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A very good short story collection
on 25 October 2011
I've been a Peter F Hamilton fan for a long time, in fact the reason I read sci-fi nowadays is because of Pandora's Star. The last collection of short stories by Peter F Hamilton was A Second Chance at Eden released way back in the late 90's, but it was a collection of Confederation exclusive stories based on his Night's Dawn universe. On hearing about this new collection I was rather excited, hoping to see all of the stories that he's written since then. Aside from one glaring omission this is a pretty decent collection and worthy of a place on the shelf of any Hamilton fan.
Watching Trees Grow
Starting off with the longest offering in the collection, Watching Trees Grow was initially published back in 2000 by PS Publishing as a limited edition, though it was later re-published in the Futures anthology from Gollancz.
As an alternate history tale, this story looks at a world where the Roman Empire never fell and the grand families continued to prosper. With the planet in a golden age of sorts it has allowed technology to advance quicker than in our world, with the starting point of the story in the early 1800's comparable to the mid to late 19th century. By selective breeding in the `Sport of Emperors', life spans of the grand families are now measured in centuries rather than decades of the Shorts.
At its heart Watching Trees Grow is the story of Edward Bucahanan Raleigh's continued investigation into the death of one of his family members at university. Told through his eyes from the night of the murder in 1832 through to the transcendence of the human race to pure energy, Watching Trees Grow is an interesting look at big events during that world's future, all wrapped around the one question: who killed Justin Ascham Raleigh?
Footvote is another story originally published by PS Publishing, this one in their first issue of Postscripts, a long-running magazine/anthology. Pan Macmillan are also releasing this one separately as an electronic short story.
Anyway, Footvote is a simple story based on the premise that one man has opened a wormhole to a new planet, New Suffolk, and nobody knows how he's done it. He's set specific conditions on who can travel through the wormhole and settle this new world (these are amusing little tidbits throughout the story), but has given a strict time-frame of two years before he will close the wormhole forever. Footvote focuses on one family, Janette and her two children on the one hand and her ex-husband Colin and his new girlfriend on the other, each with opposing views to the wormhole and its creator.
It's a nice little story, perhaps one of my favourites in the collection due to its subject matter, and its nice to see something set in the near-future. The world Peter has created here could be the basis for an expansion into a full novel, or maybe another short story - I for one would like to see more of New Suffolk and how it's progressed...
If At First...
Here's a story that first saw the light of day in one of the anthologies from Solaris a few years back. It's a short one about a detective that finds himself chasing a suspect into a time machine that then sends his consciousness back to his 1968 body. It's an interesting tale, amusing in parts and easy to read with an ending nicely suited to the tale.
The Forever Kitten
Perhaps unbelievably, this tale is a mere thousand words that once again uses the subject matter of immortality/extended lifespans. Peter seems to have a thing for this and Forever Kitten is an interesting, though short, take that I think is rather successful given its limited word count.
Blessed by an Angel
This is the first of the three Commonwealth stories in this collection, and while the other two are Paula Myo stories, this one is a prequel of sorts to the Void trilogy. Looking at the events surrounding the conception of Inigo, one of the more central characters in the Void series, this introduces the `angel' of the title, a higher human that can use biononics to change gender from female to male while using this technology to allow the conception of a biononic child.
There's a good bit of detail here and anyone that has read the Void books will fully grasp all the details, though I'm not sure the same can be said if you're new to the universe. I like it as it adds depth to the character and essentially gives a more detailed account of what is only hinted at in the early Void books.
The Demon Trap
The Demon Trap was previously published in the Galactic Empires anthology, but that had limited release and not many would have read it before now. It's nice that it's finally got a wider readership as it is one of the best shorts Peter has written.
The Demon Trap sits nicely between Misspent Youth and Pandora's Star and features Paula Myo, the genetically engineered detective we've all come to know (if you've read the Commonwealth books that is!). With her birth planet the much-hated Huxley's Haven, a planet in the Commonwealth where each person is genetically designed prior to birth to do the job they are allocated, she is an investigator that cannot leave a case until it has finally been solved and justice delivered.
The story itself follows the events of one of the Commonwealth planets, Merioneth, wanting independence and all connections to the Commonwealth closed. This starts off with a terrorist group targeting and killing young dynasty family members in order to pressure CST into closing the wormhole connection. Suffice to say, they are successful in getting the Commonwealth to agree a date that does exactly this. The story goes from there, Paula determined to unravel the mystery behind the attacker and terrorist group.
There is not a lot to dislike in The Demon Trap. Paula is an excellent character and carries the story with ease. There are, however, plenty of references to Peter's previous works (particularly Misspent Youth) and knowing these little details will certainly add to the enjoyment. I can't see any problems for those that haven't read the Commonwealth novels as The Demon Trap is a nice little murder-mystery with added political dealings. One of the best in the collection for sure.
Manhattan in Reverse
The reason I was looking forward to this collection so much: a new story! Manhattan in Reverse is another Paula Myo story that takes place shortly after the end of the Starflyer War depicted in Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained. You don't need to have read those books to enjoy this story as it is completely stand alone with only a few references to the novels.
After convicting a war hero for crimes committed in his youth, Paula Myo needs something that will take her away from the attention she's getting, and Wilson Kime has just the ticket. On a relatively new colony world one of the non-sentient species is kicking up some trouble for the human inhabitants, trouble that could lead to genocide if something isn't done soon. Problem solving is what Paula is good at, and with the help of xeno-biologist Bernadino Paganuzzi that's exactly what she has to do.
I liked this story quite a bit, it was interesting and had a nice finish, but I wasn't really sure why Paula was the main character. Still, I did like the exploration of the Onid, why they were attacking the colonists and just how they could see what they really shouldn't be able to. It's a quick read that finishes nicely - not much more you can ask for!
Manhattan in Reverse does exactly what it says on the tin: it collects Hamilton's short stories in one book for those that have not tracked them down by other means. A new story is there for the fans who need a reason to buy it, and it is worth it.
The glaring omission I mentioned earlier is The Suspect Genome, the BSFA award-winning short story the features Greg Mandel, the psychic detective from Peter's early novels. To me it's one of the best short stories Peter has written and should have been included regardless of how it's aged since publication, and especially because it's very hard to track down. It was a poor decision to leave it out.
However, with stories like Watching Trees Grow, The Demon Trap and Manhattan in Reverse, Peter once again shows why he is regarded as one of the best science fiction writers of the past decade and how, when he puts his mind to it, he can write some excellent short fiction.