Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2011: Manhattan in Reverse (Hamilton, Peter F.)

Not as impressive as his novels (4/5)
From October 11, 2011

As a fan of the Commonwealth Series and the Void Trilogy, I was eager to grab an early edition of Manhattan in Reverse to quench my thirst for Hamilton's style of science fiction- wordy, descriptive and all-encompassing. Indeed, some of the stories in this 7-story collection uphold some the prior values, but the lack the sort of characterization which I fondly recall when the reading the five books mentioned in the opening sentence, a skill I thought which Hamilton was especially adept at. Unfortunately, Hamilton was unable to infiltrate characterization into these morsels of science fiction (it's a common symptom of short fiction, I know). Regardless, none of the stories fall flat on its face and all the conclusions leave the reader with something to ponder. It may not be varied at Banks's The State of the Art or as technologically wonderful as Reynolds's Zima Blue, but the collection comes across as a good addition to the Hamilton library lining my shelves.


Watching Trees Grow (2000, novella) - 3/5 - Justin Ascham Raleigh is murdered in his own room but police and Raleigh family representative Edward Buchanan Raleigh are at a loss to explain the motive. The 18th Century long-life Roman descendants of this parallel Earth operate battery-powered cars, have telephone and electrical usage, and are on the verge of creating nuclear fission. As Edward ages past his first centennial era, he makes very little progress on the case of his family member's death , but humanity, meanwhile, has at least colonized the solar system. After his second centennial era, more doors to the case become shut and the science of the time pushes the investigation deeper still. Humanity now colonizes the stars in the early 21st century. --- There's a heavy focus on the history of this alternative universe, which siphons page space away from some much needed characterization. While all together interesting along the lines of Stross' Accelerando, the cast are merely cardboard cutouts with names. 85 pages

Footvote (2004, shortstory) - 4/5 - A single wormhole to a new world is opened by a single man who is the only person alive knowing how it operates and who is the same man who has written the new stringent laws for entry onto the planet. Colin is the ex-husband of Jannette and has decided to find a better life on New Suffolk rather than eke out an existence in England during the current depression gripping the kingdom brought on by the exodus to the new planet. Collin packs for the trip to the wormhole with his kids while Jannette prepares for a wormhole protests. --- Using a bit of current news in his SF story, Hamilton throws in the ongoing economic hardship with the twist of a new wormhole. The cast may be limited but there's a good sympathetic quality to Colin and Jannette. 25 pages

If at First... (2007, shortstory) - 5/5 - Chief detective Lanson investigates a seemingly persistent stalker of a very wealthy, very industrious technology entrepreneur. Jenson, the perpetrator, spins a story of how the tycoon has built a time machine to inhabit the mind of his childhood self in order to make huge money. The detective is oddly intrigued by the story of logic and coincidences, and so decides to go after the truth. --- Short and sweet with a great ending. Great possibilities with the story, makes you think and smile. 11 pages

The Forever Kitten (2005, shortstory) - 4/5 - Creator of pre-pubescent rejuvenation is bailed out of jail by a wealthy family man. An original kitten from the experimental rejuvenation is in the man's possession and wishes for the procedure to be repeated before the deadline looms. --- A predictable but cute story engineered by Hamilton with traces of pre-Commonwealth commonalities. 4 pages

Blessed by an Angel (2007, shortstory) - 3/5 - A Higher "angel" covertly descends upon the anti-Higher planet of Anagaska (of the Void Trilogy), where it seeks to proselytize its Higher morals among the Advancer citizens. Police Chief Paul tracks down the Higher in order to stop its blatant infection of the population, where three youth are both the players and the pawns. --- Again, somewhat predictable by nature, the story unfolds in a linear fashion while ironing out the pleats of rising questions. A nice addition to the Void history. 18 pages

The Demon Trap (2008, novella) - 3/5 - The death of three Dynasty members aboard a shot down plane on the nearly barren planet of Nova Zealand is cause enough to assign the newly rejuvenated Paula Myo to the case. The investigation is done is a perfectly tidy manner put the ultimate motivation for the assassination will call upon Paula's own ties to her history on the infamous planet of Huxley's Haven (of the Commonwealth series). --- Paula shines in this story as her investigative skills are pressed full on. The sequence of events is a joy to watch but the after-the-fact sequences of working out the ultimate motivation is a bit hairy. Not so sure about the ending. 73 pages

Manhattan in Reverse (2011, novella) - 3/5 - The colony planet of Menard is having trouble with its indigenous species, which are classifies as non-sentient yet are now exhibiting some primal proto-sentient behavior. Who better in the Commonwealth than Paula Myo to wedge into an investigation like his! --- Paula is a very odd inclusion to the story which doesn't involve the Directorate whatsoever. Snip a few plot strings and the story could be bereft of the Commonwealth altogether, which would have improved the story's independence when compared to the rest of the collection. 44 pages

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