Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, April 21, 2014

1985: Walking on Glass (Banks, Iain)

Layers and parallelism of influence tantalize the reader (5/5)

I’m no stranger to the works of Iain Banks: I’ve read six of his fiction novels and all of his science fiction, all totaling twenty books. All of his books (literally, all of them) linger in my mind with unique storytelling. Though I love them all, I’ve only reread The Algebraist (2004) and The State of the Art (1989). Again, though I love them all, they are difficult for me to synopsize, as if they are beyond the reach of my circumspection. At the end of 2012, I read Walking on Glass and began to write a review for the book when my laptop crashed. It took me a year to get around to fixing the bugger and, lo and behold, all the files were intact. So, I knew I had to reread this tantalizing piece of fiction.

Walking on Glass sounds quirky enough, speculative enough to warrant the purchase and accolade of being chosen for my 100th book of 2012. When opening an Iain Banks novel, I have never known disappointment… slight dismay or mild boredom, yes, but never discontent. Walking on Glass is the first novel of Banks to really push my mental envelope toward grasping the linkages between the three stories. Only three stories, you may guffaw, but the fictional distance and hazy parallelisms throw the reader for a loop. Bear with it, absorb it, and try to relish the experience of being challenged… something which 99% of today’s fiction has forgotten to do.

Rear cover synopsis:
”Graham Park is in love. But Sara Ffitch [sic] is an enigma to him, a creature of almost perverse mystery. Steven Grout is paranoid—and with justice. He knows that They are out to get him. They are. Quiss, insecure in his fabulous if ramshackle castle, is forced to play interminable impossible games. The solution to the oldest of all paradoxical riddles will release him. But he must find an answer before he knows the question.

Park, Grout, Quiss—no trio could be further apart. But their separate courses are set for collision…”


Story #1:
Graham has been steeping in the tepid water of love for weeks, fuzzily reminiscing of his first encounter with the intoxicatingly beautiful Sara ffitch (“not one big ‘f’; two little ones” [97]), all thanks to his flamboyantly gay friend Slater. Though not a typical romantic first meeting, Graham tolerates her sour disposition after her recent separation from her husband. Weeks go by and still he swims in the syrupy sea of expectation with the lovely lass of Sara. Walks along the canal, visits to the zoo, loving confessions over the phone—Graham plays the waiting game for her love and attention. She’s not forthcoming with beginning a new relationship, though she still sees and speaks of her biker fling named Stock. Lightly laden with jealousy of Stock, Graham looks forward to later today when he is allowed to actually entire the home of the hesitant vixen.

Story #2:
Amid the persecuting eyes of his sewer facilities managers and under the duress of their hidden microwave beams which cause him to sweat and panic, Steven Grout does the unexpected and quits his job. Fearing their reprisal, Steven makes a break for it and heads to the unemployment office, where he greets the receptionist and officer with a cynical degree of disdain because they, too, train their microwave beams on him! Yet to qualify for unemployment because of their sinister planning (or because of his voluntary leaving), Steven leaves the office dodging hubcap laser beams, sugaring gas tanks, avoiding his droning impassable landlady, and sulking with his well-earned money and a local drunk from the bar. A man tolerating misfortune leads an insufferable life.

Story #3:
In a castle made of illegible blocks of books, Quiss is subjected to spend his days away from the Therapeutic Wars for his travesties while attempting to solve two things: the impossible complexities of nonsense games and the nebulous answer to the question, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?” Thousands of days are spent learning the rules and playing one-dimensional chess, open-plan go, spotless dominoes, and Chinese scrabble with his only partner in the castle—Ajayi—but his main focus is exploring the depths of the castle and torturing information out of the cherubic masked servants. Being imprisoned angers Quiss, yet several of his discoveries cause him to question his reality and the reason why he’s being used, punished, and borderline tortured.


