Stodgy progress toward a quick, flawed conclusion (3/5)
How do you face 1,332 pages?
How do you confront 469,000 words?
My solution: Dedicate as many waking moments of my day for 16 consecutive days. I could have read four or five normal-sized novels in the same time, but I chose to finish Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy.
I may have glutted on the first two books, requiring two months of recovery before attempting to finish the trilogy; in foresight and hindsight, this was a wise choice. My grasp of the numerous plots didn’t slacken and, after all that time away, I had developed a thirst for immersing myself into a thick novel. The only other to-be-read novel in my collection which comes close to rival this length is Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666.
Hamilton’s The Naked God is a rite of initiation (after this, all books are short), a rite of passage (I would have eventually read this), and rite of finality (the trilogy’s capstone). It might be a superlative novel in some regards, but the grammatical superlative “greatest novel” I cannot bequeath; rather, the base form adjective “satisfactory” must be used without any use of emphatics.
Rear cover synopsis:
“The Confederation is starting to collapse politically and economically, allowing the ‘possessed’ to infiltrate more worlds.
Quinn Dexter is loose on Earth, destroying the giant arcologies one at a time. As Louise Kavanagh tries to track him down, she manages to acquire some strange and powerful allies whose goal doesn’t quite match her own. The campaign to liberate Mortonridge from the possessed deteriorates into a horrendous land battle, the kind that hasn’t been seen by humankind for six hundred years; then some of the protagonists escape in a very unexpected way. Joshua Calvert and Syrinx fly their starships on a mission to find the Sleeping God—which an alien race believes holds the key to overthrowing the possessed.”
Quinn Dexter has made it to the surface of Earth using his dark powers to conceal himself and infiltrate key arcologies. Though his desire to see Banneth dead in Calgary, New York is on his immediate list to seed with the possessed, who will in turn seed other cities across Earth. Little does he know that Earth has been watching out for him, trying to understand hi s motives and figuring out how to destroy him before he destroys the planet. The secretive and powerful B7 group flexes its might to cordon off entire arcologies, quarantine cities and shut down transportation; the danger is unparalleled, so their efforts reflect this.
The B7 group also has a avuncular eye out for Louise Kavanagh and her sister Genevieve. The upper-class sisters from the devastated planet Norfolk utilize their father’s wealth in London while staying at the Ritz, splurging on outfits and even implanting a neural net (against the taboos of her home world). B7 understands the importance of her connection to Dexter; they strategize ways to allow Louise free reign of transport and indulgences. Her naivety is valued by B7.
Louise’s beau, Joshua, has been selected to head a mission to find out what and where the Sleeping God is. The Kiint are interested in the Sleeping God, too. With Syrinx, their first destination is a anti-matter production station which Capone is using to fuel his war against the Confederation. This visit kills two birds with one stone: (1) Joshua gets loaded up with essential anti-matter fuel for the 1,000+ light-year journey and (2) they can destroy Capone’s only source for anti-matter. However, when Capone’s fleet comes to refuel, they see the Confederation ships, which results in a standoff. One ship hangs back observing their next jump, a jump which is aimed either at empty space, meant to deter following, or toward one of the Tyrathca colony home worlds.
Since the habitat Valisk had been transported through the ether to a senseless, dark universe, the ex-possessed suffer with cancerous growths and ghosts haunt the surface, one of which is Dariat, who is still in tune with the mind of the habitat. The wisps of darker mist outside the habitat don’t interact with its mass, but probing beyond the mist proves fruitless. Unexpectedly, something from the void visits them, smashing through the windowed hull and attaching itself to a source of energy. Soon, these nebulous aliens gather more and more in order to seep away the life force of the habitat, but not without a fight by tooth, nail, and, most importantly, with flame.
Having lost his secret anti-matter station, Al Capone must find other ways to antagonize his enemy: the powerful yet abstract Confederation. He decides to rain terror onto local worlds by seeding them with possessed, too. Each planet’s orbital defense network destroys most of the shot attempts, but only one survivor is enough to turn a planet from non-possessed to full-blown possessed. One of his most devastating missions—sending a human bomb to Traflagar—comes to fruition and really, really pisses off the Confederation. Capone may not have realized the repercussions of the attack until it’s too late.
