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Werthead

The Night's Dawn Saga by Peter F. Hamilton

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The reason I said 'saga' and not 'trilogy' as I decided to kick things off with the often-ignored excellent short story collection that precedes the main series.

A Second Chance at Eden

In the mid-21st Century a brilliant geneticist named Wing-Tsit Chong creates the affinity gene. When spliced into human beings, it allows them to control bonded servitor animals with total accuracy. Humans fitted with the gene can also communicate with one another using the gene, which creates an effect similar to the old, mythical idea of telepathy. The affinity gene revolutionises science, and when combined with the growing industry of biological technology - bitek - it seems to promise a brighter, less technologically and materially-focused future for the human race. In 2090 the Jovian Sky Power Corporation begins mining helium-3 from the atmosphere of Jupiter and builds a bitek space station, Eden, as a cheap alternative to a traditional but expensive hollowed-out asteroid habitat. Eden is given its own neural strata and its sentient mind can communicate with all of its inhabitants, and all of them with one another, forming the ultimate utopian society.

But change is hard for some to accept. The Reunified Christian Church is deeply concerned about the implications of bitek and affinity, for with a person able to call upon the immediate support of of thousands of other human minds to any crisis or problem, they grow up better-adjusted and in less need of psychological reassurance. In short, they grow up with no need for faith in what cannot be seen or known. And that is a danger that no religion can ignore.

Spanning 516 years of history, the six short stories and the title novella that make up A Second Chance at Eden chronicle humanity's first faltering steps into space, the colonisation of other worlds and the huge schism along ideological and religious grounds that splits the human race in two, the Adamists and Edenists. The final story takes place thirty years before the events of Hamilton's vast and epic Night's Dawn Trilogy, and tells the story of the last voyage of the starship Lady MacBeth under Captain Marcus Calvert.

Peter F. Hamilton is best-known for his immense, brick-thick novels, themselves usually parts of trilogies or duologies of a truly epic and cosmic scale. However, he initially made his career in short stories, building up an impressive body of work in the six years prior to the publication of his first novel, Mindstar Rising, in 1993. Several of these stories were based around the fictional science of affinity, which he explored in different ways. After his popular story 'Candy Buds' was published he expanded the concept to novel-length, giving rise to the massive Night's Dawn story. In 1998 he revisited these early short stories, re-editing them to fit into the Confederation timeline a bit more neatly, and combined them with some new works to form this collection.

A Second Chance at Eden is excellent, showing Hamilton's skills are just as impressive, if indeed not moreso, when applied to the short form as to his mega-epics. The first story, 'Sonnie's Edge', shows the dark side of affinity as it is used for a rather unpleasant new bitek version of bear-baiting, with an absolute killer ending. The story's setting, Battersea in 2070, (with the vast domes of the London arcology we later see in The Naked God taking shape in the background) is vivid and impressive.

'A Second Chance at Eden' itself takes us to the Eden habitat in 2090. This murder-mystery novella is superb, showing the birth of the culture we will see in action close-up throughout the Night's Dawn Trilogy and examining the morality and ethics of the affinity technology when brought in sharp conflict with religious concerns. This is an intelligent story which, in the tradition of all good SF, brings complex ideas back back down to the human level.

'New Days, Old Times' is Hamilton's answer to why the colonies in the Confederation are ethnically-'streamed', instead of culturally integrated. We visit the planet Nyvan (which plays a big role in the trilogy) and Hamilton's argument - that if different cultures, religions and societies are forced to live together on another world we will simply make the same mistakes all over again - is grimly persuasive. 'Candy Buds' is one of Hamilton's best-known short stories, set on Tropicana, the only Adamist world where bitek remains legal by the late 24th Century, where the richest man on the planet finds himself unusually touched by the plight of a young girl he was planning to exploit for her astonishing discovery. A dark story with a savagely clever ending.

'Deathday' is a superb slice of SF horror, as one of the last colonists ordered to leave the failed farming world of Jubarra pursues a destructive vendetta against a resident lifeform with destructive results. 'The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa' is a curiously brutal and selfish kind of love story with a melancholic aspect, actually reminiscent of GRRM's 1970s SF work (such as 'A Song for Lya'). It's not quite as good as that due to a somewhat weird ending, but it's certainly a change of pace for Hamilton and works well for the most part.

