Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Great North Road

Great North Road
Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Speculative Fiction/Crime Thriller/Murder Mystery/Science Fiction
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Fans of Peter F. Hamilton, those who enjoy an epic story, science fiction/speculative fiction
Trigger Warnings: murder, torture (mostly by drugs, but some physical)
Animal Abuse: people flee and leave behind their cats to fend for themselves, leading to the cats freezing to death

This is a fairly long review, but then again, it's a really long book. The important stuff is in “My Thoughts”; you can skip the rest if you want.

My Thoughts: Call me a hopeless optimist. I've read a number of Peter Hamilton's trilogies, and even a few of his rare stand-alone books (like this one), and been blown away by them up until about the last quarter of the final book (or the very end, as the case may be), where he inevitably pulls out a deus ex machina after painting himself into a corner. However, the stories are always so awesome up to that point that I just keep picking the books up and keep hoping that this time... this time he'll do it right. And, to my delight, he did! While the very last chapter is a bit puzzling, and makes me wonder if we'll ever learn what happened during those 225 years, this story had a great ending.

Am I the only one for whom political correctness is a real pain? I don't mean the idea behind it—after all speaking mindfully is a good thing—but the excesses that some people insist upon? For instance: Charmonique Passam, who declared the term “Human Resources” offensive and should be changed to the “Office for Personkind Enablement”. “Human” is fairly easy to understand—after all, it does include “man”—but her reasoning behind the offensiveness of “Resources” is that it makes one think of something one digs from the ground, and since so many minerals and such are rare... Seriously? I'm also thinking of the moment where Sid first sees Vance Elston and describes him internally as Afro-American. Well, the reader knows this is true, that Vance is from Texas, but how does Sid know? Sid is, after all, in England, leading an English crew and expecting someone in from Brussels, not the US. So why Afro-American? That seems to me to be an author desperately wanting to ingratiate himself with a certain demographic. He also tends to carefully point out the race of his characters, which I find troublesome. I've noticed that elsewhere lately there is a trend to avoid the sorts of descriptions that would pinpoint a race; I've read books where I've been almost to the end before reading a specific character is of African or Indian or Asian descent, and I think that sort of “color blindness” is a better way to work things than to so carefully let people know, because honestly? Their race isn't important; their character is. But that's just me. Anyway, for a good example of that sort of non-description, see London Falling by Paul Cornell (review linked here where formatting allowed). While I found the extreme lack of physical description occasionally disorienting, I did appreciate that the author didn't constantly mention the races of his characters.

I noticed that some weird things have changed by 2143, 130 years in the future. For instance, the word cafetière is now spelled cafeteer instead of French press. The waters of the Tyne manage to avoid freezing despite a long stretch of sub-zero temperatures (although the waterfall on the North property does freeze). But people apparently still use the term “WTF”. Fascinating.

I had a difficult time engaging with this book initially. I was almost a third of the way through it before it really grabbed my attention, and that took me three days. There was no specific fault that caused this, I just kept finding my mind drifting away, finding myself re-reading sections over and over again to try to make them stick. The typical Hamilton approach of throwing huge casts at the reader certainly doesn't help, as it makes it difficult to really connect to any specific person right away. However, the advantage to the length of the book is that even with this method, eventually all the characters are introduced and developed and the reader can begin to understand them.

That said, once it caught me, it really caught me, and as I mentioned above, this story probably had the best-done ending of any Peter F. Hamilton book I've read thus far (and I've read a number of them). If you, like me, enjoy his writing style but are continually frustrated by the ending, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this one. I would like to know the meaning and history behind the happenings in the final chapter, but life isn't always tied up in a neat bow, and even the best-told story will leave questions if done properly. Overall I can recommend the story. If you're interested, check it out.

Disclosure: I received a paperback ARC from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family—composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone “brothers” have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.

Or maybe not so friendly. At least that’s what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who’d like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he’ll make enough enemies to ruin his career.

Yet Sid’s case is about to take an unexpected turn: because the circumstances of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to a killing that took place years ago on the planet St. Libra, where a North clone and his entire household were slaughtered in cold blood. The convicted slayer, Angela Tramelo, has always claimed her innocence. And now it seems she may have been right. Because only the St. Libra killer could have committed the Newcastle crime.

Problem is, Angela also claims that the murderer was an alien monster.

Now Sid must navigate through a Byzantine minefield of competing interests within the police department and the world’s political and economic elite . . . all the while hunting down a brutal killer poised to strike again. And on St. Libra, Angela, newly released from prison, joins a mission to hunt down the elusive alien, only to learn that the line between hunter and hunted is a thin one.

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