This is Peter F. Hamilton's seventh science fiction novel, the previous being a trilogy of cyberpunk thrillers, then a massive set of ultra-violent space opera, the Night's Dawn trilogy. Fallen Dragon exists in it's own universe, a few hundred years in our future where colonies have been set up on other planets, been found to be uneconomic to trade with, and a forced asset-stripping operation is being used by the one remaining star faring company in order to keep it going and fuel it's own hidden plans.
This asset-striping is often done against the wishes of local colonists, so a military force is required to keep them in-line, using specialist weaponary and protection suits known as 'Skins.' The story follows Lawrence Newton, a man who can only follow his dreams of getting in to space by becoming a front line worker helping keep local populations controlled. However, he has a personal mission to gain some of his own assets, and needs a chance to get away from their overseers and grab what he wants from a local community.
Fallen Dragon has Hamilton's usual mix of action, technology and character development. The main story follows Newton as he prepares and works on a mission on the planet Thallspring, where his private mission is also planned to take place. Alternate chapters follow other significant characters, and also the history of Newton his upbringing on his home planet, and how he became involved with the Zantiu-Braun company.
Early on in the book, I was worried Hamilton had lost his touch. The flow of the story was constantly getting interrupted with detailed descriptions of the surroundings of the characters, taking suspense away from many of the scenes in his personal history. Just as part of the story started getting going, we'd change across eras to another part for a chapter. I know this is a writing style, one Iain M Banks uses a lot, but the changes just didn't seem to happen at the right time. I actually found some of the writing in the first couple of hundred pages quite aggravating, but then, thankfully, it settled down. Once Newton had reached Thallspring, and parts of his childhood were covered, the writing seems to gel together and I could get in to the story, rather than noticing how the prose was written.
With such a long book, this means most of it is still a good read. You get Newton's history gradually revealed, giving meaning to his current attitudes and behaviour. Denise, a local schoolteacher and opposer of the 'asset realisation' system is developed, and both hero and rebel are shown in ways that mean you can feel for both, even though they are on opposing sides of a serious situation. Nothing is cut and dried in the Fallen Dragon world: military enforcer, rebel and overseer all have motivations you can support and reject, giving very realistic characters in a future that has both amazing technology and a grimy realism that shows what space travel and colonisation is likely to be like, rather than any glossy utopian ideals.
Fallen Dragon is a good mix of action, developing technological ideas and character development. If the first quarter of the book had been as good as the rest, it would be one of the best books I've read this year. As it is, it's good, and recommended, but with the proviso that you might have to push yourself to keep reading past the first few chapters to really start enjoying the story.
Title: Fallen Dragon
Author: Peter F Hamilton
Published Date: 2001
Website: Peter F Hamilton
Review by Paul Silver, November 2003
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