horizon, pulls some strings (namely runs to his boss, teenage billionaire Julia Evans) and Greg Mandel is brought in as a consultant. Greg is an empath - courtesy of a funky do-da called a neurohormone gland put into his head by the British Army, he is able to sense people's emotions. Not quite psychic but close enough to that he's able to sense whether or not any of the students have committed the murder.

Now it's probably been mentioned that I like superpowers and superpower related stuff. So to find a sci-fi novel set in Britain with a psychic protagonist...I was intrigued. After reading and thoroughly enjoying Mindstar Rising, I was looking forward to A Quantum Murder and I wasn't disappointed. A Quantum Murder was on a slightly smaller scale than Mindstar Rising, less jetting around and all, but there was plenty of psychic powers, intrigue and action to keep me occupied. But one of the most fascinating parts for me is England itself, the way Peter F. Hamilton manages to make this mundane country I live in sound so exotic and broken. It's been noted before when I've blabbed on about China MiƩville and William Gibson, I have this tendency to get wrapped up in the setting. When a writer can create an incredible atmosphere and sense of place, unique even if I've been there and know exactly what it's all about, well, that's something a little bit special to me. Hamilton's 2040s broken (not dystopian, not anymore anyway) England is an engrossing place. Never has Peterborough (headquarters of Event Horizon and practically the focal point for England's fledgling economy) sounded so...well, important. It's never felt really...on the map for me (sorry, Peterborough. Nothing personal).

In some form of conclusion, I really enjoyed A Quantum Murder. There's one more novel in the Greg Mandel Series - The Nano Flower. Depending on how that ends, I might be sad that there aren't any more Greg Mandel novels. I've been rather enjoying them.

Right, time to stoke the fire and get reading so there can be a next time...

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