I love the respective quotes by The Times and Observer: “A feast of horrors, variously spiced with incest, conspiracy, and cheerful descriptions of torture… fine writing” and “Inexorably powerful… sinister manipulations and magnetic ambiguities”. I usually disregard any sort of benediction from other authors or reviewers on a book’s cover, but these two hit the nail on the head, especially the bit about “magnetic ambiguities”.

It’s exactly these “magnetic ambiguities” which tantalized me endlessly. Even when writing this review, bursts of additional insight are ricocheting off my previous ideas, creating echoes of reinforcing understanding. Though the book’s own synopsis says the three plot lines are “set for collision”, the actual degree of crossover/influence/relevance/analogy depends on the reader’s perspective: (1) superficial, (2) insightful and (3) metaphorical.

1. Superficial. The overlapping of the plots of Graham and Grout is nearly singular, but the resulting influence Grout has on Graham’s life is dramatic; what could have been emotionally chaotic turned out just to be an emotional train wreck instead. Grout’s action of physical sabotage ends up probably saving Graham’s life but also nearly ending Grout’s own life. The storyline with the weakest link is the Quiss plot. For a reader to disregard this entire thread would dilute the book of most of its enticing perspectives; however, the books of the tower can reflect the towers of books in Grout’s home, thereby providing a weak psychological element between Quiss and Grout.

2. Insightful. There are some scenes in each plot which focus on a commonality between two or three of the plots: (A) tunnel, (B) books, and (C) game.

A. When “tunnel” is used in each plot, the literal inference is a passageway, a way to gain access to somewhere; this access into Sara’s home for Graham, access into safety for Grout, and access into knowledge for Quiss.

B. Books are more prominent in the Grout and Quiss plots, books as a prison and books as a blanket, respectively, but Graham also has an affair with books—Graham sees books as translucent windows into a soul, a superficial and inaccurate glimpse in the end.

C. Each character is involved in a game of their own, whether it’s obvious like the pointless games Quiss is involved in, the cat and mouse game between Sara’s love and the distance she keeps, and Grout’s vigilance against the vague powers of Them. Victory can be seen as a chance at redemption (Quiss), a chance for love reciprocated (Graham) or a chance at escaping Them (Grout); ultimately, victory is to reveal the truth of their respective reality, in one form or another.

3. Metaphotical. Adopting both the superficial and insightful elements of inspection, one last attempt at probing the novel needs to be taken to understand the absurd life which Quiss and Ajayi endure… and absurd is what it is, as Ajayi reflects, “What the hell was the point of trying to rationally to analyse what was fundamentally irrational? … [L]ife was basically absurd, unfair and–ultimately—pointless” (129). At a deeper level, the absurdity they live in and the impossibility they play with could merely be a fantasy experienced by Grout; he himself lives in a world of absurdity and impossibility and this becomes clearer towards the end of the novel after he is hospitalized. My own metaphor of the castle made from books, you may ask? Well, it could be a metaphor of (A) knowledge and (B) experience:

A. Knowledge can be manipulated, tested from theory to application, and it can stand as the scaffolding for the way we understand the world. The higher part of the castles walls are stacked books which Quiss sometimes destroys in frustration but the minions of the castle eventually replace with another tome. It’s Ajayi who takes these tomes from the walls in order to understand more of the reality she inhabits, which opposes Quiss efforts to probe deeper and deeper into the solid bedrock of the castle—that of experience.

B. Memories of experience are often malleable from their onset but soon solidify into a vague yet concrete sensation. Just as the tunnels below the castle act as a labyrinth, so too are the cornucopia of experiences and memories we all have; navigating each memory individually in chronological is impossible, which parallels Quiss frustrating attempts to map out and understand the maze or memories under the castle. Eventually, one memory (one room) provides an impossible yet remarkably clear vision of reality and, of course, the experience is addictive.

