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Sunday 1 June 2014

Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton



Reviewed by Richard Saar

Peter F. Hamilton's Great North Road is one heavy book, by that I don't mean serious, or dour, or anything like that. This book is literally one of the heaviest paperbacks I have read weighing in at over 1kg and 1100 pages. This heft poses a real hazard to those who like to read in bed...   with the book kind of above their head...   with one hand. Consider losing your one handed, above your face grip and 1kg of book dropping on your face...   this is a book that can quite literally bring tears to your eyes.

Community service announcement check, now about the book...

Great North Road is a new "stand alone" story from Peter F. Hamilton, who has previously brought us the Void Trilogy and Commonwealth Saga, both of which were set in the "Commonwealth" fictional universe. However, whilst this is a new setting it seems very familiar and readers of his previous works will feel right at home.

Set in 2142, when humanity has been able to travel to, and colonise new worlds via a series of hugely expensive interspace portals, the story centres initially on the murder of a member of the very rich and powerful North family.

The North family, consisting entirely of clones of the original three brothers, supply the Earth with almost all of its fuel, an artificially grown bio-oil from its own private colonised planet, St Libra. Our main character is Sid Hurst, a detective who lives in Newcastle, now the site of the portal to St Libra from which all the bio-oil flows. Sid is assigned to the murder case and has to work out whether the murder was a plot from inside the family for control of the empire, or in fact first contact with Aliens. He has to do this whilst battling the political and commercial ramifications of the murder of someone so rich, powerful and well connected, trying to just keep his job and the investigation open.

So, standard whodunnit set in the future? 

Not for long, as we are introduced quickly to the second main character, Angela Tramelo who's lucky enough to be a "one-in-twenty", a rare person who ages only one year for every twenty years lived. Angela is pressed into service with the Human Defence League, the official Alien defence force, after being jailed by them for twenty years for a murder almost exactly the same as the one Sid Hurst is investigating. She winds up on a mission into the vast wilderness of St Libra trying to prove the existence of the real murderer, an Alien whom she claims committed the murder she was convicted of twenty years before.

Add to all of this the Zanth, a seemingly non-sentient organism, a galactic swarm, that is slowly making its way through the far flung human colonies devouring everything in its path and you have a rip-roaring story. 

I was hesitant at first tackling such a big book, in fact it did sit on the side table for almost a year before I cleared some serious reading time, but it really does rip along. It starts a bit slow in the set-up, but it's worth it in the long run, I really wanted to know what was going to happen next. 

The 1100 odd pages gives Hamilton some time to develop the large cast of characters individually, so you end up with at least a dozen you know really well, and that's no small feat in such a complex story. The world is very well constructed and described in great detail. What makes this stand out though, is the grittiness of it all. His previous books have been more fantastical, (that is not a criticism) but The Great North Road is somehow pared back from his previous work and the more real for it.

What do I mean here? I really felt the sense of the wet and cold Newcastle streets where the snow is just dirty slush and the characters have to deal with not only their role in the larger story, but also just the mundaneness of their normal lives. There are no super powers of deduction or strength here; if a problem needs grinding out the characters just have to do it, and deal with the toll that it takes on them personally and professionally.

It's a nice cosy place to be, reading a book from a writer who is assured of his world, his characters and doesn't need to resort to tricks to get them through the story, you get the sense here is a writer on top of his game, so just sit back and enjoy the ride...    err, as long as you don't go back too far and drop the book on your face.

Source: Purchased, from a real book store...

IBR Rating: 

Recommendation: If you are a fan of Science Fiction, read this book... simple!

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Item Reviewed: Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Saar
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