6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2010
If you're reading this review, then you've probably read The Reality Dysfunction. If not, you need to do so. This is book two of a three book series and cannot be read as a stand alone novel. The three books are really three volumes of the same story (Night's Dawn), a 3,500 page behemoth to be sure.
I found The Reality Dysfunction to be an outstanding work of science fiction, striking a perfect balance between complicated "hard" science fiction concepts and captivating story lines. The numerous threads made it something of a challenge to keep abreast of the action, but I was able to do so by reading it through without pause (over the course of 2-3 weeks).
I rated this volume slightly below the original for the simple fact that my least favorite story thread (the Norfolk heiresses) plays a significantly more prominent role in this book. As with most "book twos" of multi-volume works, this tome advances the story line of the original book without achieving much resolution, but it certainly does so in an entertaining and captivating manner.
Certainly, any story in which "the dead" return would be missing a potentially captivating angle if certain famous historical personages were not represented. In an angle reminiscent of Philip Jose Farmer's classic Riverworld series, such is the case here, though on a very limited, though nonetheless effective basis.
I must confess that near the end of this second volume, I found it more difficult to keep track of the numerous threads and peripheral characters within each thread. Again, you cannot hope to stay on top of this story unless you dedicate time to it on a daily basis. I'm certainly hoping that the final volume begins to merge some of the threads as the overall story comes to its final conclusion.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2009
The 'reality dysfunction' has escaped from Lalonde, overrunning several other Confederation worlds and asteroid settlements, subverting people to its will. On the Kulu Kingdom principality world of Ombey, Ralph Hiltch, a veteran of Lalonde, organises a desperate battle against the enemy. Pastoral Norfolk is easy pickings for the menace, but, with help from an unexpected ally, Louise Kavanagh manages to stay one step ahead of it. Ultra-advanced New California comes under siege, whilst the decadent Valisk habitat becomes a raging battleground between the subverted and the habitat's insane controlling personality.
As the Confederation goes to a war footing and unleashes its resources against the new threat, another problem arises. Dr. Alkad Mzu has escaped from Tranquillity and is now on the run, seeking to complete a thirty-year vendetta to annihilate an entire star system. Joshua Calvert reluctantly agrees to pursue her, although half the intelligence agencies in the Confederation are also on the case. Meanwhile, Syrinx recovers from her own considerable physical wounds but finds her mental recovery to be much harder. At the urging of the Edenist government, she travels to the Kiint homeworld to find out how they defeated their own brush with the dysfunction thousands of years ago...
The second volume of The Night's Dawn Trilogy is the direct continuation of The Reality Dysfunction, pretty much picking up the story immediately. The book has a slightly different focus - Lalonde has been left behind and a couple of superfluous characters like Kelven Solanki have been rather abruptly jettisoned from the story - but it's generally a continuation of the same writing style as the first book. Simply put, if you liked the first book, you'll like this one too.
It improves on the first book in a few key areas as well. Hamilton reigns in the info-dumping, apparently partially a conscious choice and partially because after the first book set up the Confederation setting so well it's no longer necessary. In addition, the slow start to Book 1 is missing. Book 2 hits the ground running and, if anything, the pace increases and the tension ramps up throughout this immensely thick volume (it's actually several dozen pages longer than the first book). The sex scenes, which I know put some people off the first volume, have been radically reduced in quantity as well. After all, with the extinction of the human race looming and the Galaxy at war, getting laid is not the highest priority any more ;-)
Unfortunately, the book does have a couple of niggling issues which detract from it. Hamilton develops this very peculiar obsession in the second volume of his broad-canvas space operas to have an extremely tedious car chase taking up a chunk of the book. It's not as bad as Judas Unchained (where such a chase takes up about half the book, intercut with other stories), but The Neutronium Alchemist does feature such a sequence which takes up several dozen pages. In addition, the Valisk storyline is simply not as compelling as many of the other plots in the trilogy, and the pages devoted to it do feel like they could have been better spent on events elsewhere. Once you've completed the trilogy and realise how little this plot thread adds to the overall story of all three books, it's inclusion feels even more pointless, despite some good lines from Rubra.
Readers' reactions also vary immensely to what happens on New California. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was a logical extension of the premise, and if you can swallow the premise of the reality dysfunction itself than what happens next shouldn't pose any problems. But I do know people who thought it a step too far and stopped reading. A shame, because it actually works very well, and sets up the absolutely brilliant ending.