We nail together our own scaffolding of understanding of the world based on our bedrock of experience and the shifting, temporary glimpses of knowledge we all have. However, those experiences can be false: Graham’s reluctant belief to trust love at first sight and Grout’s delusion belief of Them trying to destroy his life. Regardless of new information, the hopeless romantic will always be a hopeless romantic and the conspiring paranoid will always remain a conspiring paranoid.


Whichever way you interpret Banks’ novel, there’s always something more underlying are laying parallel to your thought process. It’s like that nagging shadow in your peripheral vision that’s never there when you turn around… but you know it’s there. For a real wide-eyed, even more introspective look at Walking on Glass, I highly recommend taking a look here after you’ve formed your own opinions: (1) insight into how Iain Banks weaved in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), (2) the importance of color and omen in the first few pages, and (3) the promise and destruction of resolution to force the formation of opinion.

1985: Skeleton Crew (King, Stephen)

Great sampler of horror subgenres (4/5)

Though a huge science fiction fan, I do occasionally dabble in the genre of horror, but the relationship is tetchy. It’s been my experience that most horror stories revolve around the occult, possession, supernatural or any combination of the three; these stories aren’t the least bit frightening. There is a certain flavor of horror fiction which tickles my sense of horror and now I know this type of fiction is called body horror, which is a more directly physical horror than the nebulous dark demons haunting the souls of deserving victims. Two lesser known body horror books I’ve read are Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown (2000) and Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Angel Dust Apocalypse (2005).

Thankfully, Skeleton Crew has a few body horror stories which satisfied my need. Also, this collection separates itself from Night Shift (1978) as it doesn’t have as many stories featuring randomly possessed objects which kill unwary victims. That got kind of boring in retrospect. While King isn’t my favorite author, I don’t have much choice or experience to say otherwise in the genre of horror… but Dan Simmons’ The Terror (2007) and Hyperion (1989) still haunt me.


 The Mist (1980, novella) – 4/5 – David, his wife Steff and their son Billy take shelter in their home when a freak storm rolls across the lake leaving trees uprooted and a thick, opaque mist settled over the water. David, Billy and their tetchy neighbor Norton go to Federal Foods in town to buy supplies only to become overwhelmed by the mist and in the middle of a murderous, tentacled fog from the nearby Arrowhead Project. 130 pages

Here There Be Tygers (1968, shortstory) – 3/5 – Miss Bird, the third-grade teacher, has it out for Charles and he’s always known it. Even something as simple as going to the bathroom can stress poor Charles . his need to urinate, as Miss Bid calls it, impels him to sheepishly pass the eyes of all the other students and walk to the boys’ room, where a crouching tiger awaits him. Stepping out again and accessing the situation, another boy comes to check his reason. 5 pages

The Monkey (1980, novelette) – 3/5 – One of Hal’s sons discovers a nappy-haired monkey doll with crashing cymbals in the attic. This causes Hal great alarm as he remembers throwing it down a well twenty years ago after a series of deaths related to the monkey’s jang-jang-jang. It keeps coming up in his life after finding it in his own father’s belongings. Now, the monkey makes its unexpected ominous appearance. 38 pages

Cain Rose Up (1968, shortstory) – 4/5 – Garrish returns to his university boarding house after a difficult exam, which he probably aced to maintain his 4.0 GPA but shares in his friend’s opinion of its difficulty. His friends are leaving for the summer and his only companion in the room is a .352 rifle loaned from the university. Cleaning and assembling the rifle, Garrish recants the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, then takes aim and fires at a girls’ dorm. 7 pages

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (1984, novelette) – 4/5 – Homer recalls his strange experiences with the eccentric out-of-towner Mrs. Todd. Though compassionate and social, she has one quirk which both annoys and piques old Homer. Mrs. Todd pines for a shorter route between Castle Lake and Bangor—normally 156.4 miles. Through her trials and errors in her Mercedes, she hits 129.2 miles, then 116.4 miles, just short of 79 miles as the crow flies… until… 26 pages

