on 5 January 2014
This is a monumental book in lots of ways, not just its length (1087 pages) or its size (slightly larger than a house brick), but also in the story that he writes here.
It starts with a murder, and the body that is fished out of the river is a North, a family of genetic clones, and this corpse has had all the identity markers removed. There are five puncture marks on the chest, and the heart has been shredded. The last people to die this way did so 20 years ago, on the colony of St Libra, and the woman who was tried for the murders is still in prison. So begins the most sensitive, and politically charged investigation of Sidney Hurst's career.
With the new murder, the HDA decide that they need to go back to St Libra and fully investigate the claim by Angela that the murders were committed by an alien. She is pulled from prison and sent through the gateway, essentially a wormhole, with a crack team of legionnaires and back to St Libra to find this entity.
And so starts this epic story. It flips between Newcastle, and St Libra and you follow the ebb and flow of the characters in their successes and failures. The people on St Libra start to conclude that the plant they are on is a bioformed planet, and the alien is there as a guardian. St Libra`s sun suddenly red shifts, sending the planet into a mini ice age, and the alien starts to eliminate the legionnaires in the group. Meanwhile back on earth the investigation into the murder has become a lot more complex and charged, and it starts to look like the fall out between two corporations, and the police are playing catch up.
Apart from the fact that this is enormous, and took even me a while to read, I really enjoyed it. He has created a pair of believable worlds, alien contact and a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. It doesn't get five stars as there are parts that I felt were superfluous to the main story, and probably could have been removed.
Hamilton manages to keep the tech believable, there are e-i systems that people have fitted within their body and are permanently connected to the net. There are lots of smart dust and meshes that the police use to track and monitor citizens. The society is well constructed too.
on 3 October 2013
I really liked the sound of this book, the story caught my attention. The first 200 pages are hard work and I nearly gave up, essentially it feels like the author takes a while to get into his stride. Also the naming of every vehicle and technology is pretty tedious and not necessary. All that being said the book delivers a very reasonable read. The story flows and the plot is good. I wish the editor had been more brutal in the beginning, would have made this a much better book. It's not a classic and doesn't deliver as much as Alastair Reynolds does, but it is probably worth the space on your bookshelf.
on 6 October 2012
If "Game of Thrones" can be turned into a TV series then I think Peter Hamilton's latest novel should be turned into a show too. The Great Road North is an excellent story: imaginative, clever, and well paced; it blends sci-fi with crime, horror, doomed romance, and a bit of political/action thriller. I had been looking forward to this book since reading the plot summary several months ago and I was not disappointed. To me, a long-time fan, it seemed like he had gone through all his previous novels, cherry picked the best elements and weaved them all together.
Talking of weaving, one of the most enjoyable and challenging things about Hamilton is tying his story threads back together using the limited (but very deliberate) clues he writes in before the plot is revealed. I got a fair few, but some of them eluded me until about page 930... It's always fun trying to guess, but I don't think I'll ever be able to call him predictable.
Another thing I really enjoyed was the way he wrote against a believable background, speculating on where modern science and technology might take us and describing how people will live in the near future; think Michio Kaku but with verve, humour, and a lot of very British style. Of course with sci-fi it has to go a little bit further and we have seemingly implacable aliens, spaceships and strange planets. However, unlike the Void trilogy, it doesn't stray into fantasy; believability makes this story more accessible.
Of course Hamilton already has a great reputation for his story-telling skills, but I think that with Great North Road he has improved his writing style. Recent novels have had a large cast of characters, which often led to uneven coverage. In this novel he has concentrated on the key characters and they all come across strongly: Angela the tough girl with a mysterious background; Vance the zealous Human Defence Agency colonel; and Sid the cunning detective. The secondary characters like Ian, Saul and Rebka are also much more fleshed out than their counterparts in his other novels.
Some readers might find the length off-putting here, but if as an author you're going to conjure up an epic story then you might as write it out in full. Which takes me back to my first point: it's about time some of our best writers got their stories on screen, not just to dispel the myth that British sci-fi is all about histrionic blokes in police boxes and supermarionation puppets, but also to show that it can compete with the best of the stuff beaming across the Atlantic. It would be great if TV producers took notice of novels like this.
