A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family - composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone "brothers" have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.
Or maybe not so friendly. At least that's what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who'd like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he'll make enough enemies to ruin his career. Yet Sid's case is about to take an unexpected turn: Because the circumstances of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to a killing that took place years ago on the planet St. Libra, where a North clone and his entire household were slaughtered in cold blood.
The convicted slayer, Angela Tramelo, has always claimed her innocence. And now it seems she may have been right. Because only the St. Libra killer could have committed the Newcastle crime. Problem is, Angela also claims that the murderer was an alien monster.
Now Sid must navigate through a Byzantine minefield of competing interests within the police department and the world's political and economic elite...all the while hunting down a brutal killer poised to strike again. And on St. Libra, Angela, newly released from prison, joins a mission to hunt down the elusive alien, only to learn that the line between hunter and hunted is a thin one.
©2012 Peter F. Hamilton (P)2013 Tantor
"It's a perfect introduction to his gifts for character design, dialogue, and sheer, big-idea-driven storytelling." (Booklist)
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.
Audible listener since the late 1990s. I mostly listen to science fiction, fantasy, history, and science.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finished! At almost 37 hours in audio format this is a long book. About halfway through the book I asked myself "Did the author write a long book just to write a long book?" 2/3 of the way thought the book I told myself "No, the author did not just write a long book just to write a long book." It starts off as a sci fi suspense novel and builds to a space opera like conclusion. Peter F. Hamilton does a amazing job at writing epic sci fi. This book will take you will take you on a nice journey to meet a good cast of characters and take you to a really cool conclusion. Narrated by Toby Longworth, who I think does a good job. My only complaint about the book and narration is that sometimes it is hard to tell when the scene change is. A large break on a page is a good visual cue that can tell you the scene has changed perceptive. It is hard to relate that in audio. Sometimes a change in voice in an audiobook can tell you the same thing. Unfortunately the narrators range is not a great as the cast of characters.
I found this story excellent as a mystery, with a good rendition of futuristic pervasive computer and sensor equipment. However, the actions of the military leaders and their procedures were hard to believe. Further, the portrayal of a small non-commercial scientific enterprise as being wildly more successful than the body of scientists as a whole is also a stretch. Yet it was engaging from beginning to end.
The story is interesting and the extrapolation of a possible future was well done with one very annoying exception, the christian dogma was very heavy handed and didn't feel like it fit in the story. It was distracting and constantly pulled me out of the story. I would recommend skipping this book.
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