I'm only a couple of hours in and I'm hooked. It's everything I expect from Peter F. Hamilton. A note for listeners: The print copy has a map, a timeline and a very helpful cast of characters. If you have a Kindle you can download the free sample and, since these are in the front of the book, they are included. The cast is large and I find it helpful to have a printed list.
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
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.
Sci-fi, History, Police Procedurals and Science
So that I don't bury the lead -- this is one sophisticated, complex wonderful book. The narration is great as well. I wish Audible/Amazon would allow folks who listen to more than 20 books a year to, just a once a year, give a 6 star rating. Just one. Like a premium frequent traveler rating. I'd love to see the books that made that list. I'm certain this would be get the 6th star from a lot of people.
I enjoy historical biographies and hard science fiction particularly when the Sci-Fi comes in very long books or multiple book series -- with one or more of the following themes: modern space operas, complex storylines, detective or noir/cyberpunk overtones, cascading clever thoughts/dialogue and/or military. This has led me to earlier works by Peter F. Hamilton (Void Trilogy, Greg Mandel Series), Dan Simmons (Hyperion), Alastair Reynolds (Revelation Space Trilogy, Terminal World), Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon) and most recently Charles Stross. (Halting State and Rule 34.) (A swirling, clever, funny and very complex pair of police procedurals done just enough into the future to look at the next big thing in social engineering, computing, communications and just about anything else you can imagine.)
I never thought I'd say that I liked another Hamilton book as much as the Void Trilogy -- and this is a slightly different type of animal. Where that was broad and wild, this is tight and classy. It is like Wallander (obscure Swedish police procedural reference) meets the Void Trilogy. It IS "modern space opera, complex storyline, detective or noir/cyberpunk overtones, cascading clever thoughts/dialogue and/or military."
When I read Charles Stross' Halting State, I initially found it hard to get into the three rotating storylines and the fact that the narration is, oddly, in the second person -- but it was worth the work to do so. This one takes no such early work. Pay your one credit, hit the button an WHOOOOOSSSHHHH ! You are off. Like Halting State, it is a rock solid police procedural with a clever and appealing set of smart characters.
It is like listening to a great new song...you sort of know the rhythm and style but WOW. Toby Longworth is perfect too -- superb meld of material and delivery. Like I said, a 6 on a scale of 5.
New entry on the top ten.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I read Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star a few years ago, and was neither disappointed nor wowed by it. Entertaining plot, interesting alien, but rather pulpy world-building and characters.
This novel is set in a much nearer future (130 years from now), and I found its world more believable. Humanity has colonized other planets, thanks to the invention of interstellar gateways that connect them directly to Earth, but society hasn’t evolved a great deal. Technology, of course, has gone through a few generations of updates, but mostly, people have just spread out into the new worlds (or been handed a few supplies and forcibly exported there, in the case of the very poor). Culture on Earth itself is stagnant.
Much in the greater human sphere is controlled or influenced by an extremely rich family of cloned brothers, and their clone descendents, called the Norths. When one member of this family, who no one seems able to identify, is found savagely murdered, dark events from the past are recalled. Might a mysterious alien have been responsible? Or was it a human conspiracy? So begins an elaborate plot, which has one group of characters doing detective work in Newcastle, England, and the other on a scientific/military mission to find sentient life on the gateway-linked tropical world of Saint Libra. Some secret pasts eventually bring these two main stories together. There’s also a history with another weird alien, called the Zanth (sp?), which mostly lurks off stage, but instills a sort of Cold War paranoia in everyone.
I found Hamilton’s ideas for his universe fairly interesting and enjoyed the suspense, once it builds up. However, I agree with a lot of other readers that this is a somewhat bloated novel. Hamilton seems to love technical procedures, politics, and family backstories, but the many, many pages of detail he devotes to the these things are filled with stretches of tedium that add little to the main story. It doesn’t help that most of his characters are pretty two-dimensional, their actions motivated more by soap-opera-y “twists” than by any real internal complexity. If an editor had gotten the author to cut out some of the unnecessary padding and build-up, and focus more on his characters’ inner lives, this book would have been a winner. I was curious what the dynamics of a family of clones might be like, but, alas, there’s not a lot of getting inside the heads of the Norths on this issue. Also, I got pretty weary of certain catch-phrases, which the characters use over and over and over. Again, editor.
That said, I wouldn’t go so far as to give Great North Road a thumbs-down. It kept me entertained, and the Saint Libra plot, which had an expedition gradually unraveling under duress in a way that reminded me a lot of Dan Simmon’s gripping novel The Terror, had its strong parts. It was also interesting to consider (in the detective plot) how police work might evolve as technology advances, but still be hampered by the same old problems, such as budget cuts, politics, and better-equipped criminals.