However, having praised it so thoroughly, there was one small problem with this book:- I don't see how he can top it. ;)
on 2 February 2015
Peter F has managed to do the impossible... To tell a long story, with a massive cast, well fleshed out characters, great sic fi concepts, Britishness and general epicness... IN ONE VOLUME! (If you've read anything else by him you will understand the issue). Here he tells us a detective story in which two cops go up against their own flawed bureaucracy, and the story of an expedition into the jungle that becomes stuck in a situation somewhere between predator and the Lion the witch and the wardrobe. Neither are exactly new ideas, but they are told with a peter F twist, and so we will be granted a wonderful journey into the green paradise of... "st Libra" and the hellish dystopia of.... Newcastle. He develops every plot strand so well that they are fit to burst, and mnages to pull some absolutely superb plot twists on it. And in truth, I think Angela Tramelo might be one of the strongest characters that he has ever written.
Read and enjoy.. If you like long stories. If you prefer them shorter, Look elsewhere. (Although he now caters to that market as well)
on 10 April 2015
I have been a long time fan of sci fi books and have greatly enjoyed e.g. culture novels. The Great North Road is without doubt one of the best sci fi novels I have across. Even though it's about 1000 pages long, it is incredibly easy to read. It feels short, if anything, in terms of the pace of the plot and the richness of the descriptions. Some reviewers noted the dual plots, but I advise to take any such criticism with a pinch of salt. My impression was that the dual plots worked wonderfully to create a rich, satisfying plot. On other issues, the world Hamilton created is highly believable and satisfying. The conclusion leaves up to the anticipation. And the characters are believable and interesting. Highly recommended.
Interesting book, but the plot is so obvious I figured it out easily.
The book is really really long, but it should not be. It is too full of waffle, we don't need three pages desribing the groups breakfast.
I don't care, it is irrelevant.
This theme re-occurs constantly throughout the book and is a case of vastly severe over padding.
I have liked the authors work and kept up with this hoping for a surprise ending or a cunning twist. There is not one.
I like the idea, but quite honestly it's not up to par at all.
Should you buy it?
Nope, unless a super keen fan and desiring to read 900 pages that could be told in 200
on 18 February 2013
Having just gone through a bit of an epic fantasy-reading marathon few months (completing all of Martins' Song of Ice & Fire books, and Feists' Riftwar Saga), I fancied a bit of a sci-fi renaissance...
Great North Road wasn't it sadly.
In fact, I suffered a phenomenon whereby the story and writing weren't bad enough to stop me reading, but neither was the pace or plot good enough to really allow me to enjoy the time I spent turning the pages.
It turned in to a bit of a slog-fest in all honesty!
At the same time as buying this, I also downloaded "Dune" on the recommendation of a friend... so I spent the last 1/3 of this book rushing through in anticipation that the much lauded "Dune" will be the sci-fi epic I am craving!
Overall, GNR is not a bad book - the Newcastle-based detective storyline is enjoyable, and the futurised version of Newcastle was nicely described, and much of the technology Hamilton introduces sounds feasible and evolved of today's tech. That said, some of the 'names' he makes up for things are ridiculous and I rolled my eyes a few times when he's banding around made-up-jargon in every sentence.
The St Libra-based plot is less progressive and less enjoyable - full of a cast of likely fodder who you quickly care less about.
Too many times when the plot does start progressing, Hamilton drops you back years to build the backstory of the character in focus - and frankly much of the time it felt unnecessary.
It would've been good if Hamilton focused 70% of the book on the Newcastle stuff, did 20% in St Libra and 10% of character history if he really wanted...
Overall: Worth a read if you can forgive the ramblings and have the time - not a bad story, just a *bit* too long. A bit like this review really ^_^
...Now; on to Dune!!
on 6 April 2016
I originally bought this book three years ago and have just finished re-reading it. At 1000+ pages it takes two readings to fully absorb it, it has a huge range with multiple threads across two main worlds and a few subsidiary ones. I'm giving it a 5 star rating but it could easily lose 200 pages without losing any of the action or story.
What I really like about this book is that at its heart its a murder mystery but one that seamlessly integrates with the future technology and sci-fi setting. I also like the fact its not US focussed. While there are many explorations of a technological singularity, one based on man-machine integration, downloading of souls or the like, this book is based around a biological singularity where an entire world can build to a single consciousness.
The action takes place a couple of hundred years in the future but there is enough connection to now to make it seem real. Its a world where everything is privatised, including the Police but the normal worries still exist, school, work, promotion and money. Its close enough to now that you can relate to it immediately and the technology deployed is realistic.
The technology is just there, no twisted or detailed explanations to get in the way of the plot. It also takes a 'grown up' view of politics and relationships, which I find deeper, more nuanced and more enjoyable than the usual sci-fi pulp fiction that I read.
I won't call this literature but its a very well written, detailed and believable story, I've enjoyed it twice now.
on 4 September 2013
I have just finished reading (or rather listening to via Audible) Peter F Hamilton's "Great North Road".
