Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pandora's Star / Judas Unchained: Peter Hamilton

Pandora's Star
By Peter Hamilton

Edit: Finished Judas Unchained.

Overall, I liked this.  Despite introducing two major imagined technologies, worm-holes and virtualization of people's memories, Hamilton goes into almost obsessive detail of the effects of imagined technology to the point where they come across as mundane, similar to how any new technology, which once was amazing, becomes accepted and implicit in one's lifestyle going forward (think of how amazing smart phones would appear to someone just 20 years ago vs today).

For example, with the ability to virtualize their memories, humans are able to live forever by re-downloading their memories into a new body.  He covers the technology's effect on people's thoughts on children, on legal handling of murder, fugitive activity, on risk-tolerance for dangerous activities, etc.  He does a good job of thinking this through, which generally is my sticking point with sci fi.

The novel is structured nonlinearly, with many characters following different storylines in a really expansive manner.  The different storylines end up converging on a common thread, in not too simply or unrealistically of a way (like say the movies Go or Crash).

One of my main issues with both books was that Hamilton gets overly obsessive on details, to the point where I felt like skimmed through 30-40% of text to get to the main gist.  Perhaps in another author's hands, some of these details would come across as beautifully descriptive of the environment; but here the details come across as a descriptionary chore:
The train started moving, pulling away from the platform and out into the spring sunshine. All Dudley could see through his window was the industrial landscape of the station yard, where hundreds of tracks snaked across the ground, crossing and recrossing like some vast abstract maze. Single wagons and carriages were being moved about by small shunting engines that coughed out thick plumes of diesel exhaust. The only visible horizon seemed to be made from warehouses and lading bays, where a spidery gridwork of gantry cranes and container stackers wove through every section of the big open structures.  Flatbed carriages and fat tankers were being readied or unloaded within the mechanical systems that almost engulfed them. Engineering crews and maintenancebots crawled along several tracks performing repairs.  
This guy needs a much more dedicated editor.  Honestly, there's really was no need for both books to have been so long.  I think it would have been possible to put this all into one novel, (although if one was cynical, perhaps locking in a sequel book meant a better economic payoff for the publishing house and author.)

The second issue I took was that Hamilton is not that skilled at capturing character's emotions.  As such, many of the characters (man or woman) feel like the same hyper-rational, smart, and capable protagonists that are so common in sci-fi.

Despite my complaints though, the positives did outweigh the negatives and overall, it was an enjoyable read.

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