Review: Great North Road, Peter F Hamilton

Great North RoadTitle: Great North Road (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Peter F. Hamilton (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never wavered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra.

Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo.

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Science Fiction “Space opera”
Published: Macmillan, September 2012 (will be released in the USA on Jan 1, 2013)
Pages: 1087
My copy: For review from Pan Macmillan Australia, thanks!

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

Science fiction in general at the moment seems to feature a lot of dystopia and generally depressing views of the future. Great North Road is different in that it presents a rather optimistic view of the near future – quite a lot has changed but the basic human nature seems the same. This story is the first by Peter F Hamilton that I have read, but I’m now very interested in reading some of his many other works.

Where to begin with a story of over a thousand pages? Let’s start with a bit of background. In the beginning of the 21st Century, Kane North has been working on a cloning program, specifically to clone himself. After several failures he does succeed – Augustine, Bartram and Constantine North are born. In the middle of the 21st Century, gateway technology is developed (think Stargate but on a corporate scale), allowing instant transport across vast distances. Connections are made to distant planets, and the three North brothers create Northumberland Interstellar Corporation to take advantage of developing resource-rich new worlds across the galaxy. They focus their development on Sirius’ planet of St Libra, growing algae-paddies to harvest bioil for use back on Earth and across the inhabited planets. The North brothers create further clones of themselves and these so-called 2Norths become the management of Northumberland Interstellar.

Fast-forward to 2141, and one of the 2North clones is found dead in the Tyne River in a wintry Newcastle upon Tyne. Detective Sidney Hurst is in charge of the investigation. The case receives a considerable amount of attention given the high-profile victim, but also because the unidentified North was stabbed through the heart by a five-bladed knife (or claws) – the exact way Bartram North and his household were slaughtered twenty years previously on St Libra. Back then, the only survivor, Angela Tramelo, had sworn she had seen a monster in the mansion – a black-armoured humanoid with blades for fingers. Her story was not believed and she was incarcerated for life.

But now, the Human Defence Agency (or HDA) are reconsidering the possibility of sentinent alien life on St Libra, and mount an enormous expedition to the planet to try to track any trace of the alien down. Angela is released from jail, on the condition that she accompany the expedition as an expert advisor. So while the murder investigation continues in Newcastle, the HDA and their legionnaires head through the gateway and into the unknown north continent of St Libra.

Great North Road is an amazing tapestry of stories – the cop-drama investigation in Newcastle and the expedition to St Libra are the two main storylines, with many other smaller stories woven around them. The narrative jumps back and forth with a lot of flashbacks which is a little offputting at times, but it allows the full truth to be kept hidden right up to the end of the story, keeping the mystery intact and the tension high. The fascinating technology is discussed quite casually and not over-described, which makes the advanced tech feel quite natural. I don’t usually go for murder-mystery books but the sci-fi elements of this one really kept my interest.

There were two main problems I had with Great North Road. The first is the size of the book! The paperback is such a doorstop. It’s a stand alone story but I think it could have been split at least in half to make it more manageable to handle. It took me two months to read it (which is a very long time for me!) as I couldn’t carry it to work with me. I’d recommend the e-book version!

The second thing I didn’t really like so much about the story was the sheer amount of detail – every part of the murder investigation is mentioned in detail and it really slows the story down at times, especially in the first half of the book. Thankfully the action ramps up in the second half and it’s very difficult to put the last 300 pages or so down.

The characters are fantastic! Each personality is developed so well that we really get to know them by the end. The point of view is shared around between several main characters, which gives a lot of insight into what’s happening in the different political factions and the motivations of important individuals. The addition of Geordie terms such as referring to each other as “pet” is a nice touch – I kept having to remind myself to think with an accent!

Those who like an upbeat Sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future should enjoy Great North Road. I’d recommend getting the e-book version if you’d rather not cart around a brick of a physical copy!

Warnings: Graphic violence, language, sexual situations (not graphic), drug use

What did others think of Great North Road?

  • “Overall, Great North Road is a highly recommended novel of 2012, while missing my top 25 where I had expected it to place.” – Fantasy Book Critic
  • “Overall, Great North Road is a very solid novel. It’s not amongst his best, but it rattles along at a good pace and handles its immense length quite well.” – The Wertzone
  • “Hamilton has once again shown why he is one of the best writers in the field today, how he can manage multiple plot threads and complicated twists and turns. Above all he can create a world that is unbelievably detailed, and can tell a vast and engrossing story within it.” – Walker of Worlds