'Escape Route' takes us to the last voyage of the Lady MacBeth under the captaincy of Joshua Calvert's father and explains exactly what happened to trash the ship so badly it was drydocked at Tranquillity for thirty years. This is an excellent SF story featuring some traditional tropes, such as the dubious passengers and an abandoned alien artifact in space, with a clever resolution. For fans of the trilogy, this story does fill in some gaps in the backstory in an entertaining manner.

Overall, A Second Chance at Eden (****½) is an excellent collection of short SF set in one of the most thoroughly-realised SF settings ever created. There are no really weak links and 'Sonnie's Edge', 'Deathday' and 'Escape Route' are all superb, whilst the title novella is nothing short of classic, showing the birth of a new human culture which is beyond normal human experience but in a manner that is convincing and even attractive: a sympathetic Singularity. Hamilton's handling of the religious element is also intelligent and interesting.

The collection is available now in the UK. The American edition has gone out of print but some second sellers on Amazon.com still have stock.

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I'm just about to begin on The Reality Dysfunction, although I'm a bit worried about the Hard SF quotient...

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A Second chance at Eden, the novella, sure is great. One of my favorites. I wish Hamilton would write more short stories.

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I've wanted to read his books for quite a while now but never got to it (too much on the to-read-list).

So, should I read Second chance at Eden before the Night's Dawn trilogy?

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Papirolle, I think you should. The stories are short, excellent and you get a good feel for the universe. You pick up things like bitek and other stuff, Adamist and Edenist etc. The whole Night's Dawn Trilogy will read a bit easier then.

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It's not necessary as the collection came out between the second and third novels, but it does lay the foundations a bit better than just jumping headfirst into a 3600-page trilogy. A lot of elements in the short stories resurface in various ways in the trilogy, so it actually makes quite a good taster before the main course, so to speak ;)

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I am always a fan of jumping head first into stuff, but if you aren't, go for the novella. I didn't read it till after I finished the series and I really enjoyed it. It gave some new perspectives on some of the stuff in the series.

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I really quite enjoyed reading the novels, at least until the last one.

ALL those pages, all those hours, all that buildup, and that's the ending I get???

WTF?

In the interest of the people who haven't read it - I won't spoil it...

Good to hear that the short stories are excellent, but I still haven't forgiven him for stringing me along for three huge novels and giving me the most anti-climactic ending since 'it was all a dream!'

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People who complain about the ending to the books really, really bemuse me. Weren't they paying attention?

SPOILER: Night's Dawn
In Book 1 the Tyrathca tell the humans that they if go find the Sleeping God, its immense powers with solve the reality dysfunction crisis. In Book 2 the science team on Tranquillity conclude that if they find the Sleeping God, its immense powers could solve the crisis. At the start of Book 3, Joshua, Syrinx and their crews are despatched to find the Sleeping God and enlist its help in solving the crisis. They then spend the next 1,000 pages looking for the Sleeping God and debating how they are going to enlist its help in solving the crisis.

At the end of the book and the trilogy, the heroes find the Sleeping God, and it uses its immense powers to solve the crisis (although not completely, and a lot of people still die, and a lot of people are left dying afterwards).

Seriously, moaning about this is like moaning that if in A Dream of Spring Daenerys's dragons and a shitload of obsidian swords play a role in defeating the Others.

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Hmmm.

SPOILER: Night's Dawn
Wasn't there other references in the books to the solution of the crisis not being so simple? Maybe I misread (although a lot of other people seem to have the same impression) but I reached the end of the series expecting some clever solution but instead a button was effectively pressed. The only reason why I expected such a clever solution was because I was believed I was told to expect one.

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After reading Alastair Reynolds I am really scared to pick up another scifi book. But I think I will give these a try.

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I enjoy Peter F. Hamilton's books generally and I liked the The Night's Dawn trilogy enough to buy all of the books, having said that the premise of the series didn't really work for me.

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Hmmm.

SPOILER: Night's Dawn
Wasn't there other references in the books to the solution of the crisis not being so simple? Maybe I misread (although a lot of other people seem to have the same impression) but I reached the end of the series expecting some clever solution but instead a button was effectively pressed. The only reason why I expected such a clever solution was because I was believed I was told to expect one.

SPOILER: Night's Dawn
Well, the solution was quite clever. The trilogy began with wormholes opening and we are repeatedly told about their energistic states and capabilities throughout the whole trilogy, but because the reader just dismisses it as Hamilton's answer to warp drive, the fact that wormholes can be used to solve the problem is completely overlooked. The only problem is the stupendous scale needed and even that is much more acceptable once we learn that the Kiint can generate wormholes across tens of millions of light-years to their home galaxy.