The Neutronium Alchemist (****½) is a very fine continuation of the story begun in The Reality Dysfunction. The story is meaty enough to support its immense length, and Hamilton's prose skills have improved somewhat from the first book. That said, the absence of some characters from the first volume and the amount of time spent on less-compelling plot-threads does leave it as a slightly less-accomplished novel. Still, as readable, epic space operas go, this is one of the very best out there, and it ends on an absolutely killer cliffhanger which at the time of publication was jaw-dropping (although now you can just go out and buy the third book straight away). The book is available now in the UK and, at long last, in one volume in the USA.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2011
Of the three in the trilogy, TNA is by far the densest. You just want it to end so you can reach the conclusion. It had none of the build-up and character development of TRD. It just seems to drift. And for everyone you keeps referring to the possessed as zombies...please try to get it right. The souls who inhabit the unwilling victims by means of the reality dysfunction are not mindless, brain eating zombies. With their energistic powers and ability to control matter and appearance, they are about as far from zombies as possible. Regardless, it's still an interesting and fascinatingly complex story. I enjoyed it. And I'd definitely like to hang out in Tranquility (or even Valisk) for a while. What a cool idea...sentient, living biospheres inhabiting the space around gas giants. Where do I sign up?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2011
It's long, but it's worth reading just to know what happens so you can get to the last book. It starts off a little slow, as we have to reconnect with all the different characters and settings from the previous book *and* also get introducted to even more characters! First book kind of revolved a lot around Lalonde, the first planet "invaded" (but nowhere near exclusively with it), this book juggles around even more planets and people, as there are several major situations unfolding. That last phrase about situations unfolding is probably the best way to describe the book, as it's about waiting for all these situations to reach their own fruition, but with the climax coming in the last book of the trilogy, so it may not feel as focused. There's so much more to learn about the invaders, so many different ways they manifest. We also get to become acquainted with another one of those ex-Edenist Serpents, except this one is more a rogue Tranquility than another Laton, and also see the various ways people try to cope and deal with the invaders. The main plot with Joshua Calvert revolves around the mysterious Dr Mzu (whose story starts off with a bit of shock!), but what the other characters are up to is also a lot of fun to follow, like watching Louise learn how to survive away from her sheltered upbringing on backwards Norfolk, although she suffers (*cough*) from being extremely lucky (and wealthy) like some of our other main characters. It's a minor quibble that, for me, didn't detract from staying up for hours with this fun and imaginative series, including this second book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2010
Hamilton's Night's Dawn books immediately set themselves apart on any bookshelf. How, you ask? Simple. It's by being twice the size of anything else on the shelf. That size is what dictates pretty much element of the trilogy, from plot, to characters, to structure, to the writing itself. These books are not gigantic by accident. Rather, their space is used deliberately to create an effect that would be impossible in a more focused volume. In an article on the writing of The Night's Dawn trilogy, Hamilton says:
"The example I always give is The Battle Of Britain. A conflict which saw the warrior heroes of both countries battling it out for supremacy in the most sophisticated technology of the era. Theirs is a fantastic story, full of heroism and struggle and sacrifice. All very well, but there were hundreds of thousands of people who lived underneath the dogfights in the sky, whose lives were going to undergo monumental change because of the conflict (whoever won). Ultimately what happens to them i.e. society as a whole, is more interesting."
Nominally, the Night's Dawn trilogy is about a mysterious disaster originating on Lalaonde and threatening the entire Confederation. In reality, though, Hamilton's goal is to create a believable society and then show every effect of that disaster, both physical and moral, on his creation. As a result, this is a very decentralized story, where the number of point of views spreads throughout the entire Confederation, staying just half a step ahead of the waves of change and destruction. The best way to understand these books is to imagine a massive glass creation, gigantic but every inch carefully devised and filled with details, and then to imagine the inexorable destruction of the sculpture, inch by inch, the cracks spreading so slowly as to be visual but so quickly as to be unstoppable. It's an effect that would only be meaningful if the reader first understands every intricacy of Hamilton's creation, and so Hamilton shows us exactly that.
Imagine, for a second, that there are three layers to every story. The first layer is the present time, the plot, if you will. Just about every author will explicitly show this, because it is, presumably, why we've come. The second layer is the backstory, how the characters got where they are, who the characters are, etc. This is generally implied, though the degree to which it is shown depends on the author. Finally, we've got the layer behind even the backstory, what's simply the background. This is stuff like the minutia of the justice system, or how planet X was settled, why coalition Y makes this product, etc. it's the kind of thing that's important for an author know, but it's rare for the readers to ever learn - or care - about much of it.
Hamilton doesn't follow that template. Instead, he shows you the first and second layers in their entirety. We are not dropped into a fully functional colony on Lalonde. Instead, we build the colony with our own two hands and watch every single event that occurs upon its path. The third layer, too, makes its way into the books, primarily the first, in the form of expository infodumps. These can get a tad excessive at times, but are usually interesting enough to make up for that.
