THE RUN-OF-THE-MILL FIRST OUTING FOR GREG MANDEL
A near future, conspiracy thriller that won’t have you guessing, with its all too predictable twists and turns.
(Greg Mandel Trilogy, Book 1)
Peter F. Hamilton
Genre: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
Date: 7th October 2011 (First Published 1993)
The future. A subject matter that countless authors have speculated upon in their writings, since time immemorial. The predictions of what the future may have in store for humanity are as numerous as they are varied. Yet regardless of the endless possibilities that can be imagined, there are a small number of ideas that have gained so much traction in science fiction literature that they have become well established tropes. Perhaps one of the most common of these predictions of the future, that you might reasonably expect to encounter in a science fiction book, is the advent of the amoral mega corporation engaged in nefarious schemes, not just in pursuit of profit, but in order to exert political control over society. So for those of you who are well read in the genre, it probably won’t be much of a surprise to learn that the future depicted in, Mindstar Rising, deals rather extensively with corporate shenanigans principally motivated by political objectives.
For the best part of two decades, Peter F. Hamilton, has been regarded as one of Britain’s leading science fiction authors. Though he is generally associated with epic space opera sagas, it was the acclaimed publication of, Mindstar Rising, his cyberpunk début novel, in 1993, that put Hamilton on the map. It also introduced readers to his most iconic protagonist, Greg Mandel, the biologically modified, “psychic”, former military man turned private investigator, for the first time, in what is essentially a conspiracy thriller with a cyberpunk veneer. So be advised, nobody should go into the book expecting a unique, trailblazing tale. The plot is basic and straightforward, but doesn’t make for a particularly engaging narrative. In all honesty, Mindstar Rising, is a decidedly average affair that sees Greg Mandel being hired by the dying CEO of the Event Horizon corporation, ostensibly, to investigate the sabotage of a manufacturing facility. But the deeper Greg digs the more apparent it becomes that something considerably more sinister than corporate high-jinks is at play.
What is genuinely good about the novel, it has to be said, is Hamilton’s setting which provides a great backdrop for the story that unfolds; a near future Britain, drastically altered by climate change, global financial meltdown and political turmoil in the wake of years of misrule by a recently deposed “far left” government. It is likely that this setting, more than anything else, is responsible for much of the praise and acclaim that the book received upon publication. After all, how many cyberpunk novels take place in Peterborough, of all places?
Yet in spite of the high regard in which critics hold the book. It hasn’t escaped my notice that, Mindstar Rising, has never developed a large, devoted following; not even among cyberpunk aficionados. Now, reviewing the novel some twenty years later, it is easier to understand why that is the case; the reasons being twofold: Firstly, without putting to fine a point on it, there have been many far superior cyberpunk stories published, both before and since. So while, Mindstar Rising, is a run-of-the-mill tale in its own right, it will doubtless prove to be that much more so for readers who have enjoyed more ambitious, groundbreaking books, previously. Which leads seamlessly into the second reason for the lack of fanfare: The book doesn’t tread any new ground. So even though, Mindstar Rising, certainly does incorporate one or two interesting ideas, there is nothing on offer that hasn’t been done before. Consequently, there is unlikely to be any surprises in store for anyone other than readers new to the genre. This is further exacerbated by the author’s narrative that travels a mostly predictable course. Even the “twist” towards the end of the novel doesn’t have the impact it might otherwise have had, as it was telegraphed very early on. It’s hard to imagine any reader who pays attention will not see it coming.
It is fair to say that, Mindstar Rising, won’t win any prizes for originality. But to give the book its due, the one thing it does have going for it is that two decades on it has aged incredibly well. This is actually something I find is not usually the case with science fiction stories with a near future setting. Far more often than not, it seems that once the time period depicted in a book published decades earlier arrives in the real world, the content of the book appears dated, or outright obsolete by comparison. In this regard Hamilton’s story is holding up very well; though it is amusing to read companies such as Amstrad and Olivetti being name checked, as they have both been completely irrelevant for several years. Now, today, with just five years to go before the time period of the novel is upon us, it is likely that, Mindstar Rising, will continue to age well for another decade or so. While a few of the technological advancements envisioned by the author have become mainstream, in one form or another, in recent years, most of the technology depicted remains beyond us for the time being.
It is also noteworthy that, though not a hundred percent accurate in presentation, much of Hamilton’s predictions of the social, economic, environmental etc., changes that Britain experiences in his near future are rather prescient and close to the mark. We have already recently witnessed a “global” banking crisis, the effects of which are still with us today, which is very reminiscent of the devastating credit crash described in the book. And certainly some of the environmental problems attributed to climate change in the story are starting to be felt in the real world. Sure, the UK doesn’t have the stifling tropical heat and humidity detailed in the book, nor are we ever likely to, but the flooding mentioned could be prophetic. While today no part of Britain is permanently submerged under water, it can’t have escaped many people’s notice that certain areas of the country have suffered weeks of severe flooding in late springtime, for the past six or seven years. This seems likely to remain an annual occurrence for the foreseeable future.
All in all, the backdrop and world building for the novel is more interesting than the actual story. Even most of Hamilton’s characters are underwhelming by comparison, including the protagonist. Fair enough, Greg Mandel is a competent character with a fascinating back-story; a former elite soldier from a special unit who inadvertently developed a sixth sense, courtesy of the experimental enhancements he received while in the military. But there is nothing especially compelling about him. The stand out character of Mindstar Rising is, Julia Evans, the sixteen year old heiress of the Event Horizon corporation. This was a bit of a surprise as I usually dislike the inclusion of teenage characters in books; especially those written for adult readers. The principle reason being that they tend to be depicted as being so much more capable and grown up than real world teenagers. But while Julia is portrayed as a very intelligent and savvy young woman, I like that she still thinks and behaves like a teen; with the flaws, insecurities and bad judgement that you would expect of an adolescent. This is aptly illustrated when she throws her best friend under the bus in order to “steal” her boyfriend.
In closing, Mindstar Rising is a mostly enjoyable, but unremarkable tale, that is mercifully light on the technobabble. It is not in the same league as a novel like, Altered Carbon, which I reviewed late last year, but I guess it could be viewed as a reader friendly introduction to cyberpunk.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.