When I was last sitting under the shade of the tree enjoying a good book, I expressed my fear that I was becoming a China Miéville fanboy. My stated reason was that excepting one book, every time I finished reading one of his I would "review" (I use sarcastic quotation marks on myself because I would hardly regard these as professional reviews) the book. This trend is apparently continuing with Peter F. Hamilton, as with the exception of Mindstar Rising, the first Greg Mandel novel, I've reviewed every book of his I've read. Continuing today with my "review" of his latest offering, the 1086 page tome Great North Road.
Great North Road is the first standalone Peter F. Hamilton book I've read, as he has a habit of writing trilogies it seems. This particular book is set in 2143, kicking off in the not-so-exotic location of Newcastle-upon-Tyne with discovery of the body of a prominent person. Well, sort of. The body belongs to a member of the North family, a family of all-male clones. The body has been stripped of all features that would permit identification, presenting investigating officer Detective Sidney Hurst with the first of many, many mysterious stumbling blocks.
The one identifying trait is the murder weapon/method, which is the same as a murder on the exotic planet of St Libra (linked to Newcastle by a trans-spatial gateway permitting instantaneous travel from one planet to the next) that occurred in 2121. Where the victims were Bartram North, patriarch of one of the three branches of the North family. The second hitch...Angela Tramelo, one of Bartram North's "girlfriends" who survived the massacre on St Libra, was convicted of the crime and has been languishing in Holloway prison all the while.
Things rapidly spiral out of control from there - all through her trial, Tramelo had insisted that she didn't murder Bartram or his household...an alien did. With the implication that this "alien" was involved in a fresh murder in 2143, the Human Defence Alliance descends on the investigation. From there, both Sidney Hurst and Angela Tramelo are dragged into the HDA's hunt for the truth - is there another alien race out to get humanity, or did Tramelo have an accomplice on St Libra?
Now to run away from the plot so I don't post any spoilers and talk about...well, pretty much any damn thing. We'll start with the brief verdict - I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are some damn compelling characters, from the pretty uncomplicated, down-to-earth but incredibly shrewd Detective Sidney Hurst to the incredibly complicated Angela Tramelo. Sprinkled in with the main characters I've mentioned before are some pretty neat supporting characters - HDA officer Colonel Vance Elston, who is convinced Tramelo is hiding the truth behind the events on St Libra, Sidney Hurst's through-and-through Geordie partner Detective Ian Lanagin and the occasional perspective character of surf-shop owner Saul Howard. I could go on, but I might say too much.
So moving over to one of my other favourite topics - setting. I mentioned the gateway concept briefly. In this particular future, Earth is connected to a whole ton of planets by these gateways. We get to "see" a couple of them, but by and large our primary settings are Earth and St Libra. And St Libra is fascinating planet - it has absolutely no indigenous animal life and has what is called "zebra" botany, which are plants that produce both carbon dioxide AND oxygen, making the uninhabited planet a perfectly habitable tropical jungle paradise. St Libra is, if memory serves, slightly bigger than Earth and the star it orbits is younger than our own. All these elements combine to make a strange, unpredictable tropical world...that even has its own rings, akin to those of Saturn's. Though the rocks from these rings have a nasty habit of falling through the atmosphere in an area called "The Fall Zone". But apart from that, the presence of the rings sounds awesome. Especially as St Libra doesn't have any moons. Which is kind of sad. No planet should be without a moon.
I feel should take a moment to talk about the actual writing. You know, style, flow, stuff like that. Now Hamilton is defined, I believe, as Hard Science-Fiction. That means lots of amazing technology (epitomised in Great North Road by the trans-spatial gateways and a funky load of tech called smartcells) and good chunks of description about...well, planets, spaceships, space stations, things like that. And it doesn't detract from a quite gripping narrative. I wouldn't say it's nail-biting, but...it gnaws at you. All those little hints and clues, chewing away at the back of your brain, calling you back to the book so you can find out just what the frak is actually going on. In my eyes, just as good as a book you can't put down. But like I say, fair amounts of description of tech, people and locations. Which is also good, because you get a pretty damn good picture of this twenty-second century world Hamilton has created.
I've reached the point of babbling entropy, so I'm going to wrap things up. Great North Road was pretty damn good, a thoroughly enjoyable yarn. Well worth picking up and devoting a good chunk of time to sitting under that tree and reading it.