[From a reporter on Lalonde, towards the two-thirds mark of The Reality Dysfunction]
"'I have followed the arch-diabolist here from the city. And nothing I have seen has given me the slightest hope for the future. His interest in the spaceport can only indicate he is ready to move on. His work on Lalonde is complete. Violence and anarchy reign beyond the city. What monstrous curse he has let loose is beyond my imagination; but each day brings darker stories down the river, sucking away the citizen's hope. Fear is his real weapon, and he possesses it in abundance.
"The alliance has been formed. His plan advances another notch. And I cannot believe it will bring anything other than disaster upon us. Four decades has not reduced the fear. What has he achieved in those four decades? I ask myself this question time and again. The only answer must be: evil. He has perfected evil.'"
The trilogy opens with The Reality Dysfunction. This volume bears the brunt of the exposition that's so central to the tale, and, as a result, the beginning is very hard to get into. Right off the bat, we're introduced to three point of views, and we alternate between them for the first third or so of the novel. At first, this structure is a bit self defeating. None of the three plot lines are boring, but none of them are right off the bat spellbinding, either, and the vast number of intervening pages (Hamilton writes huge chapters) between one appearance and the next seem geared to kill all momentum.
The interesting thing about these early threads is that they're as close to slice of life as you can get in a space opera. That's not to imply that they're pedestrian or mundane, but rather to say that, no matter how interesting the events that take place are, they're generally par for the course for the world. The result of this is that, when things finally do go out of hand, the reader can feel how wrong it is without being told. Joshua's attempts to circumvent standard business practices and make huge amounts of cash, but, crucially, still playing within the system (just in a new and inventive way), serve to indoctrinate us into Hamilton's Confederation. By the time the ground rules start to change, we're at least as capable of pointing out the changes as any of Hamilton's characters, having received lessons in every aspect of the worldbuilding from Joshua, Syrinx, and the various Lalonde pilgrims.
Hamilton's characterization is always adequate, but only occasionally notable. In a cast of this size, it's absolutely vital for each character to be distinctive enough for the reader to be able to recognize them when they pop up, and know who they are, and at this Hamilton has no problems. With main characters, appearing again and again over a span of pages this massive, however, the reader expects to see some growth. In this regard, Joshua is by far the best character of the series. Though his is not the kind of evolution you're going to be analyzing in essays, his arc is believable and consistent throughout. Syrinx, too, is passable, though - and especially in this novel - she can occasionally be too idealistic at times.
Oddly enough, though, it's when discussing groups that Hamilton's skills with people come to the fore. Though there were few individual characters in the trilogy that I would've been devastated to lose, there were several locations that I developed a strong bond with. In this, I think it's Hamilton's sense of scale, and ability to convincing juggle night on countless viewpoints, that carries the day. Though there's no one colonist on Lalonde that you particularly care about, the colony itself feels like something you built with your own sweat and blood, a place where you are on congenial terms with all of your neighbors and nod happily to everyone, and the threat of its destruction evokes an emotional response that's far greater than the collective death of its citizens can account for. Easily eclipsing Lalonde in this regard, Tranquility, especially in the later books, becomes a symbol of hope, a message that the spreading disaster makes a happy life difficult but by no means impossible, and that message effects the reader to the same degree that it effects the characters.
Something that has to be mentioned when discussing The Reality Dysfunction, especially Joshua's storyline, is the sheer amount of sex in it. Now, I'm not arguing that something like this can never be appropriate, but Hamilton exceeds any sane measure of excess. Any meaningful relationship is all but drowned out in a sea of orgasmic white noise. Furthermore, the sex scenes never come across to the reader as anything but a chore to get through. The characters, in their absurd over-enjoyment of every act, create an impenetrable barrier of quadruple orgasms that the reader has no hope of penetrating, in the manner of an actor overacting to a degree that we just see the performance, not the material, leaving us feeling more like an uncomfortable voyeur than a participator. Thankfully, Hamilton seems to have been aware of the problem, because the number of sex scenes drops off faster than you would believe in book two.
The sex isn't the only unpolished aspect of book one. Though Hamilton's writing throughout the series is never exemplary, it's never trying to be. It gets the job done fine, paints a clear picture, and brings you to a swift understanding of the incredibly complex world that Hamilton's created. In the first book, however, comma splices appear in what feels like every other sentence. Let's turn to a random page, 126. Most of the way down, we get: "The food they had been served was strange, the aboriginal fruit was all odd shapes with a mildly spicy flavoring but at least there wasn't any vat meat like they had at the arcology." Now, I'll admit it's an incredibly small complaint in the grand scheme of things, but the mistake's endless appearances become more than a tad annoying as the book goes on.
