My life in outer space

The Great North Road – Peter F Hamilton (2012)

Great North Road

In the 22nd Century, humanity has reached and settled other planets via wormhole gateways. Newcastle has become a rich and thriving city due to its wormhole connection to St Libra, a world of plant life upon which the bioil companies have sited their algaepaddies, the source of the sustainable fuel that is pumped to dozens of worlds through the wormhole gateways.
Sid Hurst, a Geordie cop and father of two is called to the scene of a murder; a high profile case which no one is looking forward to investigating.
The victim is a North. Norths (in a nutshell) are cloned copies of the original North, a successful businessman, who placed the three cloned copies of himself (Augustus, Bertram and Constantine) in charge of his empire. Further clones of the three followed, and at the time of the murder, hundreds of Norths are extant, and with identical DNA, identification of the body is an issue.
The murder weapon is also an issue, since it would appear that the victim had his heart ripped out by an instrument much like a human hand with blades for fingers.
Hurst’s investigation attracts the attention of the HDA (The Human Defence Alliance) whose major directive is to conduct defence against the Zanth, the only possible sentient species Humanity has yet encountered.
It appears that, twenty years ago, Bertram North and many of his staff and family were slaughtered on St Libra in the same way. The only survivor – the woman convicted and imprisoned for the murders – was Angela Tramelo – who has always insisted that they were killed by ‘a monster’.
Vance Elston, HDA Colonel and one of the Gospel Warriors (a Christian sect who believe the Zanth to be the devil) was one of the original team that questioned Tramelo and appears to have always believed her story. She is taken from Holloway and given the chance to join an expedition to St Libra to search for evidence of sentient life, while Sid and his team begin to painfully recreate the journey the body took before it was dumped in the river, and hopefully track down the killer.
Again it’s Hamilton painting his very detailed dreams onto enormous canvases with a bewildering number of characters, all of whom he somehow organises and controls with exceptional aplomb.
For me, it’s not the best novel he’s written but it’s still streets ahead of most of his competition.
Longevity and rejuvenation are an obsessive theme for Hamilton as are, or were, the glamorous uberbabes who previously haunted his pages like Katie Price in space.
The themes are combined, albeit somewhat more intelligently and tastefully in Angela Tramelo who received an early DNA genetic treatment which retards aging after puberty to one year in ten. Thus, when she emerges from Holloway she had effectively only aged two years.
Augustine and Constantine North are both pursuing research into rejuvenation; Augustine from Earth and Constantine from his within his vast habitat orbiting Jupiter.
As the murder investigation begins and the expedition sets out, we follow various characters, now and again jumping back in time to explore backstories.
One could argue that this is the same basic premise as ‘Pandora’s Star’ in that we suspect there may be some dangerous aliens in Solar System Y. We must send an expedition there to find out. Person A has been stating that the dangerous aliens have been among us for some time but no one believes Person A.
For a Hamilton novel it seems a little unpolished. Certainly there is a certain cleverness in the slow reveals of past events which shed light on the current situation, with a couple of actual surprises in terms of connections between major characters, but Hamilton has done all this before.
However, there are some interesting aspects to this. Of the major characters all are searching for continuance of some sort. Vance Elston believes he will find immortality through his dedication to Christ.; the Norths – initially through cloning but now through rejuvenation and genetic engineering. Angela’s life will already be extended through the centuries via her longevity treatment, and then there is the St Libra Gaia entity which has evolved into a gestalt organism, naturally immortal.
Perhaps on some level the Zanth, a species whose intelligence cannot be gauged, if it can be described as intelligence at all, but seems to be able to manipulate quantum states, represents entropy or Death. Their predations are purposeless, invading systems and converting planets and moons into Zanth architecture, absorbing and transforming matter effortlessly. Is this Hamilton’s perennial theme, the struggle of life against Death?
The morality of terrorism is on a stickier wicket here than it was in ‘Pandora’s Star’. There, Adam had a thoroughly worked out background, character and ethos.
Here, Saul, a resident of St Libra (who has a backstory) is pressed into providing equipment to help blow up a plane. Although he does partly redeem himself by reporting his actions to the authorities there seems to be a lack of remorse or any further consequences. This is not to say that his actions were not in character but rather that his character was not fully developed enough to carry the actions.
On the whole it is an excellent piece of work, but having been a Peter F Hamilton fan for a goodly number of years I can’t help feeling there’s a certain ‘thinness’ to this novel.

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