Great North Road

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Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction involving catastrophe (often an alien race threatening all mankind, but not always) which takes place on a big canvas. Peter F. Hamilton is the best practitioner of this form right now, and Great North Road is possibly his best work yet.

I first read him in Pandora Planet and Judas Unchained. That was a story about very aggressive intelligent plants (which didn’t object to pollution) which threatened humanity. That seems kind of hard to believe, but Hamilton made it believable. The weakness in that one was that a lot of the mystery was resolved in the first volume, which made the second volume too long and ultimately rather dissatisfying.

Great North Road avoids that problem by not resolving all the myusteries until near the end. Hamilton is using a big canvas, but there’s an awful lot of detail here too. The problem at the beginning is the similarity of a murder to a mass killing of 20 years previous. The woman convicted of the earlier killings insists they were performed by an alien, but investigators find evidence of involvement by criminal elements in the British city of Newcastle. But there’s enough evidence of an alien responsibility to mount a huge expedition onto a huge planet of Sirius which humans have settled only a small part of. The investigation there and the one on earth continue in parallel and eventually converge.

In his wide portrait Hamilton includes a lot. Government inertia and corruption as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the free market system. The planet where the investigation takes place is where the bioil, which powers interstellar civilization is largely produced. In the real world you don’t expect a personification of nature to remonstrate with humans and allow them the chance to change their ways, but that’s what happens here.

Ultimately, despite the clear view of human weaknesses and their consequences, this is an optimisitc book, and it will really draw you in.

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