As I've said, The Reality Dysfunction's pacing is iffy at best for the first third of the book. At that point, however, Hamilton kicks things into high gear. Things begin to come together, both large and small, and various plot threads slowly begin to coalesce, while Hamilton throws more and more into the already overflowing pot. The book becomes something akin to a runaway truck. At some point, any sane person would think, something has to give. But it doesn't. Impossibly, the pace picks up and up until it's hard to stop reading for long enough to turn the page, until the urgency is almost painful.
That's not to say that the book becomes mindless action, however. Far from it. Though Hamilton is excellent at military skirmishes and combat in general, it is the weight of the world building and the density of the atmosphere that makes the book so incredible. The disaster on Lalonde isn't revealed in one go, nothing even remotely like that, and the initial encounters are absolutely terrifying in a way that even dedicated horror fiction seldom manages.
This works precisely because of the lengthy build up. That sense of wonder that we all love so much is actually layered. There is the initial shock of immersing oneself in another world, but by the time you get up to the actual disaster, you're thinking like an inhabitant. That, however, is just in time to be absolutely blindsided, alongside every character, by what's suddenly emerging. The double effect is, needless to say, incredibly powerful.
[The exact nature of the disaster, revealed partway through the Reality Dysfunction, is a key component of the series. Since I don't wish to spoil it for anyone, but cannot proceed without revealing it, be warned that the rest of this review has SPOILERS for book one. Then again, most reviews I've read spoil it anyway, so...]
The central conceit of the Night's Dawn Trilogy is the dead returning as possessors. It would have been incredibly easy for the idea of possession to devolve into silliness, especially once famous people begin to start popping up, but, barring a few mishaps, Hamilton treats his ideas seriously enough to not rob them of their power. Crucial to this is his decision to not rob them of their humanity:
"'Do you think [Hitler] changed after he died, Mr. Halahan? Do you think he lost his conviction or his righteousness? Do you think death causes you to look back on life and make you realize what an ass you've been? Oh no, not that, Mr. Halahan. You're too buys screaming, you're too buys cursing, you're too busy coveting your neighbor's memory for the bitter dregs of taste and colour it gives you. Death does not bestow window, Mr. Halahan. It does not make you humble before the Lord. More's the pity.'"
As the series progresses, and as more and more possessed get their own viewpoints, the conflict turns from one of horror to one of military action and moral consequences. Hamilton brings back Al Capone to lead the possessed Organization, and his conflicts - both with other possessed and with the government at large - are well done and gripping, featuring several very clever ideas.
The main theme of the series is that, helpful as it is, technology doesn't hold all the answers. As a result, the people of Hamilton's future are very much the people of our present. There is no easy solution here, whether it is to be found by magic or brute force. In order to progress, society is going to actually have to face - and fix - its problems. The implementation of these themes is somewhat mixed. Hamilton has no problem with weaving these ideas into the story. The ground war begun in book three, for instance, does an excellent job of showing the impossibility of any kind of military solution.
What isn't so interwoven is the Neutronium Alchemist sub plot. Now, by itself, this would be okay. Even effective. What isn't so okay is that this sub plot takes up an incredible amount of space. Someone would be forgiven for thinking that something that comes up in the second chapter and easily has several hundred pages (a decent novel's space, mind you) devoted to it would turn out to matter for more than reproving an already understood point.
Equally disparate from the rest of the narrative, but far more effective, are the sub plots - beginning in The Neutronium Alchemist but coming into their fore in the final volume - that show the possessed's attempts at creating a utopian society. As it turns out, magic's no more helpful than nanotechnology when it comes to correcting basic human flaws, and the possessed, who are, first and foremost, people, and their attempts to deal with reality once again formed some of my favorite parts of the whole trilogy.
Despite all these issues, The Neutronium Alchemist is the best paced book in the trilogy. Though the number of threads is even larger than in The Reality Dysfunction, Hamilton focuses on one thread at a time - though not to the total exclusion of the others - until it reaches a climax of sorts. As a result, though there is a truly incredible amount of ground covered in this volume, it never feels scattershot, and we're able to get closely involved in each struggle as it comes up.
The Naked God, by contrast, returns to an exacerbated version of the flaws that were so prevalent in the first book's structure. Once again, we're seeing events through several hard to connect plot threads, and since the number only swells as the series progressed, the amount of different side stories is truly unwieldy by this point.
