Since the latest Peter F. Hamilton door jamb of a novel is on its way to me, I suppose its time to dig into the archives for material on the Hamilton titles I haven’t reviewed yet.
I won’t be doing it in their order of publication but the order I read them.
Raw Feed (1999): A Second Chance at Eden, Peter F. Hamilton, 1998.
“Introduction” — A brief account of the origin of this collection as a series of previously unrelated stories built around the concept of “affinity technology”.
“Sonnie’s Edge” — Gladiatorial combat stories have a fairly long history in sf, and this story is in that tradition. The important thing about working in such a sub-genre is that you do it with flare and bring something new to the idea. Hamilton largely succeeds on both counts. Here the combat is between engineered beasts (with just enough vital organs to keep them functioning in combat and things like liver and kidneys relegated to support pods hooked up between bouts), beasts controlled by affinity links which are cloned organisms implanted in two parties to enable a sort of telepathy. In this case, though, it’s not true telepathy since the beasts have no sentience and microprocessors to run part of their bodies. However, their handlers experience most of their sensations and use them as vehicles of surrogate combat. The “edge” of the title is the revelation that the narrator has her brain in the combat beast and not safely on the sidelines as is usually the case. Fear of death and damage is the edge. The main peculiarity of this story is a stylistic one. For reasons I can’t fathom, Hamilton, just as Sonnie is assaulted by the Spetsnaz assassin girl, shifts first person viewpoint to the girl than back to Sonnie. The twist end of the story works (Sonnie’s brain in the beast), but I think it could be managed without the jarring shift of viewpoints.
“A Second Chance at Eden” — After reading this story, I can see why people make a fuss over Hamilton. In this story, he packs on an amazing amount of not only scientific and technological speculation (foremost the whole idea of a space colony grown from a modified coral polyp), but he also grounds that speculation in a believable matrix of plausibly extrapolated cultural, religious, and social speculation. Hamilton is also good at creating plausible characters with believable motives. He only falls down a bit in a couple of areas. Narrator and police chief, Harvey Parfitt, seems to provide too many infodumps and information (not that I mind infodumps) for what is ostensibly a story told for a contemporary audience. However, this can be rationalized stylistically in a couple of ways. First, he’s a detail oriented policeman. Secondly, the narrative may be for posterity since Parfitt is present for Wing-Tsit Chang’s transference of his consciousness to Eden’s neural strata and the events that trigger Eden’s independence. The second flaw is Hamilton’s use of that old plot cliché of the detective sleeping with a woman, Hoi Yin, he meets in the course of the investigation. However, I think he handles the cliché fairly well giving it a context of marital trouble, trouble of interesting nature since the Parfits disagree on the morality of the affinity bonds that form the basis of Eden’s culture. And I like that ultimately Parfitt loves his wife even more than Eden and returns to Earth. Hamilton does an interesting turnabout at story’s end. After the traditional sf hostility against religion, the demonstration of the emotional (in an almost clichéd free love mode) and psychological experience of Eden’s affinity bonds in a most intimate way with Parfitt’s and Hoi Yin’s sexual union, we find, at story’s end, that maybe Cooke had a point. Here the Unified Christian Church is represented in Eden by Father Cooke. He is represented as a good man who does not believe the residents of Eden are evil, but whose fears that affinity technology will lead humanity into a hubristic reliance on itself for its spiritual and psychological needs. Eden’s new culture and independence are triggered by a murder committed by the beloved Ching who practices a type of Buddhism. He kills the creator of Hoi Yin (engineered, originally, to be a geisha) who he regards as unfit to merge, as he does, with Eden. Chong decides his victim Maowkanitz is just not the sort he wants in on the ground floor of his new civilization. At the very least, I’m ambivalent about Ching’s action. Parfitt seems even more disturbed. At story’s end, he calls Eden flawed, its children (in an allusion to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”) “naked”, and sees earth, in all its flaws, inviting.
“New Days Old Times” — The title of the story states the theme: new technology and space colonization can not eliminate old problems like ethnic hatreds which, here, spring up on a colony world. Like his “A Second Chance at Eden”, this story has an almost conservative message. Here ethnic tensions are exacerbated by Earth’s Govcentral forcing ethnic groups to integrate and live side by side.
“Candy Buds” — This is a biter-bitten story as a mobster on a colony world is killed, not entirely unexpectedly, by the step-daughter of an old victim. The story is written in the present tense. The present tense seems well-suited to depict obsessions, here the sexual obsession of the old Laurus for Torreya before he discovers she’s his daughter.
“Deathday” — I liked the background of this story: a colonization development corporation goes broke when the target’s star turns out to be surprisingly variable and causes ice ages less than five thousand years apart. The story’s protagonist spends his days stalking a xenoc (an indigenous lifeform in Hamilton’s nomenclature), a shapeshifting and possibly sentient lifeform, who spends its days and nights tormenting the protagonist – and desecrating the memory and body of the hero’s dead wife. This is very probably in vengeance for the colonization corporation releasing a virus that killed 90% of the planet’s animals. (It was supposed to kill a dinosaur-like predator.) The xenoc seems to have a natural affinity bond with the hero. The story reaches a horrifying conclusion when the xenoc’s eggs hatch (after the creature is killed), and the new xenoc’s, a meter tall, try to impersonate the hero’s wife. However, Hamilton sort of spoils the horror by having tiny impersonations of the hero kill the protagonist.
“The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa” — An interesting tale of obsession, doomed obsession in this case around the theme that “life is about cycles”. Squeamish terrorist Eason, on the run with anti-matter stolen from his ex-comrades-in-arms, stumbles upon the island of Charmaine with its custom engineered lifeforms built by a dead owner. Charmaine is populated by the fortune-telling, self-described “bitch” Tiarella Rosa and her daughter Althea whom Eason unexpectedly falls in love. However, he is unexpectedly supplanted by Mullen, a local boy. Eason finds out he has been an unwitting part of a bizarre scheme for Rosa to relive her life and restore the fortunes of Charmaine. Rosa’s father, the genetic engineering genius behind the island’s lifeforms, cloned Rosa and her dead lover. The Rosa clone became Althea. The clone of Vanstone, Rosa’s dead husband, was sent away and become Mullen. Eason was there to sexually awaken and educate Althea – as an old pre-Vanstone lover did with Rosa – before being supplanted by Mullen. It’s an interesting story about many things: how our loves may be fated by biology and not the whims of chance, trying to relive and redeem our lives through clones with environments engineered to duplicate our pasts, and the question of whether free will can be divorced from both genetic and environmental influences.
“Escape Route” — A suspenseful story about an attempt to decipher the secrets of an abandoned alien spaceship. Complications are a group of mercenaries on the Lady Macbeth to covertly look for fissionable materials in an asteroid belt so a colony can use nukes to blackmail their way to freedom. The mercs and ship’s captain are the only ones to recognize that the wonders of the 13, 000 year old derelict will totally upset the current political and economic order. The mercs understandably see wealth and the opportunity to abandon their missions. Marius Calvert, the ship’s captain, doesn’t think the ship represents wealth, just chaos. The ship, in a rather clichéd end, is destroyed. Calvert’s pessimism is never really explained unless he thinks any medium of wealth he puts his new money in may become obsolete in the forthcoming economic turmoil, or he may want to preserve the Confederation.