Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Werthead

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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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picklematrix

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One of my favourite Authors, though I'll probably wait until the next two books are written before I read this series. The Nights Dawn and Commonwealth series have always felt like one big continuous story that just so happens to be divided into smaller books.
 

Werthead

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Why would you read Book 1 of a trilogy and not expect the story to continue beyond the last page?
 

Paul_C

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I can live with a story continuing beyond the end of a book, but I would be disappointed if I bought a book which didn't conclude satisfactorily within its covers. If the book can only be enjoyed to its fullest by reading the whole trilogy then I would feel cheated, especially if it was a large book to begin with.

I just had a quick look for something of similar length and found Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds, a book I enjoyed and one which has connections with others of his. 560 pages and a good read, but if I'd reached the end of it and found I'd need to read another two for the full tale to be told and fully understood, I'd have struggled to buy another of his books again.

Now, as I haven't read the book, I could be misconstruing what you've written, and if so, of course I apologise.

You should also bear in mind that I have only attempted one of Hamilton's books (The Reality Dysfunction) and despite a number of attempts I have not got past halfway, as I found it way too long-winded to keep my attention, which unfortunately means I'm a touch biased anyway ;)
 

dannymcg

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Why would you read Book 1 of a trilogy and not expect the story to continue beyond the last page?
I was in a local bookshop when it came out - all glossy and tempting on a display shelf - I had to buy it. Once I had it home I couldn't really leave it for a couple of years until I had all three!

I had a more unpleasant experience with The Soldier by Neal Asher; I saw this one day and bought it. I read it for 3 days and a cliff hanger finish...i had a rant somewhere here in Chronicles about it. Nowhere in the book blurb or on the cover did it say it was only book 1 of a trilogy.
At least with Salvation I knew but chose to read regardless
 

Werthead

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I just had a quick look for something of similar length and found Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds, a book I enjoyed and one which has connections with others of his. 560 pages and a good read, but if I'd reached the end of it and found I'd need to read another two for the full tale to be told and fully understood, I'd have struggled to buy another of his books again.
That's an interesting comparison. Revelation Space ends with the characters on the run from a hostile enemy and being chased through interstellar space, which continues into the second book in the trilogy (arguably four-book series, as the trilogy's storyline continues into Galactic North, a short story collection). I'd say that's a cliffhanger ending, although the primary threat of the book is resolved (at least temporarily) in that book.
 

BigBadBob141

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Compare the "Portalhomes" to the family house in Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", it's the same idea, except the latter was probably created by magic !!!
 

Elckerlyc

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I don't get daunted by the page-count either. On the contrary. If the worldbuilding is any good and the MC likeable I don't want to it to end.
But than, I like reading. Some people see it as a task to complete. Finish the book so you can proceed.
 

hitmouse

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I have just finished the sequel. It kept me entertained, and I will no doubt read the third when it comes out.

But...in hindsight the thing I really enjoyed about the Nightsdawn Trilogy, that rather undisciplined and exuberantly imaginative storytelling, is here rather more under control. Still clearly Hamilton in style, but some of the bonkersness has gone and it is a little less fun.
 

Werthead

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Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton

A salvage operation to a remote world has revealed a devastating secret: the alien Olyix, the supposed friends and allies of humanity, are an existential threat to the human race. Humanity is forewarned, but the Olyix are also aware that their deception has been exposed and unleash their forces. As all-out interstellar war begins, it will take every resource on Earth and its colonies to stave off the attack. Meanwhile, millennia in the distant future, humanity's descendants prepare to mount a last, desperate offensive against the Olyix...but they have some unexpected allies waiting in the wings.

Peter F. Hamilton's Salvation trilogy is Hamilton back to doing what he does best: combining the science fiction thriller and an epic space opera into an addictive narrative set in a richly-detailed future. Hamilton is the finest worldbuilder in science fiction working today - perhaps ever - and his constant capacity for invention and storytelling remains unmatched in the genre. When it comes to big-budget, high-concept, highly readable science fiction there is simply no other game in town at present.

Salvation marked the start of a new sequence and it's familiar territory for Hamilton: painting a picture of a futuristic human society which is suddenly put in peril and a disparate group of characters scattered across many fronts has to respond to the threat. It recalled his two finest novels, The Reality Dysfunction and Pandora's Star, but clocked in at considerably less than half the length of either of those novels, so benefited from the tighter focus. This is Hamilton doing his normal thing but slimmed down a lot.

As with the first novel, this book unfolds on multiple fronts simultaneously. We get to see the war between humanity and the Olyix beginning from the POVs of the characters from the first book and other powerful figures. We also get a continuation from the story of the first book of the far-future humans fighting a war across an almost unimaginable timescale, with battles separated by centuries or millennia and the overall shape of the conflict hard to discern. This conflict, which is more cosmic in scale, feels a bit different to Hamilton's other work and is arguably the freshest aspect of this new series.

A new storyline also begins in this book, with a bunch of low-level London criminals providing a ground level view of the unfolding conflict and how they get more involved in it. I felt this storyline was a bit less interesting, mainly because all of the characters involved in it were morally irredeemable thugs. The attempts at moral complexity - giving one of the characters an elderly and failing relative and showing his plans to escape from the criminal world - aren't handled very well and I ended up not particularly caring about this storyline very much, especially as in a relatively short novel (if only by Hamilton's normal rhinoceros-stunning standards) it felt like page time that could have been spent on the other two, considerably better storylines. Some may also feel that some Hamiltonian tropes are a bit over-indulged here, such as once again the fate of humanity resting with an ultra-rich but ultimately benevolent super-corporation run by a semi-immortal philanthropist.

Still, Salvation Lost (****) is fiendishly readable and compelling (I read it in one sitting), intelligent and features a scope and scale unusual for Hamilton whilst simultaneously being a lot shorter and more focused than most of his prior work. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. The concluding book in the series, The Saints of Salvation, will be released next year.
 

Rodders

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Sounds like something i'd enjoy, Werhead. I may pick these up next year.

Trouble is, Hamilton's books are so long.
 
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