Friday, February 16, 2007

Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising, published in 1993, is the debut novel of Peter F. Hamilton, and the first book in the Greg Mandel trilogy.

The book is set in a high-tech
Britain in what appears to be the mid-21st century, although a firm date is never given. Britain has been ravaged by global warming and is struggling to recover from the social and economic devastation left by a decade of socialist dictatorship that has only recently come to an end.

The hero of the story is Greg Mandel: detective, former resistance fighter, British Army veteran, and telepath. He’s a product of the Mindstar Battalion, an abandoned attempt by the British government to tap and augment the powers of the human mind for military purposes. He can read the feelings and moods of those around him thanks to special implants, which comes in handy in his work.

After a short prologue, the story begins when Mandel is hired by wealthy industrialist Philip Evans, owner of technology firm Event Horizon, to root out sabotage in the company’s zero-g orbital factories. As the story progresses, Mandel find himself up against assassins, saboteurs, hackers, corporate mercenaries and more as he tries to unravel the mystery and protect his employer.

I thought Mindstar Rising was an excellent book and a great combination of mostly-realistic science fiction (psionics aside) and action/espionage. It’s got an interesting setting, some neat technology, and lots of action. It’s got memorable characters too; once you meet Mandel’s friend Royan, you won’t forget him for quite a while.

Hamilton does a nice job of portraying a ravaged nation just pulling itself out of ruin- slums, crumbling highways, former coastal towns half-submerged by the rising oceans. He does a nice job of creating a feeling of both bleakness and a bit of hope. It’s a type of setting you don’t seem to see that much- a recovering former dystopia.

The existence of psionic powers, something not seen much in print science fiction anymore, is handled well- it’s important to the story but doesn’t utterly dominate it. I especially like the way prescience was handled. Interestingly, whereas many works that deal with psionics imagine the discovery of such powers being a radical social change, perhaps even the next step in human evolution or some such, in this book it is described as being far less spectacular- Mindstar Battalion was an expensive failure, not useful enough to the Army to justify its cost. I found the idea of the telepathic supersoldier as costly boondoggle sort of amusing.

I highly recommend Mindstar Rising to anyone who likes a lot of action in their science fiction, people who like near-future speculation, and fans of Hamilton’s later works. Check this one out.

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