On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
For my money, Peter Hamilton is the best writer of space operas working today. Like all of his books, this one has a cast of many characters, frequent shifts in perspective between at least 8(!) storylines that initially seem unrelated, some great action sequences, lots of interesting speculation about far future technologies, and an occasional need for an editor.
This book takes place 1500 years after his last two-book series (Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained). Some of the characters from that series are still around, due to the virtual immortality provided by future medicine, but knowing the previous books is not required, though it will make some of the story more interesting.
As the first book of three, this one starts a bit slower than Pandora's Star, but builds over the first third or so of the audiobook to become a really compelling story that weaves together the stories of a far-future hitman, the leader of a religious movement, a semi-omniscient AI, a young woman launching a business career, and a young man who initially seems to be living in a fantasy novel. And yet, as the story comes together, these desperate elements weave together into a story about interstellar intrigue and an upcoming event that could threaten the galaxy.
I thought this was an excellent start to a new space opera, much better than Hamilton's Nights Dawn series, but not as immediately action-packed as the previous Pandora's Star novels. Some segments run a bit long, and the occasional sex scenes can seem a trifle gratuitous, but if you like sprawling novels with dozens of characters (think George RR Martin, but in space) and innovative space opera spanning dozens of worlds, this is a great, very well-read choice.
Charlie Stross writes great-to-excellent science fiction/fantasy in many sub-genres, but this novel (and its two sequels) is probably his most original. Its hero is an IT support expert turned secret agent fighting against supernatural horror and organizational bureaucracy. The book is by turns satirical, scary, and action-packed, and generally succeeds admirably, especially for its target audience, for whom it is likely to be a home-run.
And boy does the target audience matter: the book is full of allusions and in-jokes, as well as many quickly listed references. You can (and will) miss a few, but if you aren't a nerd, that is, you aren't into IT and Lovecraft, then you may not be the target audience for this book, and may miss most of its cleverness. For example, expect quick, but important references to: Alan Turing, gorgons, Forward-Looking Infrared Scanners, Windows software licensing terms, Cthulu, John Dee, Mandelbrot Sets, The Great Old Ones, and much more. If the list intrigues you, definitely, definitely get this book. If it baffles you, this might still be a good listen, but will be confusing as well.
As for me, nerd that I am, I loved it, and look forward to seeing the sequel, and the new book coming out in July 2010. The reader, by the way, does a great job.
I am a huge fan of Peter Hamilton, and, if you like the kind of epic hard-ish space opera that he tends to write, this is yet another amazing novel. It moves from the far future of his recent books to a single-volume near future adventure, but all of things that make Pandora's Star or the Void Trilogy great are here. But, for new readers, you should know that Hamilton tends to write a very specific sort of novel, and this is no exception.
So, here is what you should expect: As in all of his novels, it starts a bit slow, as Hamilton throws you into the world with little explanation, while the viewpoint switches often between many well-rounded characters, most of whom have obvious mysteries in their backstories that will only be slowly revealed. The book therefore takes a bit of patience as a result (though it is never boring) and Hamilton takes his time filling in the details of his plot. As a reader, I find the journey from confusion about the world to eventual understanding to be a huge amount of fun, and it is a pretty standard approach among the best epic space operas (think Alastair Reynolds or Iain M. Banks). If you don't like the same progression, you may wish the novel had more info-dumps, and fewer characters.
There are lots of other standard Hamiltonian elements as well. There are gateways to other worlds and hardboiled detectives who won't give up the case. There is detailed technology (especially military technology) and top-notch worldbuilding, including governmental and economic elements left out of most other science fiction. There are the usual (very) slowly revealed mysteries and complex wheels-within-wheels plot elements. There are lots of high-powered action and adventure sequences. And, at the heart of the (really long) novel, are some fundamental mysteries that keep you listening late into the night.
In short, this is Hamilton at the top of his game, and is much tighter than a lot of his previous work. If you love epic near-future science fiction, this should be an instant buy. Your patience in figuring out the details of the world will be well-rewarded, and the reading is superb.