Hamilton writes sprawling epic tales, in the style of grand space opera, and GNR is no exception. The book weighs in at 1,200 pages and carries all his usual hallmarks: expansive prose, complex plotting, and intricate detail.
For all its length I never had the impression that the author had lost control of the story. He knew where he was, and where he was going. The characterisation was good; I could believe in the people he was talking about. The plot hung together well, the choices that characters made, and the fact that they genuinely had a choice, was well handed. The backstory technology was believable and integrated well in to the story. The conclusion was fairly satisfying, a bit neat and tidy but quite acceptable. One plus point for me is that, although there are characters who follow a variant of the Christian faith in this book, they are never downgraded to the kinds of fanatic/dummy stereotype I've so often seen in more inferior works. I'm hoping that the SF genre as a whole has grown out of using people of faith for target practice. So this is a good, fortnight on the beach / hours of commuting to kill kind of book. You need to be prepared to get stuck for the long haul, but it's an ultimately rewarding long haul.
The only problem I had with GNR is that whilst there are essentially two plot lines in it, one just has a lot more content and potential than the other. There is a `police procedural' plot, and a `visit to another planet / mysterious woman' plot. They have to run concurrently, but the police procedural struggles to carry it's half, and has to rely on a lot of detail to see it through. There's just not enough substance to it. And as this occupies the majority of the first 300 pages or so this means that the book is slow to get going. At about a quarter of the way in I was wondering whether I'd stay the course. Again, it's not that the police plot is bad, it's not at all, it's just too light to carry it's half of 1,200 pages.
That said, well worth a read, the best of what I've read recently, especially if you like your SF epic and expansive. 4 out of 5 stars.
So how could I resist an SF novel with large chunks of it set in Newcastle 130 years from now, especially with a title like that?
(I should explain that I live in the City of Sunderland, a mere 12 miles south east of Newcastle. Both cities boast prominent football teams which are arch-rivals, particularly their fans and just last weekend Sunderland, the under-dogs, beat their rivals 3-0 away at Newcastle. As a result a few hundred Newcastle fans trashed their own city centre which gives you an idea of the mentality of the Newcastle United supporter. This has nothing to do with the review, I just wanted to mention it.
(On the other hand, the Great North Road refers to the A1 which starts down south and continues all the way up to Scotland. The Romans built the first one nearly two thousand years ago. In this novel, however, it also refers to a road that leads to another planet on which the rest of the novel takes place.)
You may have noted the page length of the novel. This does not include those pages devoted to the timeline prior to the start of the novel nor the list of key characters and their functions (e.g. detective). It's a very long book which took me only five days to finish.
As I don't do long reviews -I write reviews not criticism- it's very difficult to briefly summarise the plot. But I'll do my best.
It's triggered by the discovery of a body, one of a clone family of industrialists, who has been murdered in a unique way that was only seen once before and the woman found guilty of the early murders, which included another clone, is still in prison; also the clone can not be identified. A local detective is put in charge of the case and what is discovered prompts a military expedition to a colonised world, which provides vast quantities of bio-fuel, in search of a previously undiscovered deadly alien species and is accessed via the Newcastle gateway.
Woah! That's not bad even if I say so myself.
Of course it doesn't begin to even hint at the richness and complexity of this terrific piece of SF. There are so many things that Hamilton does so well.
His portrayal of the not quite near future is comprehensible and accessible. My view of the future is that it's not unlike the present only with twiddly bits. Not that many years ago I took my first look at Sunderland's new bus station from which is visible a new shopping complex and it looked like the future as seen from 1950's illustrations. And yet in between bus station and shopping centre were several buildings which have remained pretty much unchanged in nearly 60 years or more. The future, with twiddly bits. People still go to pubs and chat up women while every dust mote is a camera watching everything. Well, almost. Many car accidents are caused by drunks who won't let the car drive itself.
He doesn't lay it on with a trowel but global warming has given the north of England long winters full of blizzards and snow drifts and short hot summers.
The main foci of the novel are the detective and his team trying to solve the murder and identify the victim and the story of the woman, who was found guilty of the original murders and claimed it was an alien, who goes to the alien world with the military expedition. In one sense it's a mystery novel set in the future with both plot strands essentially being attempts to solve a mystery which ultimately has one solution.
Hamilton uses his flashbacks well, revealing only part of an incident which suggests one thing only to show something different when it is continued. Characters who appear to belong to different subplots are revealed to be closely connected. Sometimes they're even the same person.
Frankly I stand in awe of the author who juggles so many different things yet manages to bring them all together in what is finally revealed as a gloriously woven tapestry.
If you want a book to lose yourself in, this is it.