Thursday, 18 April 2013
BOOK REVIEW -SCIENCE FICTION: GREAT NORTH ROAD by PETER HAMILTON (2012, 1087pps)
So how could I resist an SF novel with large chunks of it set in Newcastle 130 years from now, especially with a title like that?
(For newcomers to this blog, I should explain that I live in the City of Sunderland, a mere 12 miles south east of Newcastle. Both cities boast prominent football teams which are arch-rivals, particularly their fans and just last weekend Sunderland, the under-dogs, beat their rivals 3-0 away at Newcastle. As a result a few hundred Newcastle fans trashed their own city centre which gives you an idea of the mentality of the Newcastle United supporter. This has nothing to do with the review, I just wanted to mention it.
(On the other hand, the Great North Road refers to the A1 which starts down south and continues all the way up to Scotland. The Romans built the first one nearly two thousand years ago. In this novel, however, it also refers to a road that leads to another planet on which the rest of the novel takes place.)
You may have noted the page length of the novel. This does not include those pages devoted to the timeline prior to the start of the novel nor the list of key characters and their functions (e.g. detective). It's a very long book which took me only five days to finish.
As I don't do long reviews -I write reviews not criticism- it's very difficult to briefly summarise the plot. But I'll do my best.
It's triggered by the discovery of a body, one of a clone family of industrialists, who has been murdered in a unique way that was only seen once before and the woman found guilty of the early murders, which included another clone, is still in prison; also the clone can not be identified. A local detective is put in charge of the case and what is discovered prompts a military expedition to a colonised world, which provides vast quantities of bio-fuel, in search of a previously undiscovered deadly alien species and is accessed via the Newcastle gateway.
Woah! That's not bad even if I say so myself.
Of course it doesn't begin to even hint at the richness and complexity of this terrific piece of SF. There are so many things that Hamilton does so well.
His portrayal of the not quite near future is comprehensible and accessible. My view of the future is that it's not unlike the present only with twiddly bits. Not that many years ago I took my first look at Sunderland's new bus station from which is visible a new shopping complex and it looked like the future as seen from 1950's illustrations. And yet in between bus station and shopping centre were several buildings which have remained pretty much unchanged in nearly 60 years or more. The future, with twiddly bits. People still go to pubs and chat up women while every dust mote is a camera watching everything. Well, almost. Many car accidents are caused by drunks who won't let the car drive itself.
He doesn't lay it on with a trowel but global warming has given the north of England long winters full of blizzards and snow drifts and short hot summers.
The main foci of the novel are the detective and his team trying to solve the murder and identify the victim and the story of the woman, who was found guilty of the original murders and claimed it was an alien, who goes to the alien world with the military expedition. In one sense it's a mystery novel set in the future with both plot strands essentially being attempts to solve a mystery which ultimately has one solution.
Hamilton uses his flashbacks well, revealing only part of an incident which suggests one thing only to show something different when it is continued. Characters who appear to belong to different subplots are revealed to be closely connected. Sometimes they're even the same person.
Frankly I stand in awe of the author who juggles so many different things yet manages to bring them all together in what is finally revealed as a gloriously woven tapestry.
If you want a book to lose yourself in, this is it.