A Review of Peter F. Hamilton’s A Second Chance at Eden
By W. Keith Beason
"For myself, I consider every thought to be sacred, they should all be treasured and revered, no matter what they are; only the wealth of experience can bring about enrichment of the soul. You cannot achieve this by meditation alone. By purifying your mind, you become nothing more than a machine for thinking, a biological computer. We are meant for more than that."
With the Night’s Dawn Trilogy (NDT), Peter F. Hamilton has established himself as an accomplished storyteller, capable of weaving a vast array of characters, events, complex themes and storylines into a unique, fascinating and immensely rewarding read. His vision of the future, dark with moral relevancy, cruelty and political intrigues, yet bright with human courage, innocence, and passion, is at once haunting and magnificent. Much like the world in which we find ourselves at the dawn of the next millenium.
A Second Chance at Eden is Hamilton’s opportunity to showcase his talents for what is perhaps the greatest challenge in literature, to tell a complete, meaningful, and entertaining story in the fewest possible words. Certainly, this is the very antithesis of the NDT; a work that will probably top more than 1 million words when completed.
The book is a series of short stories related only in the sense that they all take place in Hamilton’s “future history” leading up to the NDT. Some of the stories involve or surround major events within that history. Others are simply tales set in the context of humanity’s colonization of space. The collection serves as an excellent introduction to Hamilton’s ability for those who are unfamiliar with his work and don’t want to slug their way through the massive NDT. For those who are fans of the Trilogy, I would say it is indispensable reading for reasons that will soon become apparent.
There are seven stories included in Second Chance. As we have come to expect from Hamilton, they cover wide-ranging topics, characters and events. Each of them is a quick read, though the collection’s title story is a novella, which takes the form of an old-fashion “whodunit” murder mystery. While rich in pertinent Night’s Dawn background and detail, the novella itself is rather mediocre as mysteries go. But, you do get to meet Wing-Tsit Chong (inventor of the affinity gene and founder of Edenism) and learn a great deal about the initial period of human space exploration before we journeyed beyond the Solar System.
The story covers the transition of He(3) harvesting technology from aerostats to cloudscoop anchors among other fascinating facets this time period. Additionally, the narrative’s main character receives symbiont implants making him affinity capable during the course of the storyline. This is particularly interesting as Hamilton delves into what it is like to be, at first, isolated from a society built around affinity, then how someone initially experiences and learns to control affinity after the implants take effect. All in all, the novella is a great resource for understanding some of the fundamental principles that are commonplace in the NDT.
Hamilton begins the collection with a story based on Earth. “Sonnie’s Edge”, takes place in the year 2070 and introduces the reader to the seedy side of life on the environmentally endangered planet through the up and coming sport known as “beastie-baiting.” It’s sort of a combination of robotics, affinity bonding, and cock fighting. An interesting way to kill an evening. It’s pure science fiction with some surprising twists and turns. It is the only story to take place on Earth and the only one told in first person, which is a nice touch; a little intimacy for the home planet, albeit a bit deviate.
Following the novella Hamilton leaves the Solar System with three works of varying quality. “New Days Old Times” takes place on Nyvan, the first colonized planet. In it, Hamilton offers a story nestled in one of his favorite themes, socio-political upheaval. “Candy Buds” and “Deathday” deal with human greed and revenge respectively. The former is set in a wealthy affinity-mature civilization where fantasy and reality are sometimes difficult to separate, while the latter explores a desperate situation set on a desolate world. That Hamilton readily shifts between such diverse characters and storylines with enviable ease attests to his literary prowess. Of these three stories, “Candy Buds” is easily the best. The other two suffer respectively from too much and too little rationality to convey with optimum effect the loneliness and horror at which Hamilton is driving.
The best is definitely saved for last, however, in Second Chance with “The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa” and “Escape Route.” These two efforts rise far above merely imparting “future-history” information, clever characterizations and plot development as to deserve special recommendation.
“Tiarella Rosa” is a superb love story set within a perfect balance of technological and political undertones. Rather than taking away from the plot or serving as an interesting aside within the story, the undertones integrate with Hamilton’s characters brilliantly, becoming a seamless whole, each feeding off the other to establish a real driving force that is as good as science fiction literature gets. While exploring the immediacy of human passion, Hamilton allows the reader to appreciate the full effects of future technology and human longevity upon passion. How it can transcend traditional relationships in time and forge new types of bonds that are just as real and fulfilling as any we have today. This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, regardless of genre.
“Escape Route” does not offer the character development or pensive depth of “Tiarella Rosa” but it makes up for it with a rich texture of hard science fiction and mystery. Though not as great a tale in terms of literature, this is still Hamilton at his best. It offers an adventurous framework where an unexpected enigma emerges interlaced with a political subplot that leaves the reader with a multi-faceted story that turns on itself and remains unresolved practically to the last paragraph. The story will be of particular interest to NDT fans because we are introduced to the Adamist starship Lady MacBeth and her original captain, Marcus Calvert, Joshua’s father.
So far in his career, Hamilton has shown himself to be not only a good science fiction author, but a competent writer of literature. His flare for mixing an interesting variety of characters, cultures, technologies and occurrences into complex textures whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts clearly reveals that he is a force to be reckoned with. While A Second Chance at Eden contains some writing that is indicative of an emerging rather than mature talent, several stories possess more than enough wordsmith magic to justify reading the collection. It is a terrific addition to the library of those who want to discover an outstanding talent for the first time or for those who want to broaden their knowledge of the early years of the Confederation before the emergence of the reality dysfunction.