My life in outer space

Mindstar Rising – Peter F Hamilton (1993)

Mindstar Rising (Greg Mandel, #1)

‘Wise Up. It’s the 21st Century and Global Warming is here to stay.

Forget the way your country used to look. Get used to the free market, the companies have all the best hardware – they’re calling the shots now…

Live with the heat.

In a world like this a man open to any offers can make out just fine. Greg Mandel: Psi-boosted, wired into the latest sensory equipment, carrying state of the art weaponry. Veteran of Gulf War II. Late of the English Army’s Mindstar Battalion.

As the cartels battle for control of a revolutionary new power source and corporate greed outstrips national security, the tension mounts to boiling point and Greg Mandel is about to find out if he’s up to the ultimate test.

Mindstar Rising marks the debut of a major new talent in British SF.’

Blurb from the 1993 Pan Paperback Edition

This is a workmanlike debut novel from Hamilton and as decent a novel as it is there is little to indicate that he would progress to the quality (and sheer quantity) of his later books such as The Reality Dysfunction, although the beginnings of some of his favourite motifs are here. What Hamilton has lost since this first flush of success is the British setting, since after the Greg Mandel trilogy his work headed off into interstellar space and seemed to be targeting a US audience.
Greg Mandel is ex-military, once part of the Mindstar programme where ESP-positive recruits were implanted with specialised ‘glands’ which enhanced their latent powers.
Now he makes a living as an investigator. This Britain is a victim of global warming and the legacy of the last government, the PSP (People’s Socialist Party) against which Mandel fought and campaigned.
Now, under a new government in a smaller, warmer, wetter Britain where the capital is Peterborough, the country is slowly recovering. Mandel is called in by Philip Evans, a rich and dying industrialist determined to kick-start an economic revival. Evans has discovered that someone has been engaged in industrial sabotage and asks Greg to join forces with his security people to find out what’s going on. And so we are thrown headlong into a world of cyber-terrorists, child vigilantes, programmed sentinel panthers and attractive seductive villains.
One of Hamilton’s favourite motifs, the manipulative teenage uberbabe appears for the first time in the form of Katerina, a friend of Philip’s grand-daughter Julia. Julia herself, being groomed to take over the reins when her grandfather dies, is no pushover either, having had her brain more or less hardwired into the internet, she can save her memories or access data or software instantly.
Another of Hamilton’s themes; the contrast between rich and poor, also appears here as we alternate between scenes of Evans’ cybernetically-controlled mansion and Mandel’s visits to gang-controlled council estates.
Like practically all of Hamilton’s work it’s a gripping page-turner and Greg Mandel is a likeable – if occasionally unpredictably vicious – hero.
Cleverly, Hamilton studiously avoids any info-dumping of back story, thus the history of the PSP and how it came to power left mostly a mystery, although snippets of life under its black-shirted special police and the Party’s eventual downfall are gleaned from conversation here and there within the text.
Structurally it is a third person narrative which for the most part follows Mandel, occasionally wandering off to focus on Julia or Mandel’s new girlfriend or else veers away to relate parallel events elsewhere. The later Hamilton has to be considered one of the masters of the multi-character perspective, combining rather deft use of suspense and cliffhangers.
The only negative point I can make about the novel is that Eleanor, the girlfriend, is a little superfluous in a narrative which strives to accentuate the sexual tension between Mandel and Julia. Their relationship is handled very well but would have made a more powerful story had Mandel been single and widowed. Julia is unattainable by the very fact of the age gap and the difference in their social status, while leaving a small margin of possibility. This tension would have provided a better counterpoint to the investigation and action going on elsewhere. Mandel’s happiness in his relationship is also at odds with the ‘Noir’ feel of the rest of the book. His other traits – his past as a Mindstar veteran and his telepathic gland – make him the outsider, the outcast. This is neutralised by the fact of his steady relationship.
Opportunities are also lost for tensions between Julia and her grandfather. Philip promised that his company ‘Event Horizon’ would be hers when he dies, which he duly does. Death, however, seems to be just another problem-solving exercise for Philip. It therefore comes as a bit of a surprise when, some time after his funeral, Mandrel gets a call from Philip in which he claims someone is trying to kill him. Philip’s memories and brain structure have been downloaded into a NN core which has been the object of a virus attack from cyberspace.
Philips’ resurrection; his determination to continue running the Company and his habit of popping into Julia’s head to experience life in a body of flesh again (a rather disturbing and somewhat incestuous concept) might, one thinks, make her a little pissed-off at her grandfather, but she takes everything in her stride, exhibiting nothing more dramatic than a stamp of the foot now and again.
The digitised consciousness is an idea that Hamilton develops further in the Night’s Dawn trilogy where the Edenists upload their personalities and memories into the merged consciousness of their living ships and habitats.
He takes the concept further in Pandora’s Star, this time examining the effect on society of a system whereby (as in Morgan’s ‘Kovacs’ series) many people carry a recording device implanted in the spine which records their experiences, and there is the technology available to rejuvenate people. In cases of unexpected death, the device can be uploaded into a fast-grown clone.
During the course of the novel we meet other Mindstar veterans such as Royan, an eyeless armless cyber-junkie, plugged into a bank of ageing computers and TV screens, living his life in Internet space. Then there’s Gabriel, another damaged veteran whose gland allows her to see Tau lines of potential futures.
There’s even a character called Roddy who, I am sad to report, gets not much page space before being killed by a genetically engineered panther.
Sequels are ‘A Quantum Murder’ and ‘The Nano Flower’

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