Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Neutronium Alchemist - Peter F. Hamilton

1997; 1137 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #2 of the Night's Dawn Trilogy.  Genre : Space Opera.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    The battle between the Possessed and the Unpossessed rages throughout the galaxy.  The Possessed hasten to infect as many habitats as they can; the Unpossessed struggle with immense logistical issues while learning ways to repel the menace.

    In the midst of all the chaos, a new danger emerges.  Dr. Alkad Mzu has escaped her 30-year house asrrest on the habitat Tranquility and seeks to reclaim the Doomsday device she developed, called the Neutronium Alchemist.  And while it is a threat to all, it is also a prize.  If either side manages to seize the Neutronium Alchemist, or even just capture Dr. Mzu, they gain the upper hand in the cosmic warfare.

What's To Like...
    This is epic Space Opera - a multitude of detailed worlds, races, gadgets and characters to explore and get acquainted with.  There is despair and brutality, but there is also hope and goodness.  The sex has been toned down in this second book, and a bit of comic relief has been added. most notably through a flower child possessor with a magic bus, who's helping to save a bunch of unpossessed children.  Hamilton even brings back two historical figures, Al Capone and Fletcher Christian, and both occupy important roles in the drama.

    There are very few purely Good or Evil characters.  Indeed, there are a lot of what we old AD&Ders call "chaotic evil" and "chaotic good" players, who often hinder their causes more than they help it.  It's fun to watch "lawful evil" Al Capone as he gets frustrated with his chaotic minions.

    There is a "Cast of Characters" at the back of the book, which is very helpful because there are a zillion storylines and people to keep track of.  It is hard to see how everything will be tidily resolved in one more book, but that's the "hook" to keep reading.  Oh yeah, there are also a couple "super agents" who act as observers in the action, and their presence offers tantalizing possibilities of this whole crisis being manipulated by higher powers.

Kewlest New Word...
Orrery : a mechanical model of the solar system.

    "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."  (pg. 165)

    Al knew all about kilometres; they were what the French called miles.  (pg. 93)

    "Wait!  What are you observing us for?"
    "To see what happens, of course."
    "Happens?  You mean when the Kingdom attacks?"
    "No, that's not really important.  I want to see what the outcome is for your entire race now that the beyond has been revealed to you.  I must say, I'm becoming quite excited by the prospect.  After all, I have been waiting for this for a very long time.  It's my designated goal function."
    Moyo simply stared at him, astonishment and indignation taking the place of fear.  "How long?" was all he managed to whisper.
    "Eighteen centuries."  Rosler raised an arm in a cheery wave and walked away into the shadows...  (pg. 909)

"And what is the purpose of life?"  "To experience."  (pg. 388)
    For all its entertaining Space Opera theatrics, Peter F. Hamilton's The Neutronium Alchemist also gives you some fascinating spiritual what-if's to ponder.  What if all your soul does when you die is fall into a giant repository of other souls?  If that was your eternal fate, what would you do if, say after 600 years,  you were given the opportunity of coming back, albeit at the expense of taking over someone else's body and life?  And if you were among the living when such a "beyond" was revealed, how would it affect your actions and spiritual beliefs?

    The Neutronium Alchemist, like any Book 2 in a trilogy, is neither the beginning or the end of the tale.  It is action-packed from page one; but I can't say whether the Doomsday device plays a vital part in the story, or is just a tangent whose only purpose is to tide you over until Book 3.  The Neutronium Alchemist is not a stand-alone book, so you commit to reading 3600 pages when you take up this trilogy.  So far, I'd say it's worth it.  8½ Stars

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