Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

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Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A wide-ranging story across centuries of human expansion out into the star systems, conspiracies, mysteries, ancient adversaries and modern technology…perhaps just a little too complex for its own good.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 544 Date: September 2018
Publisher: Macmillan; Air Iri OME edition
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1447281320

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Apparently the term space opera was coined in 1941 as a pejorative. It was borrowed not from the high-brow musical art form, but from the common or garden 'soap opera'. It related to a particular kind of science fiction which the coiner (one Wilson Tucker) described as a hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn. It would be fifty years later before the term started to be re-appropriated to cover – if still the same themes of distant futures, military conflict, heroism and a simplistic set of values – more literary, more expansive works. The term is now taken as compliment.

Space opera has moved from soap opera to a purer form of opera. Whether you think that is a good thing or not is a matter of personal taste. This review represents mine…and my answer is no. I am not an opera fan. I find the form unnecessarily complex, even pretentious and I don't like the music. When it comes to space opera…I'm probably old school…I like the simpler stories…(for which read Anne McCaffrey's Pern stories)…the stories that are at the fantasy end of sci-fi, arguably the more romantic stories. Or, I like my Sci-fi to be emphasising the science (see The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu) which tends to lend itself to the short-story format. In that light, I struggled with Salvation.

For a start it is structurally complex. We have two main story strands. In AD2204 humans have expanded into outer space. At the limits of that expansion, an alien shipwreck has been discovered, with a cargo that is causing serious concern in high places. High places include earth governments, but they also include the headquarters of Connexion Corp, the global company that really runs the planet – since it developed and controls the technology on which the ability to be 'just a step away' from anywhere is based (somewhere between a matter transporter and a worm hole and I'm not too clear which). This and lots of other tech-stuff is controlled by this one corporation and the world has bought into it…the way it's already clear that we will. If you think the internet of things is scary, this is a world where everyone has their own personal altme which is a permanent link to whatever the internet has become, information source, very personal computer, communications link and probably much much more.

This isn't a 'first contact' story. Earth has already been colonised by aliens. The Olyix have been around for a while. They don't do well in earth atmosphere but have established an embassy in which they can control their living conditions. They are buying energy in order to continue their pilgrimage to the god at the end of the universe. They are paying in a technology that has expanded human life-space by decades.

A team is despatched to investigate the mysterious shipwreck. This leads to one of the structural complications. En route to their destination, our heroes (who will be saints in later centuries) tell their stories…so we have flashbacks to random periods of time, self-contained adventure stories in their own right, mysteries and fights.

Then there is the second strand, at some point in the far future…humanity is facing an unidentified threat…a threat that has by this stage become an ancient enemy that is chasing our species across the universe. On Juloss, a group of children are being trained to be soldiers. Genetically engineered to be gender-binary (humanity as now morphed into a more fluid normality) boys are to fight, girls become tacticians, both are supported by biotechs, cute little furries when they are children who are destined to become as much a part of the fighting machine as the adults that the children will grow into.

There is a lot to love in Salvation. Each and every one of the ideas is sound extrapolation of where we are headed. The whole is both frightening and plausible. There are nods to other great works, Lord of the Flies comes to mind, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and more than one passing hint at The Tempest as rendered in Forbidden Planet. In the self-contained stories the writing is solid, engaging, page-turningly good...but the whole thing was just far too complicated for me. I kept having to check the cast of characters to remind myself who was who. There were too many people, not well-enough developed for me to care about them.

And then…the cardinal sin…on reaching the end, 500+ pages on, nothing was resolved… the story continues…

When the saga is complete it might be worth the reading, but for now, I'm afraid it's a dissatisfying start.

If science fiction is your thing we heartily recommend The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu. We also have a review of Hamilton's Salvation Lost.

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