In sum, there’s a great, much shorter novel in here. Whether or not you might want to read this longer, inflated one in order to get to it will depend on much you like Peter Hamilton’s work and how patient you are. 3.5 stars.
The audiobook narrator wasn’t bad. He reads in a style that was maybe slightly too “dramatic” for me, but does a range of accents and voices that distinguish the characters well.
It might be odd to label a book that's just shy of 1,000 pages as "restrained", but that's what I would say about Great North Road.
You have to take that description in context - normally, Hamilton writes series that are thousands and thousands of pages long, with volumes that could double as body weights. But his fans (I count myself among them) are willing to forgive the length because he makes it worth the readers attention and time. His plots span a multitude of alien environs, include a jaw dropping number of characters, and most importantly, manage to juggle description and pace if not perfectly, then very well.
It's always an impressive show.
But, with only a grand to spend on pages in this newest work, I was curious to see how successfully he trimmed down his loquacious style.
Let me say: he manages it.
Once I finished the book, I had to sit back for a moment to appreciate the kind of intellect it takes to weave together the threads of so many plot lines into a climax and denouement worthy of the build up.
It leaves no doubt that Hamilton's greatest strength is his ability to balance intricacy and plot progression.
About the actual content of the novel (quick aside: how the hell do you write a summary for something this size?), it'll suffice to say: the story takes place in a somber, technology-driven future, where humanity has not yet learned to shed its more devious peccadillos.
To anyone considering the book: It's great. I highly recommend it.
So, you might be curious, why only 4 stars? That's a glowing review of him as an author - why not 5? There must be a "but" somewhere in there.
You're right. It's small, but...
Hamilton can't write women very well.
Anyone who's followed his progression as an author knows that some of his characters come up flat (which is understandable given the size of the cast) and even when most of his male leads are respectably nuanced, Hamilton hasn't managed to create a female voice that rings consistently true.
The internal monologues of his women sometimes sound like convincing cross-dressers.
This problem has dogged him his entire career (and any reader of the genre knows that it's a frequent issue in sci-fi) but he's made progress - particularly when you consider some of the cringe-worthy female characters in the Commonwealth Saga.
That being said, I'll continue reading his works because the strengths dwarf the weaknesses.
I really felt that this was missing something as I closed in on the final hours of the book. I felt uncommitted to the story for the entire first half, waiting for something (anything) to happen. Finally in the fifth part you get the bigger picture, but even now that I've completed the book, I feel like a couple of things were executed on in a funny way.
Right at first, I was kind of afraid that the detective premise would be a rehash of a Paula Myo circumstance from Pandora's Star and the followup books. I wasn't going to be super enthusiastic about that sort of lack of imagination, but Hamilton really does nothing for you to alleviate that fear: nothing happens. No really. For 18.25 hours, nearly nothing happens.
It's not for a lack of shifting perspective either. The story is built on a lot of flashback material, which at first feels like a crude LOST-style maneuver. Entire scenes in the present are created and inhabited just so that you can go back in time 20 years. Which could have been fine, but nothing happened in the present, and nothing helpful happened in the flashback. One flashback, a pilot, has a nice colorful flashback story, but Angela and the others are all severely lacking, because telling you what happened would sort of undermine the whole set of mysteries in the character timeline. It very very obviously gives you only what you need, showfully leaving out material that is clearly important.
So for over 18 hours, you've got nothing to chew on but really empty flashbacks that, while interesting at first, are actually lacking substance.
The worst of it is really just that the mystery at the heart of the book feels extremely manufactured after a while. Flashbacks are clearly incomplete, probably to instill doubt about the identity of a murderer. But once you finally get the missing 30 second memory, it's nearly uninteresting. Not irrelevant, just not impressive for the core of a huge mystery.
The second half of the book makes it good. The first half is a character-building experience, I grant you, but man was it drawn out. I was even expecting that, but was still surprised.
If the book has any weakness, it's one of managing expectations. I say that with an open mind, having considered several angles.
The whole story looks great from the bird's eye view, but when I was in the thick of some of its parts I found myself just listening to an extra hour or two just to cut through and absorb more, to compress the experience and convince myself I'm interested in what happens next.
I enjoyed it, and the end is good. I gave it a good rating, because it's a good story. My qualms come from stylistic preference, especially held up against Hamilton's previous previous sci-fi work. I think Alastair Reynolds has given me a taste for heavier science components woven into all that storycrafting (which I generally enjoy, mind you).
My advice: if you're unsure about getting the book, don't rush to this one at the expense of something else you're excited for. This one will be waiting for you when you're ready. On an my impromptu eventfulness scale of 1-10 (say, 1Q84 to Daemon) this is a 5, while I'd place Pandora's Star and related works in the 7-8 range.