That's not to imply that the book doesn't work, however. The various sub plots are some of the strongest of the series, even if they rarely gel all that well (and occasionally get lost in the shuffle).The most out there plot is definitely the battle for Earth's arcologies. The concept is interesting, and the deliberations and actions of B-7 formed some of my favorite parts of the series, but none of the events here felt like part of the main story. Part of the problem is Louise, because the pacing grinds to a dead stop every time she walked on stage. Worse, however, is Quinn, who is the only character that manages to get shallower with each book that passes and is, by this point, a painful caricature of his early self. Which, mind you, wasn't exactly a paragon of in-depth characterization.
After over a million words, you're expecting some serious payoff. Something that will BLOW YOUR MIND as far as endings go. For books one and two, after all, Hamilton certainly showed himself to be no slouch with endings. The Reality Dysfunction ends with a huge battle, some character development, and a relatively decent amount of closure (or, at least, a you-can-take-a-breather-here moment). The Neutronium Alchemist does nothing of the sort, ending on a cliffhanger, but it's a well done cliffhanger that I can't really blame him for, despite how much I may have ranted about it in the past.
The ending of The Naked God, however, is absolutely unforgivable. Now, Wert's argued ad nauseam about why it's not a deus ex machina, and I'll give it to him. That doesn't mean it isn't one of the most anticlimactic endings I've ever read, however. Imagine, for a second, that Robert Jordan went so far as to have titled the final book in The Wheel of Time: The Dark One Kills Himself. Would that have made his purposeless suicide any more entertaining to read about? If not, you're probably going to hate this ending. Essentially, had all but one character in The Naked God sat around twiddling their thumbs, humanity would've still come out just fine.
The Night's Dawn trilogy has quite a few problems, not the least of which is the sheer number of sub plots, many of which are either extraneous or just plain not as good, that clog it up. None of that changes what it is at its core, however, and that is one of the most explosive and wide screen science fiction stories ever conceived of. Hamilton's creation is both majestic and impossible to put down. If you're a fan of the genre, you need to pick this up without question.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2011
Early in the 27th century Humanity has colonized planets, asteroids and vast sentient bitek habitats in more than eight hundred star systems. The geopolitical structure of the Confederation oversees this great Human diaspora. In The Reality Dysfunction, an accidental rending of the fabric of the Universe opened a rift into the beyond...the featureless, sense-deprived dimension where souls go after their body can no longer support them in the dimension of the living. This rift allows a soul to inhabit another living form, but at a price. The intruding soul suppresses the host persona, trapping the rightful owner of the body deep within and allowing the possessor to control the body. Not only are the possessed given another opportunity at life (even if it is a stolen one), they are endowed with energistic powers granting them the ability to create just about any physical object at a whim as well as giving the possessor enormous strength and the capability to shoot a lethal white fire at an opponent.
Now the possessed are out to ruin the Confederation, contaminating world after world with their brethren; souls seeking an escape from the depredations of the beyond. And, despite a few minor victories, the Confederation is finding it nearly impossible to contain their spread.
Added into this writhing mass of subplots of possessed incursions on world after world, habitat after habitat and the Confederation's attempt to neutralize the threat from the possessed is Dr. Alkad Mzu. A minor character in the introductory tale, Mzu is thrust to the forefront in The Neutronium Alchemist after her escape from Tranquility. After Mzu's homeworld was destroyed by a rival star system three decades prior to the events in this novel, she swore to exact revenge on the transgressing world. And Mzu is uniquely capable of accomplishing this feat. Thirty years earlier, during the climax of the interplanetary squabble, Mzu created the Alchemist, a device capable of destroying a star. Now, Joshua Calvert and the crew of the Lady MacBeth have been charged with the task of returning Mzu to Tranquility, a task made more difficult, because not only is just about every security and intelligence agency in the Confederation after Mzu, the possessed now know about her and the Alchemist as well.
With panic spreading throughout the Confederation at the threat the possessed present, will Calvert and his crew be able to find Mzu in time to keep the Alchemist out of the hands of the possessed? And will the Confederation be able to hold the line against the possessed as they claim world after world?
The Neutronium Alchemist is a worthy middle tale for a trilogy. It provides plenty of action, a healthy dose of suspense as the main plot thread leads us to the culmination of the tale in the third installment, and most importantly in any story, continues to enhance characterization of the primary personae, suspending our disbelief as any good story should as the characters wrestle to find a solution to the dead returning to the land of the living and putting everything right with the Universe again.
The main problems I had with the first installment of the trilogy, The Reality Dysfunction, was the massive amounts of gratuitous sex and the copious quantities of new characters that were introduced, making it difficult to follow all the events going on because so many characters were doing so many different things. The good news with The Neutronium Alchemist is that both of these issues were rectified. Gratuitous sex was nearly nil (possibly because the characters are too busy fighting off the possessed) when compared to the previous novel and the quantity of new characters introduced in this installment was dramatically reduced as well, primarily following the exploits of characters we already knew from the previous novel and introducing only a meager handful of new people we had to keep track of.
