UK Hardcover First (signed)
634 pages ; £17.99 ($45.00)
Date Reviewed: 02-05-2002
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002
Peter Hamilton had set himself up for a fall. In the US, his immense and immensely popular series the 'Night's Dawn' trilogy transformed him from an obscure British SF writer published in grocery store paperbacks to a top-line hardcover phenomenon. If his follow-up was another huge slab of space opera set in the same "universe", readers would have been pleased. But 'Fallen Dragon' exceeds all expectations, evades preconceived notions as to what it might be, and succeeds with a new agenda, a different future and characters that are satisfyingly complex. It's probably still space opera, but where 'Night's Dawn' was a World War Two tale of Good versus Evil, 'Fallen Dragon' offers a Vietnam scenario where the motives are murky and the characters are conflicted within themselves as well as with one another. Shades of gray infuse the landscape, and the reader's sympathies are put through the shredder. And yes, it's still a thrilling story of science fiction wonder.
'Fallen Dragon' takes place in a universe where starflight has been achieved, and man has colonized other planets and star systems. Unfortunately, it turns out that interstellar travel is mightily unprofitable. Colonies are established, but only given the bare minimum to begin to build for themselves. They're always far behind the earth's technological level. As the novel begins, the age of interstellar travel is drawing to a close. The few corporations that have colonies on other planets only travel to them on missions euphemistically called 'asset realization' -- pillage and plunder to those in the colony. Hamilton tells his story in three different threads. One thread follows Lawrence Newton as a young man through adulthood. He begins as a idealistic teenager, addicted to science fiction, certain that one day he too will travel the stars, and boldly go where no man has gone before. Another thread follows Newton as sergeant leading a platoon on an invasion of a colonial world with a level of technology not much beyond our 21st century. Another follows the lessons being given by a young teacher on that world, who may be more than she seems to be. With skill, thrill and a fair amount of kill, Hamilton weaves these threads into a fascinating page-turning story, with unexpectedly poignant twists.
More so than his other works, 'Fallen Dragon' show the influence of Robert Heinlein, particularly his 'Starship Troopers'. I say this like a good thing because it is a good thing. Hamilton's grunts get 'Skin', a wonderful update of 'power armor'. Moreover, we see the idealistic young men beaten into war-weary veterans. Newton's mission is supposed to be a milk run, but it turns out that even Skin can be challenged by motivated suburban rebels. It's a 'Black Hawk Down' scenario set in an American town, not a third world hell. Beyond the battle is something else -- treasure. That's what Lawrence is after, but Hamilton has something more than loot in mind. He has the hearts and minds of his characters in his scope, and he remorselessly corners them in circumstances that force them to see themselves. All this while delivering up a number of very intense battles, in a variety of terrains and situations. And all of this in one relatively short novel of 600 plus pages. It's self-contained, completely original and thoroughly satisfying.