The Jaunt (1981, novelette) – 5/5 – Prior to jaunting his wife and two children to Mars, Mark recants the part-tale and –myth of the invention of the jaunt. In 1987, the Jaunt was funded by the US government and the sole researcher was Victor Carune. In is farm, his accidental experiment transports two of his fingers across the barn, followed by mice which come out stunned, then die. The curious children urge on the morbid conclusion of the story. 26 pages

The Wedding Gig (1980, shortstory) – 4/5 – Mike Scollay, a true-born Irish-American and serious liquor smuggler, hires a jazz band to play for his sister’s wedding. Their high rate fo pay for 1027 is clue to the increased likelihood of gang violence as the ceremony. Also dangerous is Scollay’s sensitivity about his sister’s massive weight, ugly looks and engagement to the scrawny Italian groom. To fume the Irish gangster, a Greek messenger arrives. 16 pages

Paranoid: A Chant (1985, poem) – 4/5 – Perched in his apartment, a paranoid man silently peers outside his window and in all facets of life at the creeping intrusion into his life: agent’s outside, agents across the street, agents crawling all the way to his toilet. The man envisions intrusions and remains delusions regardless of their physical lack of physical infiltration to his abode. His thoughts reflect his monotonous and delusion existence. 4 pages

The Raft (1982, novelette) – 4/5 – The dawn of adulthood at the dusk of summer is an intoxicating allure for nostalgic dalliances. Deke’s brutish impulsiveness leads a group of four, including his brainy roommate Randy, out to a lake where a pontoon sits at the center. Their initial bravado for the swim turns into horror when a blob dissolves one of the swimmers, leaving the rest facing death by blob or death by cold. 29 pages

Word Processor of the Gods (1983, shortstory) – 5/5 – His dead brother was an alcoholic, wife-beating jerk, but he had a beautiful wife and a genius son. Just two weeks after his brother’s death, his nephew gives him a birthday gift of his own creations: a mongrel of a computer, part IBM, Erector set and Liol train transformers. At first use, the word processor literally processes his typed word and the deletion thereof. First a picture appears, then gold bullion. What else foes he deserve? 19 pages

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands (1981, shortstory) – 4/5 – A rich elderly man tells a tale of a poker game which happened in 1919. A man who had recently returned from India decides to join the game but makes it absolutely clear that he cannot touch another person. The pot of the last hand of the night soars hundreds of dollars and the same solitary man wins big but the belligerence of another player perverts his taboo. The money may be lost, but the story is not. 17 pages

Beachworld (1984, shortstory) – 3/5 – The entire ship and one crew member are totally pulverized; the remaining two crew are left deserted on a planet covered with dunes, after dunes, after dunes without water or greenery. Shapiro observes Rand slip into a hypnotic fixation for the planet while he attempt to beacon for rescue. When it does come, Shapiro is quick to push the lift off as he’s leery of the planet. 18 pages

The Reaper’s Image (1969, shortstory) – 4/5 – In an ancient house full of worthless wonders rest a few priceless artifacts, including a rare DeIver mirror which Mr. Carlin is cautious to show and which Mr. Spangler is eager to inspect. The objective history of the mirror interests him most as he examines the authenticity of the piece but his unconcerned for the subjective myths of its reported viewers’ disappearances… until he looks just a little closer. 8 pages

Nona (1978, novelette) – 4/5 – Childhood memory of rats in the cellar and lost opportunity for reciprocated love cascades into a tumultuous, prolonged affair with deep love-stricken longings for black-haired women with abrupt endings. One his sentences for life, the young man recollects his criminal-themed affair with Nona, a girl who stole his heart, started his murder spree and disappeared from his life. 39 pages

For Owen (1985, poem) – 3/5 – A school on Fruit Street spawns the imagination of a child into a plethora of categories for children in the same school based on characteristics of common fruit characteristics: small blueberries, fat watermelons, and the grouping nature of bananas. However, there are times when fruits act like other fruits, yet the subterfuge is both a fa├žade and a unnatural perversity. 2 pages