All of this (and more!) comprises a story worth reading in a Universe that has believable characters and believable technology in a believable society even if the unbelievable (the dead returning thing!) is happening. The Neutronium Alchemist is the second good reason to pick up this trilogy...I am looking forward to soon picking up what I hope will be the third.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2013
As a reader of othes books written by Peter F. Hamilton I was very disappointed with the first and second books of this series.
The book has a excessive lot of characters, the plots are unbelievable and I suffer when I read it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2013
If all you really care about is what happens in this Trilogy, and how it ends, skip this entry entirely. The entire book is a chase across the galaxy for a super weapon of unimaginable scale that could truly change the tide of the "war" between the souls of the undead and the living.
However the conclusion of said race is lackluster and missing.
Nearly the entire plot of this book has no bearing on what happens in the 3rd book, and what little that does you can infer by having the ability to read and think for yourself.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2009
The way Hamilton writes and as much as he writes, I'll be happy reading his work, and almost exclusively, until the day I die. I'm going to leave all the fancy analysis to more competent folks.
If reading one complete story in one lone book is more to your liking, stay away from Hamilton's work. There really is no comparison to the complexity and depth Hamilton employs as his literay operas unfold.
Yes, his work is generaly difficult to start, (usually takes 200+ pages), but please do yourself a favor and hang in there. If you can, you will be rewarded beyond your expectations.
on April 11, 2014
Investing time in Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy is heart-breaking. I finished Book 1 in fifteen days during a long holiday, but I polished off Book 2 during a month of full-time work--all 30 days of it. While reading the 393,000 words of The Neutronium Alchemist, I could have read six shorter (and better) novels in the same amount of time. At the same time, I'm trying to make space on my bookshelves; with these tomes will have been completed, and most likely sold to my favorite second-hand bookstore, they will free up some much needed shelf room... though not enough for the 50 books which are stacked elsewhere. Alas, another book, another review, another slot made available on my to-read shelves.
Talking about numbers here, comparatively, Book 1 (The Reality Dysfunction) has 385,000 words and is 1,094 pages long, which is 46 pages shorter than Book 2. As these books are part of a trilogy, they must be read in order, with a behemoth conclusion in Book 3: The Naked God that tips the scales at 1,332 pages and 469,000 words (!). This is a trilogy with a total of 1,247,000 words--be prepared for the battle: focus, focus, focus and frequently consult the "Cast of Characters" appendix (pages 1139-1144).
Rear cover synopsis:
"The ancient menace has finally escaped from Lalonde, shattering the Confederation's peaceful existence.
On planets and asteroids, individuals battle for survival against the strange and brutal forces unleashed upon the universe. Governments teeter on the brink of anarchy, the Confederation Navy is dangerously overstretched, and a dark messiah prepares to invoke his own version of the Final Night.
In such desperate times, the last thing the galaxy needs is a new and terrifyingly powerful weapon. Yet Dr. Alkad Mzu is determined to retrieve the Alchemist--so she can complete her thirty-year-old vendetta to slay a star. Which means Joshua Calvert must find Dr. Mzu and bring her back before the Alchemist can be reactivated.
But he's not alone in the chase, and there are people on both sides who have their own ideas about how to use the ultimate doomsday device."
The aftermath of the Lalonde possession is a spreading wave of possession through the Confederation by Quinn's cohorts.
A Saldana planet, Ombey, is invaded by a trio of the walking dead, but the swift action of the police force limits the spread of possession to a single town which becomes overrun with the malicious dead-returned. While many of the returned are unscrupulous heathens and sybarites, a handful of them actually have a kind side and take to caring for children, who are not possessed, and taking them back to civilization away from the growing red cloud which hangs over the village. However they channel their powers, the humans are worried... very worried:
"The energistic power which was the inheritance of every possessed was capable of near-miraculous feats as it bent the fabric of reality to a mind's whim. As well as its destructive potential, items could be made solid at the flicker of a thought. It was also capable of reinforcing a body to resist almost any kind of assault as well as enhancing its physical strength. Wounds could be healed at almost the same rate they were inflicted." (181)
The very progressive, technological center of the Confederation is New California, a planet with strong defenses and a strong security force, both of which fall to the man who is possessed by Al Capone. This criminal mastermind of the early 20th century find that, even though 600 years in the future, the basic elements of running a city still run true for taking over an entire planet. For Al Capone, already corrupt, with power comes lust for more power and there's a galaxy of planets just waiting to be possessed!
