Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

I would like to thank Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Pan Macmillan

Published – 13th June

Price - £9.99 paperback

Know your enemy or be defeated

A wrecked alien spacecraft is found on a newly discovered world. And it carries a cargo as strange as it is horrifying. Security Director Feriton Kayne assembles a high-powered team to assess the threat, and it’s despatched in secret. But one of the group is hiding something and this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, humanity can extend lifespans indefinitely, travel to the stars via portal technology, and even make deserts bloom. We seem invulnerable. So, when the alien Olyix contacted us, years earlier, we welcomed them. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy and helped us in exchange. But will they prove a blessing – or a curse?

Space opera for me often means scale. Its usually a story of science on steroids, huge empires and occasionally timespans. One issue I’ve had with it in the past is that its sometimes difficult for the reader to care for actual humans when the scale focuses so much on the huge battle fleets and empires. The best type for me mixes the two. Peter F Hamilton is no stranger to great science fiction and starts a new trilogy with a very intriguing approach weaving multiple storylines to give us an engrossing future history of humanity’s reach to the stars and its potential destruction.

The story really ‘starts’ (and this is where watching its chronology is key) with five of the most powerful non-politicians in the galaxy being gathered together by a security director for one of Earth’s most powerful companies. A remote planet has been explored and on it is an alien spaceship under extreme security measures the five guests and their aides are summoned then taken to the planet to explore its secret and disturbing cargo. The Security Director Kayne though has a secret agenda as he thinks one of the five may actually be an alien agent working to undermine the various powerful factions in this galaxy earth to achieve their own goals.  As the guests have a few hours to kill before they reach their target, they start to share life stories that all suggest their crossing of paths has a lot more at stake…

Coming back to my thoughts on scale Hamilton has rather brilliantly got a huge epic tale that really does cover centuries and light years but found a way to introduce the concepts in a way that makes the personal come to the fore rather than drowning the story in the big science fiction concepts. This is achieved in two ways firstly the selection of characters rather than the hotshot soldiers or ahem chosen one farm boys ahem our main human cast are more proficient in very different roles – alongside Feriton the Security Director is Callum a man who specialises in environmental disaster clean-ups; Yuri a very senior intelligence investigator; Alik a skilled slightly amoral investigator often dealing with the crimes of the powerful and Kandara who specialises in assassinations of some of the worst people there are.  They’re not the usual mix of SF heroes you would be expecting to have a major impact on the galaxy.

This leads nicely to the main way I felt this was so well put together. Each character while driving to their mysterious destination gets a chance to tell a tale. Callum tells a dramatic tale of a search for his wife who was an undercover intelligence agent that eventually results in a huge discovery about Earth’s dark side; Yuri has an important missing person case that send s him into the secret world of body swap technology and the mysterious Olyix the only alien race humanity has met who are parked in the solar system earning money for fuel before they continue on their quest to meet God and finally Kandara is recruited by a post scarcity society to find out who is sabotaging it. Each story is a well-paced mystery of thriller with lots of locations and action sequences so despite being a large novel these stories drive the narrative and the mystery is a fantastic hook for the reader to find out more. I especially like how Alik’s tale of gangland violence with bodies from a single attack are mysteriously spread all over the planet and beyond is finally explained. A key part of these stories is they allow the main technological advances to be better understood and their ramifications on humanity’s development (for good and bad) explained. So, Hamilton’s takes on terraforming, genetic manipulation; and for me one of the most impressive is the use of portal technology (where people can commute through a door over vast distances to other countries and even planets is becoming just a daily commute. Alongside this are the competing philosophies of Utopialism (a post scarcity society) and Universalism (which resembles capitalism) and Hamilton isn’t a huge proponent of either which means we sees the pros and cons of both societies.

These tales however run alongside a more straightforward narrative with a group of young future humans who seem to be getting trained for a future conflict. The actions of our troupe would appear to be a huge motivator for the group’s battle against an unknown enemy. This for me was the weaker part of the book as the genetically enhanced humans didn’t really have too much to do in the first volume and they were a little more on the wide-eyed innocent side of the story (I’m clearly getting older and prefer my characters with a bit more cynicism!). However, by the end of their story as we finally realise the narrative web of tales was much more linked plus a few excellent curveballs are brilliantly deployed to make you realllly want to know where the saga is going next.

A brilliantly created universe and a narrative structure that reminds me of the best features of books such as Hyperion.  By the end of this first volume you’ll feel like you understand how humanity has got to this highpoint and the dangers that appear to now be threatening its destruction. It’s a surprisingly personable tale that I think gives it a great emotional hook for the huge stakes to come in the next volume. If you’re looking to soak yourself into a huge space opera thriller this is right up your street.