The Kingdom of Kulu has decided to post a massive front against the possessed on the planey of Ombey. Effectively sealed off, the attack begins with the orbital defense platforms firing lasers down upon the red cloud hanging over the province. The band of orbiting lasers pour dispersed energy into the cloud, into the possessed generating it, and into every single possessed person in the Confederation. When the cloud dissolves, the moisture that was pent up is released in an epic rainfall which erodes the land, turning everything into mud. The ground forces, mechanic bodies of transferred personalities, must trudge through the mud and capture and evict the possessed from every single little town of the province… except the patch of land where resistance quickly becomes escape when the entire landmass under their feet disappears. Now in a soupy dark void, tens of thousands of soldiers are displaced and thousand of the possessed must face death by suffocation as the air is slowly used up.
Meanwhile, Ione and her habitat Tranquility had faded an attack by Capone but, rather than sit and die, Tranquility instantly materializes in Jupiter orbit, shocking everyone and giving the Confederation a damn near heart attack. The Kiint were less sure of the tactic and displaced themselves through space to their home world, a distant location where a necklace of planets circle a sun unknown to humans… well, most humans that is. The Kiint’s secret ability to transport themselves is also shared with a number of human “observers” who had witnessed the last two thousand years of human history and now are trying to intervene; should the Kiint assist the humans in ridding themselves of the possessed or is their non-intervention policy an ethical choice?
They live in interesting times.
Though I finished the novel in sixteen days, the book felt sluggish. With 300 pages left, I couldn’t see how all the plot lines could wrap up in time… then with 200 pages left, I again couldn’t see how everything could be resolved… with 100 pages left, I suspected everything would be revolved thanks to some deux ex machina; and certainly, my suspicions proved correct. With over 3,400 pages dedicated to the trilogy, how could everything boil down to a one-all solution (the end to The Reality Dysfunction offered a hint). The plot thread which leads to the novel’s conclusion is tenuous; the impetus is weak, the follow-through is linear and the finale is too grandiose. While the vehicle for the deux ex machine isn’t exactly “out of the blue”, the reality and function is what tips the ridiculousness scale.
A novel could be written about the deux ex machine in this trilogy, or perhaps a trilogy itself.
As mentioned above, the numerous plot thread felt hasty; they trudge along at a snail’s pace without developing very much meanwhile feeling like the reader was simply being set up for something (that something is the deux ex machine). Reading the third book in the trilogy felt stodgy, a very inorganic process following the preceding two books… in other words, it felt forced (much like the conclusion).
Then there are holes in the trilogy:
1. Why did Laton, way way back in Book 1, sacrifice himself and offer a message reassuring people that there is a way past the beyond: not everyone is doomed to be a wandering soul (with very little satisfaction, there is an answer to this and it affects the course of mankind’s future history). The importance of his role in the first third of the book could be the stuff of a prequel, but words of assurance don’t return until the conclusion is drawing out.
2. As Joshua is gallivanting about the galaxy in his anti-matter powered spaceship, his crew come across evidence of the Kiint following the exact same line of inquiry; they’re methods of electronic restoration is identifiable, their concern about the Sleeping God known. Yet, in the three giant leaps it takes to get to the conclusion, the Kiint are only implicated in the first step. If they are so powerful and all-knowing, why could they not take that one step further, like the measly humans did?
3. Quinn’s dark powers peak near the conclusion when he tries to summon the fallen angels of his God’s Brother. The result of his invocation startles him and startles the reader. There’s a crossover of plots regarding Quinn and the invocation brings the two separate plot threads together in a wholly unexpected and, to the reviewer, inexplicable way. Considering Quinn’s prowess with connecting with the dark side or whatever, he ought to be capable of tapping more greatly into the same realm… but what he invokes is way out of right-field.
I guess pleasure can be found in the Night’s Dawn trilogy, not from the thoughtful prose or engrossing storyline, but from the challenge. The challenge in reading the trilogy is to keep all the storylines in your mind without having to refer to the character list or flipping back to the preceding chapters. For me, it’s a bit too much (1) military action, (2) galactic gallivanting, (3) whimsical fornication, (4) fantasy of the soul, and (5) downplay on importance of alien intelligence.
Regardless, I always look forward to Hamilton's projects.