Survivor Type (1982, shortstory) – 5/5 – Scorned during much of his childhood and university career, a young doctor exploits his Irish heritage during his doctor residency and later life as a surgeon. When his dollar doesn’t carry itself for enough into investments, he turns to importing heroin. This is the very same drug he is left with on a deserted island where his smuggling ship crashes and he’s left with very little to eat. 20 pages

Uncle Otto’s Truck (1983, shortstory) – 2/5 – A series of business ventures between Otto, born way back in 1905, and his financial partner Mr. McCutcheon ends in a huge tract of land around Castle Viewm a red Cresswell truck and a sour division between opinions of a business idea. Seventy years later, Otto’s involvement with his partner’s death under the same truck spurs controversy in the same town, which haunts Quinten’s whole adulthood. 17 pages

Morning Deliveries (1985, shortstory) – 4/5 – Spike’s morning delivery of dairy products starts with his standard list: milk, cream, yogurt, cyanide gas, nightshade, and a tarantula. Some deliveries are exact according to the household’s list, but other houses are dealt deadly surprises. His route ends with a sense of expectation for drinking with his friend Rocky and an expected conclusion to his services—a home with a blood splotch. 5 pages

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (1980, shortstory) – 4/5 – With only hours left of validation on Rocky’s car, he and Leo get absolutely hammered on Iron City beer while enjoying an evening cruise. Hopelessly decrepit, Rocky has no chance at passing another inspection until he see an old high school friend with a car shop. Soon, with stories swapped and backslaps given, the friend gets wasted on beer. Meanwhile, Rocky simmers with hatred for the milkman who slept with his wife. 15 pages

Gramma (1984, novelette) – 4/5 – When George was five years old, he was scared of the white, fleshy sack he called a grandmother; he cried when she wanted to hug him. Now twelve years of age, George’s brother is in the hospital and his mother is by his side, leaving George alone at home with the grandmother in progressively poorer health. Steeling himself against fear, he checks on her room and finds her dead, but her mysterious past haunts him still. 31 pages

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (1984, novella) – 5/5 – A rising writer and his wife, his agent and his wife, and a long recovering alcoholic editor dabble in the macabre topic of writer suicides. The skittish author’s wife doesn’t withhold the editor’s bizarre tale of Reg Thorpe. After Reg’s initial success, he and his own wife withdrew to Kansas and, due to his growing strange behavior, cut off their electricity. Even more bizarre, the editor adopted Reg’s fantasy of having fairies in the typewriter. 51 pages  

The Reach (1981, shortstory) – 4/5 – Off the New England coast sits an island—simple, unremarkable, yet home to all things for Stella, an elderly lady who’s never left the island. Having experienced dreadful winters, the funeral of her husband and the uproar caused by a perverted outsider, Stella had had no wish to cross the Reach, the water between her island and the mainland. With frail health and inviting mummers of welcome for her dead husband, he considers crossing. 21 pages

Friday, April 11, 2014

1997: The Neutronium Alchemist (Hamilton, Peter F.)

An impressive task and challenge, more fill than fun (3/5)

Investing time in Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy is heart-breaking. I finished Book 1 in fifteen days during a long holiday, but I polished off Book 2 during a month of full-time work—all 30 days of it. While reading the 393,000 words of The Neutronium Alchemist, I could have read six shorter (and better) novels in the same amount of time. At the same time, I’m trying to make space on my bookshelves; with these tomes will have been completed, and most likely sold to my favorite second-hand bookstore, they will free up some much needed shelf room… though not enough for the 50 books which are stacked elsewhere. Alas, another book, another review, another slot made available on my to-read shelves.