But Capone is no dummy criminal. He changes the complete economy of New California, ruthlessly punishes those who stand in his way, and probes deeper into the powers which the possessed have. When the bodiless souls in beyond want to enter a body, Capone converses with the all-seeing souls to gather information about activities from around the Confederation; secrets and plans are revealed to Capone, and an enticing bit of information has come to him: a woman named Dr. Mzu has information about the most destruction weapon ever known to mankind--the Alchemist.
When Dr. Mzu's planet was destroyed by the Omuta's thirty years ago, much of her experience was invested in creating the Alchemist. Aside from Mzu, nobody really knows what it does except that it can destroy a star. In the realm of the dead exists souls from every planet, including Earth and Mzu's home planet; logically, there must exist and assistant of Mzu's, someone who can help build a new Alchemist if the original Alchemist cannot be discovered. This is Capone's chance to own the great weapon known to man when he also knows that Mzu has escaped and is attempted to retrieve her deadly device.
Also chasing the hermetic Mzu is Joshua, kind of as a favor to Ione Saldana and partly because his duty of gallivanting across the galaxy always includes these kinds of things. With his capable crew (and with Ione unknowingly stowed as a mechanical serjent), Joshua tracks down Mzu's movements across space and is followed by Confederation Navy spies who also quest for Mzu's capture and, with it, knowledge of what exactly the Alchemist is capable of.
Not to be forgotten, Dexter Quinn still roams open space with a burning vendetta against Earth. Being his primary target, Quinn shoots for Earth but is quickly deterred by his lack of preparation. Instead, Quinn visits a planet with a long history of strife and war--Nyvan, humankind's first attempt at colonizing a world with multiple ethnicities. Due to the fractured nature of the social and governmental landscape, Quinn easily pins all the nationalistic forces against each other. Meanwhile, in the derelict asteroids orbiting the planet, Quinn is planting fusion bombs for a grand spectacle of his vision: Final Night.
Pregnant, frightened, free and rich, Louise Kavanagh, along with her sister Genevieve and the gentlemanly possessed Titreano, head to the Sol system in order to ultimately find a ride to Tranquility. However, their progress is limited by Titrano's interference with electronics on both the starship and at the Mars' transfer facility. Louise considers Earth an impossibility but still thinks Tranquility is the best choice for her recuperation.
Tranquility becomes a hub of activity when it's discovered that Capone is marshalling forces of voidhawks to fight the Confederation. His rate of expansion is impressive, so the Confederation governance takes extraordinary measures to fight the incoming fleet of warships. Their information isn't exact, so precautions are spread across many regions, a fault which may either hamper Capone's progress or seal his victory in one decisive battle. Inside Tranquility, Jay Hilton, a young refugee from Lalonde, innocently plays with the xenoc (Kiint) youth named Haile. Haile builds a remarkable sandcastle, a structure similar to one which was viewed by Ione but one which should never have been seen by Haile or anyone else in the Kiint race.
Questions and eyebrows are raised at Kiint's passive attitude towards the possession of human bodies from the souls of the beyond. They maintain that all intelligent species must face this turn of events with their own fortitude, as each species will have a different solution to their possession. All information is scant about the Kiint's history as is the reality of the beyond. When some of the possessed are captured and interrogated, reassurance is given to one scientist when he learns that time does indeed pass in the beyond, therefore space exists and so, logically, they dead can be beaten with familiar techniques: "It [the Beyond] obviously exists, therefore it must have some physical parameters, a set of governing laws; but they [scientists] cannot detect or define them" (666). However, the captured possessed have their own ideas of justice and they don't play by our rules. When the Confederation take the possessed to court, hell breaks loose all over again.
Rather than focusing exclusively on the physical war between the able-bodied humans and the possessed minds of other humans, The Neutronium Alchemist also highlights the metaphysical battle between the two. For the bodily humans, it's damned if they do join yet damned if they don't join:
"I'm sorry, Ralph, but as I said, you simply cannot threaten me. Have you worked out why yet? Have you worked out the real reason I will win? It is because you will ultimately join me. You are going to die, Ralph. Today. Tomorrow. A year from now. If you're lucky, in fifty years time. It doesn't matter when. It is entropy, it is fate, it is the way the universe works. Death, not love, conquers all in the end. And when you die, you will find yourself in the beyond. That is when you and I will become brother and sister in the same fellowship. United against the living. Coveting the living." (165)
The damned, the supposed eternal souls living in the beyond, still live with the "naked emotions which drive us all" and they "know exactly what we are in our true hearts, and it's not nice, not nice at all" (1079); their intrinsic drive for domination, possession and submission rests in their very nature.