I've read many other Peter Hamilton novels: the Commonwealth, Void and Greg Mandel series. Loved those, but this one just didn't take. I suggest any sci fi fans who've read nothing by Peter Hamilton start with those series and in that order. Only consider 'Great North Road' after that.
At that point, my review to those folks would be that 'Great North Road' has all the elements of those previous efforts, but it was less interesting, developed, exciting and thought-provoking. In addition, it was mired in several large sections. I recommend giving it a pass.
To end on that first point though - I very much enjoy the many other novels of Peter Hamilton, and look forward to more!
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So it goes without saying that PFH (Peter F Hamilton) is among the best out there for long sci-fi books and this one is long, 976 pages in print form so you can understand why its 36 hours long but don't let that put you off its totally worth it.
This isn't like the other PFH books but that's sorta like he writes, each one is different but has the same feel to it.
This is a standalone book which is not something that this author has done much of in the past, its really always been 3 books or 2 like Pandora's Star/Judis Unchained, but thats not a problem, PFH said in an interview that he likes the idea of finishing a book and having that story be over, not having to work on the next book - well this works good for me as long as he writes one every year or more ha.
This is a great story about a murder 20 years apart on 2 different planets in the same fashion the supposed killer Angela Tramelo was convicted and jailed for that murder but it seems that her story of an alien attack might be true, so this causes all sorts of problems.
This is the story of a mother who would do anything to save her sick daughter, and how she was once a rich girl who lost everything when all the other rich families conspired against hers and her father's company causing her to loose everything, she grew up and hatches a plan to rip off some people who wronged her because it turns out he daughter is sick, the kind of sick that costs so much the only people who can afford the treatment are the ultra-wealthy milti-billionaires on the planet and she was no longer one of those.
But something happens on that mission, an alien monster? or some sorta crazy person in a muscle armor suite with blades for fingers? whatever it is they go back to the planet that the original murder happened at and "look for an alien monster" because that's what Tramelo said happened, and that's where this story starts.
Although the author said hes not writing another book in this "world/universe" there could be one after this ended, its not like things were left open and misunderstood, everything is explained pretty much and the rest is obvious. I wont tell you if there is or isn't an alien monster you will have to read to find out but what you do find out is that its something that you didn't expect because that's how PFH does it.
Great book, highly recommended!
This novel had lots of potential...suspense, good imagining, nice snaky plot and, starting off, at least, characters whose actions seemed to stem from natural human motives. Some pretty original sounding stuff, to boot.
Its a long, long listen. So when the intricacies start beginning to resolve, one has put in
a lot of hours of involved listening. I was waiting, almost eagerly, to get to the end stages.
About halfway through, the author began throwing in junk but not enough to make me stop. By the last third, it all went south. What I seemed to end up with was pure, trite, drivel... a) another boring ecological lecture about humanity's unrelenting destruction of nature,, b) another female super hero who beats up the monster with ninja style moves c) the main protagonist, female, who changes from a complete uber rich, selfish, dishonest, decietful, sociopath (fairly interesting) into ...someone else whose loving, brave, hard working, selfless soul must have been transplanted secretly without the reader's knowledge because any reader will be hard put to figure out how she ended up with it, much less whether the story ever made clear why she deserved it. d) most males except for the uber rich ones and one cop are mostly depicted as basically dumb, simple and incompetent, who play only one note...sex..and e) an ending more reminiscent of "Its A Wonderful Life" than any decent sci fi I've come across. Overall, although I have read or listened to several books by this author and found one or two good ones, (so I believe the author has some skill), this one ends up being an ode to political correctness and easy fixes. I found it both disappointing and dishonest. Fortunately, the reader was very good or I would have ditched the thing 2/3s of the way through.
Great North Road is truly a masterpiece of literature, all the better because it's sci-fi. Hamilton crafts a richly complex tale of murder and intrigue that gradually expands to an interstellar affair with multiple alien species. The backstories and flashbacks are deliciously detailed and subtly presented to create an onion peeling effect as the tale evolves. The multiple characters are multifaceted with many foibles and failings that are both endearing and identifiable. Hamilton constructs an eminently believable picture of life in the mid-22nd century, especially police procedures and bureaucracy.
The sci-fi elements are varied and comprehensive, but do not overwhelm the story. Included are physics with wormholes, stellar aberrations, quantum state matter, and nanotechnology; biology with rejuvenation, genetic evolution, and unique alien lifeforms; and cyber with electronic implants, complex digital networks, and powerful AI level software. At the same time, Hamilton pays attention to interpersonal and societal relations: realistic family experiences; romance, parental devotion, law enforcement & crime, government bureaucracy, and military. There is heroism & humiliation, ideological rigidity & flexibility, poignant tenderness & vicious ruthlessness, and struggles with decisions on alien genocide & dating partners.
The narration is equally outstanding; all the more given the enormous number of characters. The tone, mood, and pace of delivery are perfect for the story.