Talking about numbers here, comparatively, Book 1 (The Reality Dysfunction) has 385,000 words and is 1,094 pages long, which is 46 pages shorter than Book 2. As these books are part of a trilogy, they must be read in order, with a behemoth conclusion in Book 3: The Naked God that tips the scales at 1,332 pages and 469,000 words (!). This is a trilogy with a total of 1,247,000 words—be prepared for the battle: focus, focus, focus and frequently consult the “Cast of Characters” appendix (pages 1139-1144).

Rear cover synopsis:
“The ancient menace has finally escaped from Lalonde, shattering the Confederation’s peaceful existence.

On planets and asteroids, individuals battle for survival against the strange and brutal forces unleashed upon the universe. Governments teeter on the brink of anarchy, the Confederation Navy is dangerously overstretched, and a dark messiah prepares to invoke his own version of the Final Night.

In such desperate times, the last thing the galaxy needs is a new and terrifyingly powerful weapon. Yet Dr. Alkad Mzu is determined to retrieve the Alchemist—so she can complete her thirty-year-old vendetta to slay a star. Which means Joshua Calvert must find Dr. Mzu and bring her back before the Alchemist can be reactivated.

But he’s not alone in the chase, and there are people on both sides who have their own ideas about how to use the ultimate doomsday device.”


The aftermath of the Lalonde possession is a spreading wave of possession through the Confederation by Quinn’s cohorts.

A Saldana planet, Ombey, is invaded by a trio of the walking dead, but the swift action of the police force limits the spread of possession to a single town which becomes overrun with the malicious dead-returned. While many of the returned are unscrupulous heathens and sybarites, a handful of them actually have a kind side and take to caring for children, who are not possessed, and taking them back to civilization away from the growing red cloud which hangs over the village. However they channel their powers, the humans are worried… very worried:

The energistic power which was the inheritance of every possessed was capable of near-miraculous feats as it bent the fabric of reality to a mind’s whim. As well as its destructive potential, items could be made solid at the flicker of a thought. It was also capable of reinforcing a body to resist almost any kind of assault as well as enhancing its physical strength. Wounds could be healed at almost the same rate they were inflicted. (181)

The very progressive, technological center of the Confederation is New California, a planet with strong defenses and a strong security force, both of which fall to the man who is possessed by Al Capone. This criminal mastermind of the early 20th century find that, even though 600 years in the future, the basic elements of running a city still run true for taking over an entire planet. For Al Capone, already corrupt, with power comes lust for more power and there’s a galaxy of planets just waiting to be possessed!

But Capone is no dummy criminal. He changes the complete economy of New California, ruthlessly punishes those who stand in his way, and probes deeper into the powers which the possessed have. When the bodiless souls in beyond want to enter a body, Capone converses with the all-seeing souls to gather information about activities from around the Confederation; secrets and plans are revealed to Capone, and an enticing bit of information has come to him: a woman named Dr. Mzu has information about the most destruction weapon ever known to mankind—the Alchemist.

When Dr. Mzu’s planet was destroyed by the Omuta’s thirty years ago, much of her experience was invested in creating the Alchemist. Aside from Mzu, nobody really knows what it does except that it can destroy a star. In the realm of the dead exists souls from every planet, including Earth and Mzu’s home planet; logically, there must exist and assistant of Mzu’s, someone who can help build a new Alchemist if the original Alchemist cannot be discovered. This is Capone’s chance to own the great weapon known to man when he also knows that Mzu has escaped and is attempted to retrieve her deadly device.

Also chasing the hermetic Mzu is Joshua, kind of as a favor to Ione Saldana and partly because his duty of gallivanting across the galaxy always includes these kinds of things. With his capable crew (and with Ione unknowingly stowed as a mechanical serjent), Joshua tracks down Mzu’s movements across space and is followed by Confederation Navy spies who also quest for Mzu’s capture and, with it, knowledge of what exactly the Alchemist is capable of.

