(Reprised from my Goodreads review)
Peter F. Hamilton writes large. He writes 1000 page behemoths of narrative. And he writes with ideas that are space and time spanning, far beyond the usual windows of ordinary lives. And his words are imbued with the power of ideas and concepts not yet realized today. Yet, despite the immense dimensions of his imagination, he keeps it all within reach, grounded on human sensibilities, maintaining a keen sense of the grand human drama.
So in this decidedly large book, Hamilton mixes together inscrutable alien swarms, cloned megalomaniacs, monsters with bladed fingers, interworld portals, smart personal networks, sentient worlds, manufactured oil, medically-enabled longevity, with recognizable and easily accessible characters --- a persistent police investigator, a deeply religious military spook, a seemingly helpless woman wrongly imprisoned, three clones who pursue three separate ambitions of wealth, long-life and freedom --- and vast and sundry characters that a reader from the 21st century can easily relate to. He weaves a tale that could simultaneously be categorized as crime/mystery, political intrigue, spy/military, green environmental/survivalist, alien/first encounter, family drama/love story, action/SF ... all interlaced together in Hamilton's insistent style that impels and brooks no doubt that you, the reader, will hold your disbelief.
From my perspective, the most powerful aspect of this sprawling, decidedly Anglo-centric book, that which holds it together and fills it with passionate motivation and narrative impetus, is the story of Angela. Compared to her the rest of the characters seem quite mundane. Or, conversely, without her, this big, booming behemoth of a book may have failed to engage.
Hamilton has clearly improved with practice; from the Mandel detective stories, to the Nights Dawn series, onto the Void trilogy and now the amazing feat of Great North Road. One thing I can say is read Hamilton now and savor his work while he is at his inventive and imaginative best, for a hundred years hence who knows how we would appreciate his writing in the light of different mores.
(Reprised from my Goodreads review)
Scenario: There's a strange megastructure artifact in space, and some curious folk want to take a look-see. The premise, quite a well-traveled science fiction road, recalls favorites such as the ring of Larry Niven's Ringworld, the cylinder in Arthur Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama, the sphere in Bob Shaw's Orbitsville, the pipes in Alastair Reynolds's Pushing Ice, even the hole through the planet in Benford's own Furious Gulf.
The basic elements are the discovery, the trip, the entry, the exploration, the encounter with strange beings and the escape. Bowl of Heaven goes through discovery-trip-entry fairly quickly in the opening chapters, and here, the hard sf backgrounds of the authors certainly come to the fore and provide impetus for the story. Of course, one has to like hard sf to be able to tolerate all the physics references, otherwise this segment could be a chore. Then, the exploration-encounter phase sets in and this is where, perhaps, the story bogs down a bit.
Things pick up again as the aliens decide to focus in on the human escapees, and a hot pursuit begins. However, just as soon as the action picks up than the book ends. This is probably a publishing quirk, splitting a book into two, increasing margins and whatnot, but quite annoying. I would still take a look at the continuation of the series just for some form of resolution.
Recommended for fans of the genre and of these authors in particular. The style may be too stiff for many readers, like listening to a training manual. That does say a lot about my personal likes though.
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