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Misspent Youth Hardcover – September 16, 2008
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This is probably, not considering The Web: Lightstorm (Web Series 1), Hamilton's most obscure and least respected work despite it being the first novel in his recent Commonwealth Saga. I myself read all the other Hamilton first.
In some ways, this novel returns to the beginning of Hamilton's career and the Greg Mandel books which made his reputation. Like those, it is set in the near-future and in Hamilton's hometown of Rutland, England. However, the usual detailed combat sequences, the crime, and the espionage usually in his books don't show up here though the book does end with some riots.
While he has said that some characters from later Commonwealth books show up here very briefly, I must have blinked because I missed them. Some technologies central to the series do show up here.
Those technologies are tied to the life of the novel's protagonist Jeff Baker. In his younger days, he invented the solid-state crystal method of storing huge amounts of information and, incidentally, helping to destroy large sections of the entertainment industry via piracy. Respected for his abilities as a physicist and loved for not patenting this invention, Baker is chosen to be the first subject of the European Union's massive science project to rejuvenate the human body. And it's just in time too because, in the year 2036, the health of 77 year old Baker is failing.
He gets that rejuvenation and much of the rest of the novel is the playing out of those two old laments: "Youth is wasted on the young" and "If I only had it to do over again." Well, Baker's biological clock is set to his early twenties, and he, now handsome, famous, and rich, uses the opportunity as many a man would: to bed as many women as possible and live out his sexual fantasies. The consequences for his marriage to an ex-model and his relationship with his teenage son are not good.
Despite large amounts of sex, Hamilton usually isn't very explicit in describing the various encounters, only their preludes, the descriptions of his characters' bodies and clothes. And the concerns about family are a fitting opening to the Commonwealth Saga. Those books are full of family dynasties, and readers of the Void trilogy know that one of its heroes, Eduard, laments most the loss of a grandchild.
Like most near future science fiction, this one has dated some already. The entertainment industry, so far, hasn't collapsed from piracy and disregard for copyright whereas in Hamilton's book "pre10" entertainment is all that's really available. Still, some of the political and social problems in this novel's world are still with us - the tax load needed to sustain pensions in European countries, the consequences for Europe's elderly as the continent goes through a demographic contraction, and the resentment of some countries' populations at Brussels' negation of national sovereignty.
Like everybody else, this is not my favorite Hamilton book, but it is enjoyable considered on its own terms.
Tim Baker is Jeff's son. In his final year of school before going off to college, Tim's primary focus is on girls and partying. And now, after the rejuvenation treatment, Tim has another focus as well...coping with a father who is -- for most intents and purposes -- only a few years older than himself. Now Tim is not only dealing with his own dating tribulations, but his father's as well...
The biggest flaw with this book is the author insisted on making the focus of the story about a twenty-something year old Jeff Baker. Instead of having Jeff solve a problem or be faced with a situation that only a twenty-something could deal with (instead of a seventy-something), the author chose to focus the story around Jeff's dating life. That part of the story could still have been there...but it wasn't necessary to make it the only story...so much more could have been done.
And, while the story mainly flopped on this account, I did find Jeff and Tim's interrelationship believable and sincere. What would it really be like if your father were suddenly only a few years older? What kind of tension would there be? The author does a fairly good job of delving into this hypothetical situation...
So, while it would be difficult to recommend this story to others, it hardly holds me back from picking up other tales by this author in the future.