Friday, July 30, 2010

What I'm Reading

Friend of mine described a book -- a pair of books -- as having an unusually large and assorted cast and a broad narrative sweep in a well-developed setting of unusual depth and scope. I asked if it was, perhaps, Melissa Scott (possibly one of the most skilled worldbuilders presently writing science fiction, as in, she makes [or made, the website's gone] money teaching the art to others) and he wasn't sure, but offered to loan me the books.

Peter F. Hamilton is not a pseudonym for Ms. Scott; among other details, he's British and it shows in subtle ways. He is, however, quite a worldbuilder himself and appears to have set out to hit as many SF tropes as possible while telling an entertaining and original story. His novels Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained (link goes to Tam's blog; follow her sidebar to Amazon.com, if you would) have the size and scope of an early John W. Campbell novel or something from E.E. "Doc" Smith. Did you like the travel concept behind Tunnel In The Sky or (somewhat) Crawford Kilian's "Chronoplane" novels? It's in there. Long life, in the manner of Heinlein's "Howard Families?" Check. Big Science, Big Capitalism, the struggle for the little guy? Check. Well-integrated direct brain-to-computer interface, realistically used? (Akin to Cherryh's use in Hammerfall and Forge Of Heaven) You'll find it. Strong heroines and stronger heroes (even a Kimball Kinnison analog -- which reminds me of the used of bugs for "bugging," another bit of business you'll find in both Hamilton and Doc Smith). Let's see, what have I missed? A highly-critical little something from Olaf Stapledon's First And Last Men, a visit from elves (! so to speak) and a walk down their paths (!!), a side trip through a leftover Andre Norton ghost world, at least two angles on a Kim Stanley Robinsonesque Mars, an Investigator whose birthworld and person seem strikingly U. K. Le Guin-worthy and a couple of smart-alec inventors who could sneak right into most John Varley novels.

That's just the beginning and yet the work is neither derivative nor parodical. These books are well-written, freewheeling Space Opera (complete with Girl Reporters Gone Wild, Dashing Romantic Heroes and Desperate Struggle Against Impossible Odds -- oh, and chase scenes). I'm about seven-eighths of the way through the second book and I highly recommend them.

(Up next, steampunk epic Boneshaker, thanks to a very kind reader who sent me a copy!)

8 comments:

D.W. Drang said...

Alas, my first introduction to Peter Hamilton was through Start Drek novels, and that's enough to make me leery of reading anything by an author again, even though I know some excellant authors who have picked up a few shekels by cranking one of those things out. (And some of them would stand alone as very good works of fiction, given the chance.)

Boneshaker was interesting. Maybe we can use it as a cautionary tale for why we shouldn't have our very own Big Dig to replace the (admittedly falling apart) Waterfront Viaduct.

Stingray said...

I'm afraid I'd have to say that calling Boneshaker "interesting" is a bit generous. It certainly wasn't a bad book, but I don't think I could call it good either. It occupied some several hundred pages of reading time, and did not make me hurl it across the room with any form of malice, but for me it was only a page turner in that that was the actual mechanism to wade through it.

I'll say no more so as not to spoil or add too much bias, but I look forward to our lovely hostess' review to compare and contrast to my own.

Ed Rasimus said...

If you ever deviate from fiction, you might look at my three offerings. Hardly boring, but not everyone's cup of lager. "Fighter Pilot" covers a romance with a movie star and a life of conflict through two wars and three continents. But then I'm an egotistical blow-hard and tend to like what I write!

D.W. Drang said...

Stingray: Note that Boneshaker is set in Seattle--albeit in a Seattle that never was--in the suburbs of which I happen to reside.

Stingray said...

Fair enough, D.W. Local interest can cover a multitude of sins, and it's not like the book was bad or anything. I imagine I'd get a good couple afternoons out of a tale about the local nuclear labs irritating the Ancient Indian Burial Grounds or some such too.

Mr.B said...

also try the "Night's Dawn" trilogy also by PFH. t

Tim D said...

I like his standalone stuff but I've never been able to slog all the way through the "Night's Dawn" series (which seems to have too many books to be a proper trilogy).

Tim D

Charles Pergiel said...

Jeez, that's more books than I read in a year, and a heck of lot more than I remember.