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From: "Nigel Price" <nigel.a.price@virgin.net>
Subject: (urth) Hamiliton's "Night's Dawn" Trilogy
Date: Wed, 15 Aug 2001 16:42:33 +0100

How's that for timing?

I've just got back from holiday in France, where I finally finished "The
Naked God", the third and final volume of Peter F. Hamilton's wonderful
"Night's Dawn" trilogy. The whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, "I
wonder whether I should mention this book on the Urth list?" After all, the
series deals with so many of the themes that Wolfe has dealt with over the
years, but is so utterly, utterly different in its style and treatment from
anything Wolfe ever has written or probably ever would write.

I thought that the books might be of interest to some of you, and wondered
what fellow Lupines would make of the whole thing. Then I got back yesterday
and started reading through my e-mail, and found that the topic had already
been raised on the list.

OK, it seems it is all right to mention Hamilton here, so here goes!

* Warning! Mild spoilers ahead! *

To start at the beginning: "Night's Dawn" is a single if highly discursive
novel in three huge volumes. These are called:

    The Reality Dysfunction (1996)
    The Neutronium Alchemist (1997)
    The Naked God (1999)

In the UK paperback edition, "Night's Dawn" is over 3,600 pages long, so
that even the individual volumes consist of over 1,200 pages each. I
understand that the US editions are slightly differently divided to those
published here in the UK, so you need to make sure you read a uniform
edition from whichever country you source your reading matter from.

There's also a fourth, related, volume of short stories called "A Second
Chance at Eden" (1998). These stories are set in the same universe as
"Night's Dawn", although they take place before the events recounted in
the longer work.

Not to give away too much at this stage, the plot of "Night's Dawn" is set
in the late 26th century and concerns the discovery that souls have a real,
physical existence and retain their individual identity even after death,
albeit in another, parallel, dimension. This dimension, "the beyond", is a
place of continual torment and suffering. Through a convoluted set of
circumstances, the souls of the dead regain access to the physical universe,
where they can live again if they possess the bodies of living persons. This
they do with malicious enthusiasm, exploiting their residual connection with
the beyond and the "potential difference" (my terminology) between the two
realms not only to possess the living but also to wield extensive
"energistic powers" (Hamilton's terminology!) which allow them to mould
appearance and, to a certain extent, reality, to their whim and fancy. They
command considerable firepower in the form of bolts of white fire and can,
when there are enough of them of one mind and in the same physical place,
move whole planets into alternate dimensions.

Stylistically, "Night's Dawn" is a glorious farrago of sub-genres, mixing
hard SF and space opera (space grand opera, indeed!) with out-and-out horror
and dark fantasy. The whole thing shouldn't really work at all, but does,
splendidly, making the dislocations between genre expectations a central
part of the story. This is, indeed, part of the "reality dysfunction"
described in the title of the first volume.

It is also one example of the ways in which Hamilton is similar to Wolfe but
utterly different. In many of his works, and pre-eminently in the
New-Long-Short-Sun cycle, Wolfe writes in that mixture of science fiction
and fantasy which, as a convenient shorthand, we may call science fantasy.
He uses the collision between the genres with great subtlety to explore
issues of theology and psychology, providing quasi-scientific rationales for
religious phenomena and using naturalistically described, albeit often
science-fictional, events to provide symbolic types for key events in
Christian sacred history. In Wolfe, reality continually appears to "explain
away" the theological while inescapably evoking it symbolically, even as
sufficient uncertainty is generated for the miraculous to remain a clear

Hamilton is an altogether less subtle author. His strong suits are plot and
excitement, and I really ought to stress that the main reason for reading
"Night's Dawn" is that it is the most wonderful page turner. The vast
panoply of parallel plots and subplots zip along at an astonishing rate, and
there are all sorts of breathless escapes and cliff-hanging last minute
rescues. I am full of admiration for the way that Hamilton holds the whole
thing together, meshing the different story lines and making a coherent
whole out of so many different narratives.

I should add too that the baroque range of high technology on display is
simply gorgeous, and, in so far as a layman like myself can tell, the
copious astronomical and astrophysical details bandied about are accurate
and convincing.

While many of the minor characters are straight from central casting, the
main actors in the story are strongly and clearly depicted, and there is
even plenty of sly humour scattered about, much of it highly satirical.
There are some interesting sub-themes going on, too, particularly looking at
the father-daughter relationship, a topic in which Hamilton seems especially
interested (see, too, the disturbing story "Candy Buds" in "A Second Chance
at Eden").

