The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with a look at his first novel.
My 2001 self didn’t seem to understand the common British use of “gear”.
Raw Feed (2001): Mindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton, 1993.
I was reluctant to read this series even though really liked Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.
Stories about psychic powers have never been my favorite type of science fiction (though my favorite novel, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, features them), and I suspected that protagonist’s Greg Mandel’s psychic abilities would just be too convenient to provide interesting stories.
However, Mandel’s power is really little more than a heightened sense of intuition — a power that fictional detectives frequently have and, usually when seducing women, an ability to empathize.
To be sure, there are more exotic talents here like Gabriel Thompson’s precognitive ability which merely looks at the short term probabilities of certain events and the twins who protect Armstrong from psychic detection. (Hamilton has a Mandel cleverly using Gabriel to save time by having her see what people would say if he were to interview them.
Hamilton, for dramatic purposes, wisely puts limitations on these powers. A surge of internally produced chemicals make the powers possible — and limit them in certain circumstances. In Gabriel’s case, she is pathetically scared to do much or peer far in the future because she usually sees her death. Her reward for helping Mandel is to have the gland which produced the neurohormones necessary for psychic powers removed.
The same techniques that made the Night’s Dawn trilogy so readable are in evidence here in Hamilton’s first published novel. (Hamilton lives in the rural backwater around Rutland, England. Here, following a long sf tradition of featuring the hometown (usually to trash it), Rutland is transformed to the center of much intrigue and action and its one of the more economically vital areas of this future England.)
To be sure, Hamilton certainly does not follow John W. Campbell’s dictum that tales set in the future should read as if they’re written for readers of that time. Hamilton frequently works in dollops of history and background detail. Yet it is the large accumulation of those details which makes his world’s seem so real. Not only do we get lots of descriptions of buildings and landscapes but (and I think this is one of his strong points, a talent deployed by too few writers) details of future economics and business dealings.
To be sure, he’s rather vague on a lot of technology — his bioware and the exact functioning of computers — and his plot is a combination of detective story and cyberpunk and military operation that reminded me of S.A. Swann’s Moreau trilogy, but it works here.
He also does a nice job with his characters. He takes the refreshing tact of Eleanor and Greg meeting at the beginning of the story and their meeting having nothing to do with Mandel’s work for the very wealthy Julia Evans and her grandfather. The young Julia’s crush on Mandel and her whole personality of an enhanced (she has computer implants to aid her recall and thinking), but inexperienced, girl who inherits a business empire was well done in its vacillations of confidence and doubt and arrogance. She reminded me a lot of another young, beautiful head of a powerful empire: Ione Saldana in the Night’s Dawn trilogy.
I liked the background of this world — England recovering from ten years of disastrous, vicious, impoverished rule under the egalitarian People’s Socialist Party (and also the problems of the little detailed Credit Crash, flooding caused by the Antarctic icecap melting, and the war against the Islamic Jihad in which Mandel served). It seemed a very plausible world, and I think Hamilton partly based it on the English Civil War and its aftermath (there’s even reference to the “Second Restoration”) and also (at least in the early ’90s when this book was published) expectations about the future of ex-communist countries.
I think Hamilton’s one weakness is the nomenclature of his future. Too much of it is clumsy Greek sounding neologisms like “gigaconducter” (which was never adequately explained as a power storage medium for spaceflight; it’s obviously a derivative of superconductor). “Gear” is an implausible sounding word though, for all I know, it may be a current generic British term for electronic devices. “Lightware” is obviously a reference to optically based computer systems and the “ware” of “hardware” and “software”, but it also didn’t sound like a term that would actually enjoy wide use.