Book review: “Great North Road” by Peter Hamilton

Image result for great north road bookThey say that those who are not politically left while young, have no heart, and those who are not on the right while old have no intellect. Eminent space opera write Peter Hamilton is certainly clever; he is 58.

The book is a sprawling as usual, 1000 pages whodunit. It set at the end of the 22nd century in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK where I used to live.  I was happy to follow the familiar street descriptions especially of “ancient buildings” that were being built while I lived there.

There are also original evil aliens that are light years ahead of usual insects on spaceships with lasers, but there’s not enough of them.

But among smart dust that covers Newcastle streets and records every breath some features are curiously retro. The civilisation that spread to numerous star systems via space-time portals still heavily depends on oil, it grows oil-producing algae on tropical planets. It also transports welfare recipients off Earth giving them some land and a tent on virgin soil, 18th-century style.

Newcastle and the rest of Britain are also heavily under snow, which is never explained but reads like a dig at climate change science. The future people mastered human cloning (an interesting plot device but with unrealistic details as the clones manage to propagate themselves via normal conception) but not clean energy retrieval and storage.

A recent example of similar projection of technology and social progress stagnation is Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man”.  But while I can excuse an early 19th-century genre pioneer, I cannot extend my magnanimity to the 21st-century professional.

The book is also transparently anti-EU, not as much as Neal Asher’s (57) The Departure but close. There are repeated lengthy descriptions of how one of the main protagonist, a detective, as well as everybody and his dog,  evade taxes because they are too high while complaining about crumbling infrastructure. My heart refuses to bleed for somebody who’s using proceeds of corruption for buying a 5 bedroom house for 4 people in a  Newcastle district that is currently an equivalent of Manhattan.

Not completely incidentally the totally evil, caricature character, a bureaucrat is a woman, and she is the only female figure of authority. An occasional soldier or detective is female, but the central female character is a blonde, elfin femme fatale who wraps male character around her finger – sometimes literally – using her feminine wiles.

The book is ponderous, meandering and long, and around page 200 I started to count pages until the end. Hamilton has never been a concise writer, but I swallowed his “Night Dawn” trilogy, 3000+ pages without any problem and wanted more.

I gave up on page 350 after an underwhelming revelation,  and yet another one description of porn – like  (mechanistic and without any feeling) – sex, in the middle of Green  Zone set in an alien jungle. If you want quality humane SF, you’d better read Sevenaves by Neal Stephenson (58).


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