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Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

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Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

AD 2204. A derelict alien spacecraft has been found on a remote planet. A group of explorers are gathered together to investigate the wreck and the strange secrets it contains. For each of them, it has been a strange and stressful road that has led to this time and place. And, centuries in the future, they are revered as the “Five Saints” for the actions they are about to take…

Salvation is the first novel in both a new series and a new universe for Britain’s most successful living SF author, Peter F. Hamilton. It’s also a novel that mixes Hamilton’s well-known strengths – in-depth SF worldbuilding, an epic narrative, the meticulous construction of intriguing mysteries, his skill at both the long-form novel and short stories – with a new approach which splits the story into three distinct strands.

In the first approach, we have the “modern-day” storyline about the gathering of the protagonists (of which there are six; the disparity between the number of characters and the later veneration of five of them is the first clue that something odd is going on) and their deployment to the alien crash site. This story is told in the first person from one of the team and is interesting enough, although it really only serves as a framing device. In the second part of the story we get a lengthy flashback from each character about a key event in their lives, one that also defined who they are but also ties in directly with the over-arching mystery. This section feels a lot like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (itself inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales) and is where Hamilton gets a bit structurally interesting, as he combines the six apparently unrelated novella-length narratives into one story. 

In the third section, it’s centuries or millennia in the distant future and the human race seems to be in desperate straits. This part of the story is most baffling, initially, due to a lack of context, but as the story unfolds the reader can start to put together the pieces. This results in impressive foreshadowing. 

Hamilton moves between the three plot strands with skillful economy – at 530 pages this may not be a short book, but it’s positively a novella compared to so some Hamilton books (the longest of which are more than twice this size) – building up this new vision of the future. It’s a much less advanced vision than either the Confederation of the Night’s Dawn series or the Commonwealth of much of the rest of his fiction, but it’s still a big, brash and optimistic view. The key invention this time around is the quantum entanglement portal, which stands in for the wormholes of his earlier books. In practical terms they are similar, but they have a limitation in that twinned portals have to be created together and then one of them physically moved to the destination to be set up (it can’t be generated from light-years away). They are also much less energy-dependent, meaning that portals are set up everywhere, allowing someone to commute to work in London from their flat in Glasgow in five minutes. The super-rich even have “portalhomes”, where one bedroom might be in New York City but the bathroom is in Antarctica. It’s a fun concept that Hamilton explores to the hilt. 

There’s also a foreboding tone to events. Hamilton is building up to something quite terrible happening between the present and far future storylines, and it’s not until late in the book we get an inkling of what that might be. Of course, the book ends on a cliffhanger just as we get to that point. The good news is that the second book, Salvation Lost, is almost finished already and locked for release in 2019, with The Saints of Salvation to wrap things up in (presumably) 2020. 

Character-wise, Salvation probably lacks a figure as dynamic and memorable as Paula Myo, Ozzie or Syrinx, but the Canterbury Tales-style structure does allow each of the major characters to be painted in a lot of depth with their backstories and motivations fleshed out. There are also political and ideological differences between the group, which have to be overcome for them to work out what is going on. 

The far future storyline is a lot weirder, with characters being trained to face an enemy who may not appear in their lifetimes, but Hamilton sells the weirdness quite well, even if the characters aren’t quite as engaging this time around. 

Salvation (****) is in many ways classic Hamilton: bold, brash, epic, optimistic and packed with great worldbuilding and ideas. It’s also structurally original (for him), relatively constrained in scope and page-count and builds up a terrific momentum which is only arrested by the all-too-soon ending. On the negative side of things, the characters perhaps aren’t among Hamilton’s best and although quantum-entanglement portals may not be wormholes, they are very similar and it does feel like Hamilton is revisiting well-trodden ground here. Still, it’s a compelling, rich SF novel.

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I really enjoyed it and felt like its taking one of his strengths to new heights - imagining all of the ways that the major technological break through would shape human society. Absolutely everything about it is based on the impact of the entangled portals and how they freed humanity from limited energy, some of the things like portal threading were also really imaginative use of the technology. I agree that the characters don't stand out as much as previously, but for once that didn't detract from it for me. The slow creeping realisation of what exactly has happened was also really well done.

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I agree about the slow revelations, that was good.

I guessed fairly early that Feriton was the alien, but I fell for the misdirection in the prologue and assumed he was Neana.

also, I suspect Cancer was another Olyix spy

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On 10/8/2018 at 10:56 PM, Maltaran said:

I agree about the slow revelations, that was good.

 

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I guessed fairly early that Feriton was the alien, but I fell for the misdirection in the prologue and assumed he was Neana.

also, I suspect Cancer was another Olyix spy

 

Agreed on your suspicion, I think I just leaped ahead to assuming this was explicit once everything came out, but it wasn't. I also fell for the same thing you did, that was a really nicely done piece of writing to set up the assumption.

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Spoiler

I am curious about why the Neana didn't share their full tech with the humans.  Any thoughts?

 

Edited by Gaston de Foix

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I just finished this. I agree that it had a clever structure that gradually built up an overall plot out of individual stories that initially only seem to be loosely connected. Hamilton has been good in the past at slowly revealing mysteries, but I think it was particularly well done here. While many aspects of the book have similarities to one or other of his previous books, they have been mixed together in a different enough way that it does feel different. On the slightly negative side, while the characterisation is adequate I agree that perhaps none of his characters here are truly memorable.

On 10/8/2018 at 12:56 PM, Maltaran said:

I agree about the slow revelations, that was good.

