‘Mindstar Rising’ by Peter F. Hamilton

The cover of the 17th November 2012 edition of New Scientist headlined:

CLIMATE CHANGE

Five years ago we feared the worst. But it’s looking even worse than that.

It seems that the climate models were wrong. The rate-of-loss of arctic ice, the increase in rainfall intensity, and the searing heat waves have already reached the levels that were predicted for the end of this century. As I read the dire warnings of more extreme weather in the northern hemisphere, the current and expected fall in crop yields in the UK due to heavy rainfall, the need to develop heat-tolerant crop varieties, and the likely flooding of many low-lying cities—the world created by Peter F. Hamilton in the Greg Mandel trilogy came to mind.

ImageHamilton’s first novel, Mindstar Rising, is set in England, where global warming has reshaped the physical, social and economic state of the country. Note that I said England; political chaos and industrial collapse have resulted in Wales and Scotland existing as separate political and economic entities. In the novel, massive flooding created a huge refugee problem, necessitating the requisition of buildings (shops, hotels etc.) under the government’s ‘one home policy’ to provide emergency housing. This re-imagined England has spent the past twelve years sweltering under bright hot skies, with high humidity and an annual rainy season. Most of the familiar plants and trees are gone, replaced by more tropical varieties. Low lying areas used for farming have been reduced to mud-clogged marshlands and bogs, and every available green space has been appropriated for raising crops.

Peterborough is the new industrial capital—referred to in the book as the new Hong Kong. ‘If you can’t get it in Peterborough, you can’t get it anywhere.’

The book builds a rather chilling, prophetic picture of a country and people dragged back to an almost subsistence lifestyle, while business cartels fight amongst themselves in a vicious free market environment.

Event Horizon, one of the most powerful of the corporations, has just patented the design for a ‘giga-conductor’—a revolutionary piece of equipment that can produce significant amounts of relatively cheap energy. In an energy starved world this is the catalyst for a war of subterfuge and murder, with the end game being control of Event Horizon and by default the ‘giga-conductor’.

Enter Greg Mandel, a psi-boosted, demobbed member of the Mindstar Brigade. He was a victim of the ‘demilitarization realignment programme’ of the People’s Socialism Party (PSP), and is now working as private investigator. The PSP, led by Leopold Armstrong, was swept out of power two years ago by a popular uprising, after ruling the country for ten years. Greg’s psi-gland—implanted in his brain by the military—enables Greg to read peoples’ emotions. There is a price to pay in the form of a ‘neural hangover’, whenever he uses his psi-gland extensively.

Greg is employed by Event Horizon, initially to ferret out who was behind a ‘spoiler’ against their orbital factory, and is then pulled in to deal with an increasingly complex and multi-layered attack on both Event Horizon’s people and assets. Greg calls in Gabriel Thompson, another ex-Mindstar veteran who can see into the future, to help with the investigation. Thompson’s psi-talent is restricted partly by physical proximity—she needs to be close to the people whose future she is scanning—and by her fear of seeing her own death approaching. For Greg and Gabriel the psi-gland is both a boon and a curse.

Julia Evans, de facto head of Event Horizon, is the other main character. A teenage girl left to run the business after her grandfather’s death—though in reality his memories and personality have been transplanted into a ‘neural-network bioware core’ and he is still very much in control. The book charts Julia’s transition from a naïve girl following her grandfather’s lead, to someone confident enough to make the hard decisions.

The story contrasts the use of emotion and logic as ways to solve problems and make decisions. Greg relies on his psi-gland and his ability to read emotions, whereas Julia (who has logic nodes implanted in her brain) and her grandfather rely primarily on cold logic. In the complex investigation, both miss different parts of the puzzle, with the result that Julia believes that Greg is a traitor. This revelation is presented to the reader at a point in the story where Greg and Gabriel are in serious trouble and in desperate need of help. Fortunately Greg’s ex-military friends and members of the Trinities—a para-military organisation that fought the PSP when they were in power and which is still active against the remnants of the party—step in to put Julia Evans straight and mount a rescue.

Mindstar Rising opens with Greg carrying out a contract killing out of duty and in the search for absolution; to blank out the guilt he seduces the new barmaid, Eleanor, at his local pub. It ends with him having the strength to grant Julia absolution for believing that he was a traitor. Greg now has Eleanor—the love of his life—by his side.

The second book in the trilogy, A Quantum Murder, pulls Greg out of retirement to help Julia solve the murder of one of her scientists. Greg is now married to Eleanor, who turns out to be a great sidekick. The last book, The Nano Flower, sees Greg and Julia, each with families of their own, facing an extra-terrestrial threat. At the end of the book, after saving the world, the last paragraph sees Greg in the role of a father of five, facing the whole new challenge of a teenage daughter.

The trilogy is well worth re-reading. It presents a complex, interwoven story, where the struggle of the characters is back-dropped by the struggle of a country, and a world, recovering from catastrophic global warming.

2 Comments

I’ve never read any Hamilton, and i keep meaning to. Is this first series of his the best place to start with his fiction?

All his writing is great, and you could start with any of his work. His other trilogies are set in the far but very believable future – they might be a bit off putting as they do tend to be real tomes. The Greg Mandel series is near future, and as I said very topical. This is probably the best place to start, plus these books are a manageable size. Happy reading!

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