Not to be forgotten, Dexter Quinn still roams open space with a burning vendetta against Earth. Being his primary target, Quinn shoots for Earth but is quickly deterred by his lack of preparation. Instead, Quinn visits a planet with a long history of strife and war—Nyvan, humankind’s first attempt at colonizing a world with multiple ethnicities. Due to the fractured nature of the social and governmental landscape, Quinn easily pins all the nationalistic forces against each other. Meanwhile, in the derelict asteroids orbiting  the planet, Quinn is planting fusion bombs for a grand spectacle of his vision: Final Night.

Pregnant, frightened, free and rich, Louise Kavanagh, along with her sister Genevieve and the gentlemanly possessed Titreano, head to the Sol system in order to ultimately find a ride to Tranquility. However, their progress is limited by Titrano’s interference with electronics on both the starship and at the Mars’ transfer facility. Louise considers Earth an impossibility but still thinks Tranquility is the best choice for her recuperation.

Tranquility becomes a hub of activity when it’s discovered that Capone is marshalling forces of voidhawks to fight the Confederation. His rate of expansion is impressive, so the Confederation governance takes extraordinary measures to fight the incoming fleet of warships. Their information isn’t exact, so precautions are spread across many regions, a fault which may either hamper Capone’s progress or seal his victory in one decisive battle. Inside Tranquility, Jay Hilton, a young refugee from Lalonde, innocently plays with the xenoc (Kiint) youth named Haile. Haile builds a remarkable sandcastle, a structure similar to one which was viewed by Ione but one which should never have been seen by Haile or anyone else in the Kiint race.

Questions and eyebrows are raised at Kiint’s passive attitude towards the possession of human bodies from the souls of the beyond. They maintain that all intelligent species must face this turn of events with their own fortitude, as each species will have a different solution to their possession. All information is scant about the Kiint’s history as is the reality of the beyond. When some of the possessed are captured and interrogated, reassurance is given to one scientist when he learns that time does indeed pass in the beyond, therefore space exists and so, logically, they dead can be beaten with familiar techniques: “It [the Beyond] obviously exists, therefore it must have some physical parameters, a set of governing laws; but they [scientists] cannot detect or define them” (666). However, the captured possessed have their own ideas of justice and they don’t play by our rules. When the Confederation take the possessed to court, hell breaks loose all over again.


Rather than focusing exclusively on the physical war between the able-bodied humans and the possessed minds of other humans, The Neutronium Alchemist also highlights the metaphysical battle between the two. For the bodily humans, it’s damned if they do join yet damned if they don’t join:

I’m sorry, Ralph, but as I said, you simply cannot threaten me. Have you worked out why yet? Have you worked out the real reason I will win? It is because you will ultimately join me. You are going to die, Ralph. Today. Tomorrow. A year from now. If you’re lucky, in fifty years time. It doesn’t matter when. It is entropy, it is fate, it is the way the universe works. Death, not love, conquers all in the end. And when you die, you will find yourself in the beyond. That is when you and I will become brother and sister in the same fellowship. United against the living. Coveting the living. (165)

The damned, the supposed eternal souls living in the beyond, still live with the “naked emotions which drive us all” and they “know exactly what we are in our true hearts, and it’s not nice, not nice at all” (1079); their intrinsic drive for domination, possession and submission rests in their very nature.

This is an interesting turn on the once uni-faceted possessors who were once only out for two things: bloodlust and domination. It’s refreshing, in light of contrast, to see some figures of the possessed control their emotions for the benefit of the children, for the benefit of the innocent. Though not the majority, by far, at least there is a hint of hope in Hamilton’s prose that allows for some of the possessed to maintain the humane side of humanity rather than the more pessimistic animalistic side which is more often portrayed.

Originally, in my review of The Reality Dysfunction, I had a difficult time accepting two premises of Hamilton’s trilogy: (a) the very nature of dead souls living in the Beyond and (b) the nature of the Edenist affinity link which has a genetic source for its non-interceptable mental transmission (as for the Kiint [1089]). Considering the created universe of The Night’s Dawn trilogy is 600 years in the future, you would think that everything which could have ever been observed in the universe, all that which is affected by laws of electromagnetic forces of other forces in the predicted unified theory, would have already been predicted and/or observed. Therefore, the affinity and Beyond are part of the physical universe, in one way or another, and should easily have been predicted, observed or measured.