  Reveal hidden contents

I guessed fairly early that Feriton was the alien, but I fell for the misdirection in the prologue and assumed he was Neana.

also, I suspect Cancer was another Olyix spy

 

I did think it was likely that Feriton was one of the Neana for most of the book. I was more suspicious of Jessika than the others given how she managed to show up in the middle of two of the different stories.

It does seem likely that Cancer was working for the Olyix. I did for a time wonder if she could be working for the other side, since she does expose security flaws which are then fixed in the attempt to break into the shield files in New York and sabotage the ship construction yards, but I think her actions blowing up the refinery in Yuri's story only really make sense if she's working for the Olyix.

9 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:
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I am curious about why the Neana didn't share their full tech with the humans.  Any thoughts?

 

I think they'd have to be cautious about when they share that tech. If it gets into human hands while there are still nation states with a big rivalry then that could trigger an arms race with weapons that could destroy human civilisation without any Olyix intervention.

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Also, committing suicide in such a way that ensures there’s no body left behind - she wants to hide the fact that there’s an alien brain in her body

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Thanks, Williamjm.  I agree with the view that Cancer was likely an Olyix agent or a Neana agent.  Since there were 4 Neana creations that landed on Earth and only two are accounted for, it's likely that we will encounter the other two. 

But on the other hand, it seems like the Neana may well be hiding somewhere in the galaxy.  After all they are at pains to explain that they are unlikely to be around, and there is no evidence that they are directly opposing the Olyix.  For that matter I am also mystified by the explanation that humans directly need to fight the war against the Olyix.  We are told that this is because of the difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence.  But in what sort of war would the difference in intelligence matter so much and the difference in numbers matter so little? After all for the effort devoted to training these humans in combat, they could have presumably created thousands of machines. 

Clearly Earth was destroyed, only a remnant managed to escape, and the Five Saints were the leaders of the war against the Olyix (and seem to have secured some sort of functional immortality for that purpose). But still the logic of the narrative being presented has a number of deep discrepancies that I think will lead to some sort of big revelation: the Neana created the Olyix or are a break-away group or something like that. 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:
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Thanks, Williamjm.  I agree with the view that Cancer was likely an Olyix agent or a Neana agent.  Since there were 4 Neana creations that landed on Earth and only two are accounted for, it's likely that we will encounter the other two. 

But on the other hand, it seems like the Neana may well be hiding somewhere in the galaxy.  After all they are at pains to explain that they are unlikely to be around, and there is no evidence that they are directly opposing the Olyix.  For that matter I am also mystified by the explanation that humans directly need to fight the war against the Olyix.  We are told that this is because of the difference between human intelligence and artificial intelligence.  But in what sort of war would the difference in intelligence matter so much and the difference in numbers matter so little? After all for the effort devoted to training these humans in combat, they could have presumably created thousands of machines. 

Clearly Earth was destroyed, only a remnant managed to escape, and the Five Saints were the leaders of the war against the Olyix (and seem to have secured some sort of functional immortality for that purpose). But still the logic of the narrative being presented has a number of deep discrepancies that I think will lead to some sort of big revelation: the Neana created the Olyix or are a break-away group or something like that. 

 

 

To your bolded - I wasn't sure I agreed then I reread your post and I'm definitely seeing your point

Spoiler

Initially I thought you were thinking the humans were actually going to fight hand to hand style rather than just meaning the forces needed to be structured around human controlled ships. That is a discrepancy but now I'm thinking about it, it seems too glaring to not have a reason that will be addressed.

On that last bit, perhaps the Neana uplifted the Olyix and being burnt by that is why they were much more cautious in aiding humans.

 

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On 10/16/2018 at 10:50 PM, karaddin said:

 

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Initially I thought you were thinking the humans were actually going to fight hand to hand style rather than just meaning the forces needed to be structured around human controlled ships. That is a discrepancy but now I'm thinking about it, it seems too glaring to not have a reason that will be addressed.

On that last bit, perhaps the Neana uplifted the Olyix and being burnt by that is why they were much more cautious in aiding humans.

 

Spoiler

I also assumed the existence of the *munchkins* (forgetting in world name) was proof that there would be a fair amount of hand to hand combat, but maybe I missed something there. 

Agreed: there is clearly much more to the Neana-Olyix relationship then there has been revealed.  And it really makes me wonder whether the sanctuary star is real and is a place for humans who reject instrumentalism at the hands of either the Olyix or the Neana. 

 

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3 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:
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I also assumed the existence of the *munchkins* (forgetting in world name) was proof that there would be a fair amount of hand to hand combat, but maybe I missed something there. 

Agreed: there is clearly much more to the Neana-Olyix relationship then there has been revealed.  And it really makes me wonder whether the sanctuary star is real and is a place for humans who reject instrumentalism at the hands of either the Olyix or the Neana. 

 

Spoiler

I might be wrong, but my interpretation of the *munchkins* (I don't remember either and this is good enough) and the training they did with them wasn't actually training in hand to hand combat, even though that's what they were doing, the point was actually training them to have 6 (?) other systems that they have lived their entire lives treating as an extension of their body - our brains wire to to treat tools that we use in this way as part of the body. I though the end goal was that they'd be wearing weapons platforms (mechs or something of the sort) with drones or even ships with escort fighters that have neural interface completely integrated with their mind. If so its almost a reversal of a lot of sci fi - instead of inventing an AI to drive the ship, they're raising children to function as the ships AI.

 

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