This is an interesting turn on the once uni-faceted possessors who were once only out for two things: bloodlust and domination. It's refreshing, in light of contrast, to see some figures of the possessed control their emotions for the benefit of the children, for the benefit of the innocent. Though not the majority, by far, at least there is a hint of hope in Hamilton's prose that allows for some of the possessed to maintain the humane side of humanity rather than the more pessimistic animalistic side which is more often portrayed.
Originally, in my review of The Reality Dysfunction, I had a difficult time accepting two premises of Hamilton's trilogy: (a) the very nature of dead souls living in the Beyond and (b) the nature of the Edenist affinity link which has a genetic source for its non-interceptable mental transmission (as for the Kiint ). Considering the created universe of The Night's Dawn trilogy is 600 years in the future, you would think that everything which could have ever been observed in the universe, all that which is affected by laws of electromagnetic forces of other forces in the predicted unified theory, would have already been predicted and/or observed. Therefore, the affinity and Beyond are part of the physical universe, in one way or another, and should easily have been predicted, observed or measured.
Yet, there are some not-so-subtle hints about the reality of the beyond: "[T]hey [scientists] sought out the elusive transdimensional interface" (800). There are also vague, unquotable inferences that both phenomena have quantum origins, perhaps non-interceptable because of quantum entanglement (or as Einstein had called it, spooky action as a distance [spooky... possession... get it?]). This theory of mine is merely a self-assurance that Hamilton has everything neatly planned out and won't leave any loose science ends hanging; I'm assuring myself that The Naked God will herald all the answers to all the nagging questions in my mind.
One huge improvement in Book 2 is its typographical consistency. In The Reality Dysfunction, particularly in the second half, there were many abbreviated inconsistencies, changes in font, missing bold face and compound adjectives. I'm happy to report that The Neutronium Alchemist is much better in these regards, but still isn't perfect; granted, you can't exactly expect it to but still I, one reader, can point out at least things:
a) Helium-3 is used as fuel for the ships in the Confederation's fusion reactors. Rather than use the lengthy term "Helium-3", Hamilton understandably uses the accepted He3 abbreviation for the isotope. This would be fine but he also occasionally uses subscript for the "3" as in He3: notably, on pages 1049, 1050 and 1096 (three out of eighteen isn't so consistent).
b) Hamilton's use of the word prone greatly annoys me. Though the definition of the word is commonly used to imply a recumbent, flat resting position, the actual definition of the word prone suggests that the subject in laying "face downward", in contrast to the word supine which means "having the face upward". Hamilton's disuse of supine and his awkward uses of prone are curious:
i. "Black figures were lying prone on the feed roads" (66);
ii. "The sidewalk was littered with prone bodies" (99);
iii. "He gingerly positioned Gerald's buttocks on the side of the bed, then lifted his legs up and around until his charge was lying prone on the cushioning" (106);
iv. "The captain was lying prone on his acceleration couch, unconscious. His fingers were still digging into the cushioning, frozen in a claw-like posture, nails broken by the strength he'd used to maul the fabric. Blood dribbling out of his nose made sticky blotches on his cheeks." (174);
v. "[T]he four crew members lying prone on their bulky acceleration couches" (328);
vi. "Two ceiling-mounted waldo arms had been equipped with sensor arrays, like bundles of fat white gun muzzles, which they were sweeping slowly and silently up and down the prone body" (445);
vii. "They even perceived Dariat and Tatiana lying prone on the escape pod's acceleration couches" (960);
viii. "Alkad Mzu was lying prone on one of the spare acceleration couches" (1104).
For the most part, The Neutronium Alchemist paddles along at a fairly even pace with a predictable lengthy action scene towards the conclusion. Yes, there's a car chase scene but the hitch is it's exacerbated by the coming of a megaton asteroid. Like a 100-car freight train crossing the Midwest (something I have familiarity with), the hulking mass of the plot moves along steadily, surely and with one hell of a momentum; once it gets rolling, it's hard to interrupt or shift. Hamilton should stick to his complicated, interweaving plots rather than dabble in occasional and horribly awkward poetic passages, such as: "He was sure that someone had been watching the incident. A spoor of trepidation hung in the air like the scent of a summer flower" (812).
With a few minor annoyances, a few premises which are unbelievable, a few typographical errors and a rather lengthy stretch of mediocrity (though the length is impressive, the performance is not [wink], wink]), The Neutronium Alchemist, and the entire Night's Dawn trilogy as a whole I assume, is a moderately enjoyable task rather than a continually adventurous excursion. I need a break from the series so, while on another long holiday, I'll be dabbling in some other, hopefully, more profound literature.