I have loosely dubbed 2018 as “year of the big books.” Mostly, these big books are novels which have languished on my shelves because of the long-term commitment they require. I have already accepted that I won’t get through fifty this year as approximately 10-12 of these novels clocking in at an average of 600 pages apiece will surely slow down the pace. That’s about 20-24 standard length books, and closer to 50-60 science fiction novels of the 60s and 70s. All said, this year’s big book enterprise begins with Peter F Hamilton’s standalone novel Fallen Dragon. He’s known for (only) writing tomes, so this isn’t a surprise. He’s also the big kuhana of sci-fi in the UK.
In the far-flung future of the 25th century, interstellar travel is old hat. In fact, its margins have shrunken to the point that only privateers commissioned by some of Earth’s biggest debt collectors can turn a profit which is euphemistically known as “asset realization.” Sergeant Lawrence Newton is one such pirate on a mission to recoup income for his company, Zantiu-Braun. But he has a secretly lucrative motivation as well. Alternatively, Denise Ebourn, a native of the planet where Newton and his gang intend to begin their looting, is plotting to foil him and the rest of the company’s plans. Espionage and intrigue in the ever-pursuit of money and knowledge are sure to ensue.
The narrative rotates primarily between Lawrence and Denise (but quite a many others in limited roles) as they plot, experience, and inhabit the vast universe that Hamilton has founded. In a turn from what I’ve read recently, Hamilton digs into some very hard science. We’re talking page-long paragraphs (sometimes multiple pages) explaining a concept. To some, this is what science-fiction should be (and to those, I say, go you!), but for me, well, sometimes I think the reason I became a writer was so that I could avoid math as much as possible. It makes me tired. So while it’s not my forte, I do endorse writers who can produce it with such aplomb. Also, there’s this: I’m always always always a fan a story over everything else. Anything within a story that gets in the way of the story, for me, is an unwanted distraction. My kind of science fiction novel is where the science is relevant, even necessary, but cannot override the story as the most important feature. A concept where I thought Hamilton excelled in providing science to build up and enhance the story was with the Zantiu-Braun soldier’s combat suits. Also known as “Skin,” these somewhat amphibiously described outfits equip each individual soldier with an almost impenetrable armor, a self-sustaining life-support system, telemetric communication with every other soldier, and all the weapons and ammunition you can shake an alien antenna at. Of course, as with any super-technology, the greatest reader satisfaction comes with learning that technology’s weakness and limitations: How do you kill an invincible soldier? It kept me reading.
While there were several other futuristic advances that I thought Hamilton placed and paced well (colonization, computer software, ecology), I do think the novel could have been about a hundred pages shorter and not lacked anything. There was a solid block of fifty pages of adolescent sensuality reminiscent of Kvothe’s heady romance with Felurian in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear. In both places I kept saying, “Enough with the sex already! I get the picture.” But aside from this, the novel is well written, and characterization consistent.
Last year, I started a campaign of reading many standalone novels by various sci-fi/fantasy authors in order to glean an understanding or scope of the individual author’s work and there place in the genre’s as a whole. However, after reading Peter F Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon, the jury is still out. I didn’t love this book, but I enjoyed and appreciated it enough that it means I’ll have to read another by him.
A reasonable endorsement. 3/5 stars.