The Peter F. Hamilton series continues with the conclusion of the Greg Mandel trilogy.
Raw Feed (2001): The Nano Flower, Peter F. Hamilton, 1995.
Apart from the rather clunky title, this is probably the best of the Greg Mandel series, certainly the most ambitious though I do find it curious that, given its publication date (certainly in the middle of sf writers discovering nanotechnology) and “nano” in the title, Hamilton chooses to depict a future where researching is almost an afterthought even amongst the powerful kombinates.
This is a very cyberpunkish book in that it delights in breaking the world into data and basing a plot on manipulating that data and sending it around in various exotic formats often with the data (and its attendant manipulation of various systems) arriving in the nick of time. That includes, if you stretch the point, the alien Hexaemeron with its toroidal genes which contain the instructions to duplicate an entire ecosystem.
Hamilton’s prose is effective but certainly not the flashy poetry of the most famous cyberpunk of all — William Gibson.
The final act of the novel brings the trilogy to a circular conclusion since, like the beginning of the first novel, Mindstar Rising, it features Mandel assassinating someone to avenge a friend. In Mindstar Rising, it was one of the policeman who beat Royan. Here, it was the Clifford Jepson who hired the sociopathic Leol Reiger who kills Suzie, one of the Trinities Mandel trained a character, like Royan, from Mindstar Rising.
In many ways, this book anticipates the Night’s Dawn trilogy which directly followed it in Hamilton’s writing.
It has several very effective set piece fights including one on a zeppelin and another inside an asteroid. The node duplicates of Julia Evans and their eventual union with aliens recall several human-machine (or biomachines like the starships in the Night’s Dawn books) unions in the Night’s Dawn trilogy.
The novel follows more characters (unlike the early books in the series) than just Julia Evans and Greg Mandel.
Hamilton decisively moves his series forward by not only placing it about 17 years past the second book in the trilogy, A Quantum Murder, but including aliens and advancing the technology forward and having Mandel a citrus farmer retired from his detective and hardliner (one of the few effective future terms Hamilton invents) past.
Again, Hamilton shows his skill in not only creating an exciting plot and intricately described, in physical terms, settings but, even more importantly, in creating worlds that are credible economically and politically.
To be sure, in its vague outlines, Hamilton creates a cyberpunk world which, like Gibson’s work, is dominated by corporations. (Mandel, at one point, worries that the world may be regressing to some sort of medieval order where the central authority of governments is waning to be supplanted by warring corporations who behave like the barons of old.) While in Gibson’s work corporations are dominant and governments regarded as obsolete when they’re mentioned at all, Julia Evans and her Event Horizon corporation must contend with politicians (particularly a rift in England’s Conservative party and a Welsh separatist movement). Governments, in Mandel’s world, are not obsolete.
Julia Evans has always been a secondary character, next to Mandel, in this trilogy. While it could be argued she was given too much attention in A Quantum Murder (though the eventual marriage between her and Royan is set up there and that’s a crucial element of this novel), that attention is justified in this novel. Not only do we see her love and aggravation with the sometimes irresponsible, if clever, Royan (he eventually gets absorbed by an alien lifeform for his hubris), but she also is shown as a benevolent shadow ruler (including shipping, in the past, arms to the Trinities and not paying taxes).
She wields more power than anyone else on Earth — a point this novel emphasizes, yet she refuses to endorse laissez-faire capitalism (at least, not as a permanent state though necessary for sudden wealth-building), and she also wants to maintain “looser” social orders than her Conservative allies. She could tear down slums and close down areas of vice but chooses not to. Julia also doesn’t regard the concentration of power in her hands a necessarily good thing though she mostly (with a few petty exceptions) uses it for good. She wants a future of distributed power and information — political, social, economic, and cultural groups each with their own knowledge and power. (Very much what certain commenters have seen as the strength of American democracy — distributed power and knowledge.)
That necessity is somewhat symbolized by SETI researcher Rick Parnell’s coming up with a solution to the standoff between humanity and the Hexaemeron (send it away rather than give in to it or kill it) than eludes his much more powerful and worldly employer, Julia. It’s also explicitly alluded to in Julia’s desire to support an independent Wales. (California has already divided into three in the future and there are two Italies).
She makes an argument for separatism and balkanization (in the neutral sense of big countries dividing into smaller countries). Elected officials can only get so much payoff (i.e., votes) from a district so will only invest enough attention and resources to get those votes. However, if the district becomes a political entity in its own right, more attention will be paid it because the payoff to an official is greater (and they live full time in the country — an observation Julia doesn’t make).
Hamilton, as you would expect in a suspense story told from several viewpoints, hops back and forth in time, especially in the combat scenes.
He also does a nice job showing how the world has changed in the 17 years since the last book, A Quantum Murder, and also how the characters have changed.
After the Trinities and People’s Socialist Party remnants fought their last war, Suzi became a tekmerc (after a brief stay in prison, shortened by Julia’s influence). We also get a brief bit on the psychology of her sex life, the need for dominance, when we see her relationship with her young, lesbian lover who is not a part of Suzi’s violent world.
Royan was physically rehabilitated and married Julia though his resentment and literally being remade by her is the ultimate cause of the book’s plot as he seeks to bring her evidence of First Contact, a contact that goes very wrong for him. Mandel has become a gentlemen citrus farmer with several children and hasn’t gone on any jobs for Julia since A Quantum Murder.
Hamilton gets to have his cake and eat it too by having a node simulacrum of Julia go off with Royan (both absorbed in the Hexaemeron), thereby getting the leisure and peace Julia seeks while the real Julia takes up with security chief Victor Ryo who, she realizes, has loved her from afar for a long time.
Hamilton also introduces romance, and a nice one, when courtesan Charlotte Fielder (another viewpoint character) shows genuine concern for the teenaged Fabian Whitehurst, a former client orphaned when his father is killed.
When this book was published there was concern (and there still is) about the Russian Mafia which show up in this book. Hamilton also postulates an Islamic Jihad which Russia and the west fight in Turkey (seemingly invaded by the Jihad). Mandel fought in that war.
All in all, a quite impressive conclusion to a good series, and a book that pointed to the strengths and themes Hamilton would exhibit in his next work, the Night’s Dawn trilogy.