(Completely off topic, but what do other people make of Hamilton's take on
race relations? As he makes clear in the story "New Days Old Times" in "A
Second Chance at Eden", he is not optimistic that Earth's different peoples
can ever get along together, even when given the additional elbow room of
new planets and habitats to live in. Given the grim stories in the daily
news, it's hard to say that he's wrong, but his fictional solution, ethnic
streaming in Earth's planetary emigration policy, seems to smack of
apartheid and the old South African doctrine of "separate development".
Unlike many other aspects and injustices of the interstellar society he
depicts, this policy does not seem to come in for either direct or indirect
authorial criticism. Indeed, it allows Hamilton to exploit some mild
national stereotyping in his portrayal of some characters, which, even just
sticking to a literary point of view, seems a little lazy. Guiltily, I have
to admit, however, that I did enjoy his humorous revenge on the country
which inflicted "Neighbours" on us in his ghastly-but-funny portrayal of the
gullible Australian teenagers who, as if straight from the script of that
egregiously awful antipodean soap opera, get taken in by the advertising
campaign mounted by the evil dead who are taking over the Valisk space
habitat. I am also ashamed to admit that I enjoyed the comic chauvinism
evident in Hamilton's account of the misadventures of the evil gallic space
pirate, Andre Duchamp, who blames all the ills on the future on "those evils

But, even with everything else that is going on, Hamilton does tackle some
of the Big Issues. He ponders on the nature of the soul and even gives
science fictional versions of purgatory, heaven and hell. The main
socio-political groupings of humanity are Edenists and Adamists, and the
story ends with the heroine confronting the devil (all right, a devil) and
the hero finding god (oh, all right, a sort of god, but I'm not saying any
more at this stage). There is much less ambiguity than in Wolfe, and the
science fantasy is much less stable, tending to dissolve into a science
fictional rationale rather than maintaining an enigmatic equilibrium between
the imperatives of science and religion. Hamilton's mysticism has a
distinctly humanistic flavour, and ultimately turns out to have an
egalitarian and even a mildly socialist agenda. He is extremely good,
though, at posing and answering the question, "So what happens after that?"
The three volumes are devoted to such questions as, what happens after
death? What happens when a star dies? What happens after a civilisation
destroys itself in war? What happens after you've escaped to another
dimension? What happens after the universe collapses in on itself? All in
all, this willingness to extend narrative after what in other contexts would
be the end is one of the major reasons why "Night's Dawn" is so
interesting - and so long.

An almost final note: Hamilton seems to have read every major space opera
and SF book of the past few years, and watched all the most prominent SF and
horror films and TV shows too. He gleefully includes every scene, theme and
cliché you can think of somewhere in his own work, often acknowledging the
theft with an overt reference to some key word or episode in the original,
just to let you know that he knows you know what he's doing. You'll find all
your favourites here, from "Childhood's End" to "The Exorcist" to
"Ringworld". (Bizarrely, even "The Godfather" gets a look in.) Iain M Banks
has clearly been a major influence, and the opening chapter, with its
overwhelming techno-jargon and hyper-destructive space weaponry, is written
as an amusing homage to E E "Doc" Smith as rewritten by Iain Banks (c.f. the
opening space battle in Banks'  "Excession"), as pastiched by Peter

While others might want to track down, for example, the nice little C J
Cherryh pastiche, or the multiple borrowings from the already eclectic
"Babylon 5", for us devoted Lupophiles, the principle interest in this
spot-the-reference festival is, of course, tracking down homages to our own
favourite author. While the vast cylindrical space habitats such as
Tranquillity, with their centrally suspended axial light tubes, will
inevitably remind us of the Long Sun Whorl, what about the business of the
suspected "secret metamorph aborigines" on pages 224-225 of the standard UK
paperback edition of "The Reality Dysfunction". An allusion to "The Fifth
Head of Cerberus" or what?

A final, final note. How can anyone resist a book where the heroine lives at
a place called Cricklade? The real Cricklade is about five miles down the
road from where I live. Sadly, the real Cricklade doesn't evoke L P Hartley
in quite the way that the fictional one does (OK, there's another homage for
you - "The Go-Between"), and, even more sadly, none of the locals are quite
as lovely as the delightful Louise Kavanagh, but I thought that you might be
interested to know that the next village to the south of the real Cricklade
is called Latton. Not quite the same spelling as the character in the book,
but an interesting coincidence even so.

Minety, Wiltshire

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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