This is where Hamilton's original title for the trilogy, Joshua's Progress, may have helped out a bit more. That all he has to do is press a button (albeit a button he's fought his way through three big books, lost some friends and had to kill a lot of people to actually get to) isn't the point, the real point is how his experiences in the trilogy have shaped his character to the point where the Sleeping God trusts him with its power, if only briefly. Rereading The Reality Dysfunction at the moment and it is clear that the Joshua of the start of the trilogy would have chosen a different course of action, especially with regards to Dexter Quinn.

The other part of it was the price that was paid. The skyscraper destroyed in New York with tens of thousands of deaths, the annihilation of Nyvan and its billion people after Dexter blew up the orbiting asteroids, the hundreds of millions of people left traumatised by events and the millions left permanantly dependent on life-support equipment because of cancer.

The actual ending itself is simple, but the struggle to get there and the price that was paid to do it I think earns the ending.

My only major complaint about the ending is that Hamilton goes to some lengths to wrap up everyone's storylines, even taking time out to resolve what happened to a minor car thief and his wife who appeared for one page two thousand pages earlier, and doesn't leave any plot threads dangling for the future, which feels a bit artificial and unrealistic.

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Meh. We're told in LOTR that the solution is to throw the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. So we're expecting that. How is it written?

After the boss fight with the spider, Tolkien writes, 'And so after dodging a few sentries, and getting a bit tired, Sam and Frodo walk into Mount Doom, exclaim about the heat, and throw the ring into the fire. The End.'

Anyway, it wasn't so much that the ending of the Night's Dawn trilogy involved divine intervention - it was just that it, for me, was totally anti-climactic.

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I can kind of see that. I didn't feel quite the same way but it was a little bit anticlimactic. I did like how the bad guy ended up though. I thought that was hilarious.

I also enjoyed his newer books Pandora's Star and its sequel Judas Unchained. Not to mention the two Evolutionary Void novels which are set in the same universe.

Hamilton isn't as much hard sci-fi as Reynolds. I was kind of underwhelmed with the Absolution Gap trilogy (don't remember what it was really called) but I decided to pick up the newest one House of Suns and was pleasantly suprised. It wasn't nearly as much of a letdown as the other ones. I still prefer Iain M. Banks for my hard scifi though. Use of Weapons and Player of Games were amazing, IMHO.

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I can kind of see that. I didn't feel quite the same way but it was a little bit anticlimactic. I did like how the bad guy ended up though. I thought that was hilarious.

I also enjoyed his newer books Pandora's Star and its sequel Judas Unchained. Not to mention the two Evolutionary Void novels which are set in the same universe.

Hamilton isn't as much hard sci-fi as Reynolds. I was kind of underwhelmed with the Absolution Gap trilogy (don't remember what it was really called) but I decided to pick up the newest one House of Suns and was pleasantly suprised. It wasn't nearly as much of a letdown as the other ones. I still prefer Iain M. Banks for my hard scifi though. Use of Weapons and Player of Games were amazing, IMHO.

Chasm City was great. The other ones, though..... I do not have any problems with Hard sci-fi, I read Accelerando but I think that I am more the military sci-fi guy.

Oh yeah, Weber has to release a new Honor Harrington, damn it.

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I can't wait for that one either. I'm just starting By Heresies Distressed, I hope its more like the first than the second one. I have Chasm City but I haven't got around to it yet. I might pick it up when I'm done with this one.

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Werthead, I'm obsessed with your blog.

That said, have you reviewed Night's Dawn yet? I loved Pandora's Star etc, but am I not sure if Night's Dawn would be too much of a retread.

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I don't much care for murder mysteries, but A Second Chance At Eden was very good. The other stories were mixed. I remember thinking the Robot Wars one was pretty shit.

Wert - I think most people complain about deux ex machina endings because they're cheap and easy, not because they didn't see them coming.

Just out of curiousity, I've never really understood why people have such issues with Hamilton's sex scenes?

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Wert - I think most people complain about deux ex machina endings because they're cheap and easy, not because they didn't see them coming.

I think it's pretty impossible to see a deux ex machina ending coming... ;)

This has been debated many times over, and the ending of the Naked God isn't a "deux ex machina"-ending. Wert can say this much better than me but look up the definition. As early as the first book the solution to the crisis can be seen. In it self, a deux ex machina comes literally from the blue. Ergo, that is one angle of complaint that can't be used.

I find the ending quite funny except being a bit irritated that they moved the human stars.

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