Peter Hamilton: Night's Dawn Trilogy

Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy is a massive work, totalling well over 3500 pages. The books are The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God. It's a sprawling space opera, set in the 27th Century, and including over a hundred major characters. It's big enough that there's no single protagonist - indeed, there are about a dozen.

It's jammed with interesting concepts, from the "bitek" organic machinery of the Edenists to the neural nanonics of much of the rest of humanity. The portrayal of future society, an Earth consumed by ecological disaster, and the effect on people of two differing forms of induced telepathy, are all excellent, and fascinating. The concept of ethnically - or at least nationally - streamed colony worlds is not new, but it's dealt with competently and faithfully here, including an indepth examination of the realities of a constitutionally pastoral world. And the historic characters who appear are rendered accurately, and with great attention to detail.

Hamilton also manages to draw in more "core science-fiction" ideas that I would have thought possible in one place: FTL travel, aliens ("xenocs"), telepathy, genetic engineering, living habitats, living ships, teleportation, terraforming, parallel universes, body engineering, suspended animation, and a good dose of mataphysics-made-physics. In the good old space-opera tradition, most of these are "just there", with little enough attempt to explain the science behind them. Some of the characters from pastoral worlds provide a point of view to examine these concepts as unfamiliar, though, and that helps make them more real.

The trilogy is a miracle of organisation on Hamilton's part, with plot lines and character interactions weaving in and out of each other, and all neatly dealt with by the end. It's sometimes a bit hard to keep track of, of course, and there were several times I found myself leafing back to find out who a given character was.

I have to admit, though, that it didn't really seize me until the latter third of the last book. Until that point, none of the characters seemed sympathetic - or unsympathetic - enough to really appeal, and while the setting, covering the whole of the galaxy, is very grand indeed, Hamilton's descriptions seem somehow lacklustre. The very size of the trilogy is intimidating, particualrly in the early parts, when you're trying to adjust to yet another point of view, before you grasp the scope of the thing.

Night's Dawn is a huge work, and it requires some effort to get through. It's worth it for the concepts, though, and the ending is gripping enough to make up for an awful lot of other faults.

The Reality Dysfunction Part I: Emergence
The Reality Dysfunction Part 2: Expansion
The Neutronium Alchemist Part 1: Consolidation
The Neutronium Alchemist Part 2: Conflict
The Naked God Part 1: Flight
The Naked God Part 2: Faith

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Posted by Drew Shiel at July 13, 2004 9:42 PM | TrackBack

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