Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm afraid that this huge doorstopper of a novel is going to be one of those love-hate jobs. I now only love it after having finished it, but I felt my stamina drain and drain and drain through long long passages of mind-numbing boredom and a litany running through my head went, "Where is the editor? Why can't these last 150 pages be safely omitted without losing any story whatsoever?"
*sigh* It's rather the same problem I had with The Reality Dysfunction, although, to be very fair, I think this one was the superior of the two.
For one, the whole North thing was highly amusing. They're a clan of clones who had built one hell of an empire. The worldbuilding was frankly amazing, too. The amount of depth and creation was awe-inspiring, although, to be realistic, it was mostly filled with names and places and huge Zanthswarm worries, so we can mostly just chalk that up to consistency and organizational charts. After all is said and done, everything appears in order. All the long passages of time spent in either the present where things don't seem to be getting anywhere, or the even longer time spent in flashbacks that were, to my built understanding, already gone over fairly well in present dialog.
And here's where my complaints come in.
For ninety percent of this huge novel, we were treading over slightly shifting ground, either past or present. It was only very late in the reading that I realized that the MAIN MAIN MAIN character was Angela. The murder mystery was actually rather entertaining, with all the complicated issues of discovering who or what was behind the murder of a North, but I only had the vague sensation that a slightly important bit player, Angela, was something special.
I'm here to tell you now, dear reader, to just ignore everyone else and focus on her. The other stories are fine, but in the end, they all just revolve around her. You can say that all roads lead to Angela, and you'd be just fine.
You see, that's the problem with a novel that is allowed to be so freaking huge and detailed and dense to develop a life of its own. It's hard to tell who's most important. I believed Sid and the investigation was the most important. I believed it for a freaking long time. And then a painfully long backstory for a minor character dominates the novel. And other long backstories of others start cropping up. And then more long backstories start growing like some intelligent plant that has grown to be the most genetically dominant life form of a whole planet, driving away all animal and insect life. (Whoa, where did that come from? Oh hell. It's a spoiler. Sorry.)
What should I say to anyone struggling to get through this novel as they hit these wtf moments?
Patience. Just have patience. I wanted to DNF it. I really did. But since I just don't pull that crap, I flogged myself to stay on target.
What do you know? It paid off. Everything converged and wove a pretty awesome tapestry of coolness. I sure as hell got a huge primer on Angela. I even enjoyed the detailed existence of all those Norths.
Another problem: Maybe I'm just a shallow reader, but I probably would have reacted better and had my flagging attention sit up straighter had I known that such cool action and conflict and Important Shit was happening later on both the Earth and St. Libra. The BIG THINGS THAT HAPPEN could have been intimated earlier, such as when the murder investigation stalled. A Really Big Hook would have revved my engines right about then.
Reader advisory: Things Do Get Cool.
*If you're patient. If you're patient.*
And after all is said and done, I STILL think a liberal dose of a red pen would have done this novel a great justice.
That being said, I'm still giving it a 4 star because the opening, great swaths of the story, and the ending were all pretty damn cool. Do you like clones and aliens? Do you like epic invasions and being an invader? Do you like murder mysteries and questioning the nature of humanity? Well good! You'll probably like this novel. It's nothing if not ambitious as fuck.
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