Space Opera has been one of those elusive aspects of Science Fiction which is often attempted, yet seldom realized. The task of novelizing huge struggles across galaxies, while still keeping a perspective on humanity and characterization is daunting. In recent times, we've seen wonderful examples in Stephen Donaldson's 'Gap' series, and in Margaret Weis' epic 'Star of the Guardians'. David Wingrove accomplished something a little more confined, yet just as ambitious, with his generation-spanning 'Chung Kuo' novels. Now, we can add Peter Hamilton to that list. Strung out across almost 4000 pages, 'the Night's Dawn Trilogy' is a landmark in Science Fiction, Space Opera at it's finest. 'The Reality Dysfunction' is a blazing first novel in a series which can only be described as a rumbling tour-de-force.
The year is 2600 AD. Mankind has a come far, colonizing numerous planets outside of the Sol system, and encountering a few alien races along the way. Technology has progressed exponentially, to the point where mankind has split between the Edenists, and the Adamists. The Edenists have cultured biotechnology, creating living ships, and full telepathy with each other, their ships, and their habitats. They have even cheated death, transferring their conscience to a multiplicity after their physical existence is ended. The Adamists, on the other hand, believe in more traditional values, and still embrace their machines.
The colony world of Lalonde is progressing normally, if not spectacularly. Until something strange happens. During a bloody ritual by a group of criminals, an improbable chain of events culminates in the opening of a portal, and what comes through is something never even imagined. This is the Reality Dysfunction. It has existed since the beginning of the human race, and may very well bring about the end.
That's the most fundamental outline of the plot, and rest assured, Hamilton takes it light-years deeper. There's several parallel plotlines, and like any masterful authour, Hamilton effortlessly pulls them together. He also knows how to string the reader along, keeping those pages turning well into the night. The plot is advanced expertly, with only a few hints dropped now and then, forcing a frantic flurry of reading to try and piece bits of the puzzle together. As for figuring things out ahead of time, you might as well give that up. Hamilton throws in a a plethora of plot twists and hairpin turns, which instead of being irritating, work seamlessly into the overall storyline.
His characters also well done. Although they initially they seem a little sketched out, by the end of the book they're all very much realized, and the development process works in their favour. From the easy manner of the irrepressible Captain Calvert to the frighteningly vivid Quinn Dexter, Hamilton's created a large and formidable cast of characters. Chapters frequently switch between points of view, and although this is sometimes a little confusing concerning sequence of events, it allows for the massive book to maintain a breakneck pace. Hamilton manages the daunting task of keeping all characters equally interesting quite ably, making the temptation to skip to another characters chapter almost nonexistent.
One of the best features of the book is the smooth blend of science fiction and horror. It's not often that a science fiction book can actually make you scared, but if any of them can pull it off, it's 'The Reality Dysfunction'. Hamilton also includes some excellent technology, and the explanation and implementation of innovations such as affinity, neural nanonics, and even his take on spaceflight make for an exciting read. It's almost unheard of for a book the sheer size of 'The Reality Dysfunction' to not drag on at points, but between the engaging characters and fantastic storyline, Hamilton manages just that.