Yet, there are some not-so-subtle hints about the reality of the beyond: “[T]hey [scientists] sought out the elusive transdimensional interface” (800). There are also vague, unquotable inferences that both phenomena have quantum origins, perhaps non-interceptable because of quantum entanglement (or as Einstein had called it, spooky action as a distance [spooky… possession… get it?]). This theory of mine is merely a self-assurance that Hamilton has everything neatly planned out and won’t leave any loose science ends hanging; I’m assuring myself that The Naked God will herald all the answers to all the nagging questions in my mind.

One huge improvement in Book 2 is its typographical consistency. In The Reality Dysfunction, particularly in the second half, there were many abbreviated inconsistencies, changes in font, missing bold face and compound adjectives. I’m happy to report that The Neutronium Alchemist is much better in these regards, but still isn’t perfect; granted, you can’t exactly expect it to but still I, one reader, can point out at least things:

a) Helium-3 is used as fuel for the ships in the Confederation’s fusion reactors. Rather than use the lengthy term “Helium-3”, Hamilton understandably uses the accepted He3 abbreviation for the isotope. This would be fine but he also occasionally uses subscript for the “3” as in He3: notably, on pages 1049, 1050 and 1096 (three out of eighteen isn’t so consistent).

b) Hamilton’s use of the word prone greatly annoys me. Though the definition of the word is commonly used to imply a recumbent, flat resting position, the actual definition of the word prone suggests that the subject in laying “face downward”, in contrast to the word supine which means “having the face upward”. Hamilton’s disuse of supine and his awkward uses of prone are curious:

i. “Black figures were lying prone on the feed roads” (66);

ii. “The sidewalk was littered with prone bodies” (99);

iii. “He gingerly positioned Gerald’s buttocks on the side of the bed, then lifted his legs up and around until his charge was lying prone on the cushioning” (106);

iv. “The captain was lying prone on his acceleration couch, unconscious. His fingers were still digging into the cushioning, frozen in a claw-like posture, nails broken by the strength he’d used to maul the fabric. Blood dribbling out of his nose made sticky blotches on his cheeks.” (174);

v. “[T]he four crew members lying prone on their bulky acceleration couches” (328);

vi. “Two ceiling-mounted waldo arms had been equipped with sensor arrays, like bundles of fat white gun muzzles, which they were sweeping slowly and silently up and down the prone body” (445);

vii. “They even perceived Dariat and Tatiana lying prone on the escape pod’s acceleration couches” (960);

viii. “Alkad Mzu was lying prone on one of the spare acceleration couches” (1104).

For the most part, The Neutronium Alchemist paddles along at a fairly even pace with a predictable lengthy action scene towards the conclusion. Yes, there’s a car chase scene but the hitch is it’s exacerbated by the coming of a megaton asteroid. Like a 100-car freight train crossing the Midwest (something I have familiarity with), the hulking mass of the plot moves along steadily, surely and with one hell of a momentum; once it gets rolling, it’s hard to interrupt or shift. Hamilton should stick to his complicated, interweaving plots rather than dabble in occasional and horribly awkward poetic passages, such as: “He was sure that someone had been watching the incident. A spoor of trepidation hung in the air like the scent of a summer flower” (812).


With a few minor annoyances, a few premises which are unbelievable, a few typographical errors and a rather lengthy stretch of mediocrity (though the length is impressive, the performance is not [wink], wink]), The Neutronium Alchemist, and the entire Night’s Dawn trilogy as a whole I assume, is a moderately enjoyable task rather than a continually adventurous excursion. I need a break from the series so, while on another long holiday, I’ll be dabbling in some other, hopefully, more profound literature.