Monday, June 11, 2007

Mindstar Rising

Like Richard K. Morgan, Peter F. Hamilton writes sci-fi and has an abbreviated middle name. And much like Morgan's first book Altered Carbon, Hamilton's first book Mindstar Rising bears a title composed of two words and tells the story of an extraordinary individual who solves a mystery. Also, both authors are British, as well as brilliant. Unfortunately (for you), it's been too long since I read Morgan's novels to crisply detail his brilliance. Luckily, I just read Hamilton's Mindstar Rising.

To keep me interested, a book should have a good mystery, believable characters in somewhat believable situations, and at least one gimmick. Take Harry Potter for example. He solves mysteries and is constantly developing as a character. The gimmick is the magic school of Hogwarts. In Mindstar Rising, Greg Mandel solves mysteries and is at times almost painfully realistic in his interaction with a series of increasingly deadly situations. His gimmick is his intuition, which has been enhanced by a military-grade neurohormone gland, lending him full-blown psychic powers that allow him to sense and even alter other's thoughts.

Not satisfied there, Hamilton adds a few other gimmicks in the same vein. Greg teams up with his old army friend Gabriel, a woman who can see into the future, and with Julia Evans, a girl with bioware implants that make her a living breathing computer, besides being the teenage heir to the most influential economic power in a communist-savaged Britain.

The brilliant part is how well Hamilton describes these abilities. Greg sees each mind as a blob of colours, seething and writhing with readily identifiable thoughts and feelings, some of them shooting out like spikes or surrounding a person's head like a halo. Gabriel sees all possible future events flowing down converging timelines into the present, a mystical forking river she refers to as "tau lines". Julia's power is similar to both Greg's and Gabriel's in that she can instantly recall and process such great amounts of information that she can foresee events with some certainty, deducing motives and playing people against each other like pawns, her mind ablaze with data coursing through logical matrices that effortlessly search and filter all possible answers until only one remains.

I also liked the pacing of the book. The first 100-or-so pages form a rather straight-forward first act where the reader is introduced to the main characters, getting a good taste of their backgrounds and personalities. It's nearly a self-contained story, having a resolved mystery and a bittersweet ending that lures you in, only for the second act to open up with a flurry of surprises, bringing you in for the kill.

Among the more interesting recurring themes are abnormality and isolation. Both Greg and Julia have a hard time relating to other people and living a normal life because of their abilities, and they are both eventually forced to come face to face with their humanity and mortality.

Well worth the money; I'm definitely reading the next two books in the Greg Mandel trilogy.

But first I have to finish Tony Ballantyne's Capacity, which I just started. Of all sci-fi books I've read thus far, Capacity easily has the best prologue. It made me smile and surprised me both with form and concepts. Here's hoping that the rest won't let me down.

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