We return with our final installment of our Night’s Dawn audio reviews! For those of you still listening, thank you for sticking with us. We know this is a bit out of the ordinary for our content and we are learning a lot. This time we are doing book three, The Naked God, in The Night’s Dawn trilogy, by Peter Hamilton. The goal of this discussion, once again, is to dive a little deeper into the book to better explore what makes them good, bad, and unique. There are a lot of spoilers for the books in these discussions, so if you wish to remain ignorant I recommend you skip today’s post. Otherwise, here is the discussion of book three (PS., we are extremely loud so you might want to turn down your volume):
2019 has been a pretty rough year for the world in general, but not for books. It’s hard to turn on the news or walk in the streets without hearing about something terrible going on. People are being beaten down, and while people are finding ways to escape, it’s hard to cope because it’s just everywhere. So here at the Quill to Live, instead of putting together a best of the year’s new science fiction, we thought we’d put together a science fiction list of books to read for the year 2019. Below is a list of books that we feel have helped us to make sense of the world as it is, as it could be, and what’s worth fighting for. There are also some that are simply smart and entertaining to distract you from the frustrations of life. We have tried to categorize the books into descriptive emotional categories that speak to the themes that resonated with us, however it is always hard to perfectly nail down classifications. Some of these books could be argued to belong in multiple categories. But regardless, enjoy our list:
The Personal is Political: These are books that highlight adversity within one’s personal life as a political issue. They deal with how social pressures affect one’s identity, well being and relationships with others. They might even ask the question, what does revolution look like?
The Dispossessed By Ursula K. Le Guin – An oldie but a goodie, LeGuin’s tale of an Anarchist adventuring through a Capitalist society is a feat of the heart. Intertwining the search for faster than light travel with a personal journey of discovering the power of one’s politics, The Dispossessed is one of the most affecting pieces of literature we’ve read. The mixture of philosophy and introspection is tangible in a way rarely seen, and only heightens the plot and character development. If you’re looking for something revolutionary, definitely pick this one up.
The Lesson by Caldwell Turnbull – This debut is one of the more intimate first contact stories we’ve read. It takes place five years after aliens arrive on Earth, their interactions mostly confined to the Virgin Islands. The book deals heavily with the nature of colonialism and its effects on those who are living under it. It feels like a very personal book, as Turnbull invests heavily in his characters and the island they inhabit. Everything feels very deliberate, and Turnbull offers no easy answers.
Small Character Stories on a Big Stage: These stories are character-based fictions, but set with a science fiction backdrop. Here the technologies take a back seat to the small stories of those who live in the world and an intense focus on character development in a futuristic setting.
Wayfarers by Becky Chambers – Honestly, each one of these books could have a list of its own, highlighting the myriad of ways Chambers reaches the soul. They are slice of life books that follow people involved in larger situations, just trying to find their way in life. The characters aren’t heroes, they aren’t out to save the world and instead, are just trying to make a living, and deal with personal issues. Chamber’s ability to convey interpersonal conflict and the interior lives of her characters is astounding. However, they are very emotional, so be sure to set aside a box of tissues, and cozy up under a warm blanket.
Murderbot by Martha Wells – If you’ve ever felt like the world is just too much and is harshing on your introverted vibe, Murderbot might just be right up your alley. The series follows the life of a security bot that has gained autonomy, and all she wants to do is watch her tv shows. Life gets weird as people begin to find out her secret, and she begins a quest to make sure people just leave her alone. Along the way, she meets other bots and begins to step outside of her shell. Wells’ writing is superb and makes Sec-Unit’s inner life very relatable.
Understanding the Other: These books reimagine what it means to be alien. They explore truly otherworldly forms of thought that stretch boundaries, expectations, and the imagination. They give insight into new ways to approach age-old problems.
Children of Time and Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky – This series has a special place in our hearts, and again it’s no real secret. Both books are feats of imagination that explore humanity’s relationship with the other in different ways. Tchaikovksy imagines what it would be like had certain species on earth gained intelligence on an expedited evolutionary scale. In Time, spiders are given this treatment in a way that rivals the most prestigious of nature documentaries, detailing their social life and creation of civilization without the interference of humankind. It’s mirrored perfectly with a decaying human civilization that is trying to survive afterin they destroy their homeworldeir world is destroyed. Ruin is the perfect follow up. Though it feels like he is repeating a formula, Tchaikovsky emphasizes the creation of a new civilization with influence from the survivors of a dying one. Instead of detailing the social and emotional workings of the octopi, Tchaikovsky makes them even more alien and less understandable from a human perspective. The central conflict becomes communication instead of outright confrontation, asking “how do you relate to someone completely unrelatable?” and “when do you stop trying to communicate?”
The Culture by Iain M. Banks – As a whole, the series explores this idea in a myriad of ways, each individual book setting up a dichotomy between two opposing views. Banks spends a lot of time fleshing out the way different societies view the world, and how they attempt to broadcast their politics and economics to others that share their region of space. While a lot of foundations for these societies are familiar to most, the cultures that spawn from them are vibrant and imaginative. Banks deconstructs many of these societies, including his own protagonist civilization known as The Culture, with extraordinary depth. Banks makes sure to detail as much as he can for his readers so that it is hard to tell what is truly alien, and what can be considered human. If you’re looking for deep contemplation on many of the usual questions asked within science fiction, and some stranger questions you had not yet considered, The Culture is definitely worth your time (and is something we will be talking about in great detail soon).
Finding Humor in the Absurdity of Life: These books function as humorous entertainment with a bit of edge. Although they are primarily here to entertain, it doesn’t stop them from examining the absurdities of life and using it to enhance their humor.
Epic Failure Trilogy by Joe Zieja – These books are comedies focused on a selfish engineer who just wants to slack off while the world around him falls apart. The book delivers so much needed laughs but also has a sharp wit to it that speaks to more than just being entertained. The humor belies some smart commentary on how things only get better when you take responsibility for yourself and do more than living selfishly. It is a mix of funny, fun, and thoughtful that we didn’t know we needed.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – A bit of a throwback, but one that some of us hadn’t actually read until this year. If you are like me and somehow missed this highschool English classic, we highly recommend you amend the gap in your reading. Satirical, surreal, and humorous in a dark and twisted way, Slaughterhouse-Five is worthy of the praise it has garnered. A story that will both make you laugh, and keep you coming back to analyze it further, this book is a cleverly crafted commentary on the horrors of war through a science-fiction lens. Vonnegut was both ahead of his time and speaking to timeless issues at the same time.
Military Science Fiction with Heart: These are war novels written by those who understand the horrors of war. They take a wide-eyed and painful look at what warfare does to everyone and do a good job of both being exciting and disillusioning.
Armor by John Steakley – Steakley opens this book with one of the most visceral battles I’ve ever read. The first ninety pages are a fever dream, following the main character in their first drop onto a hostile planet. Tension, fear, exhilaration, and anxiety fill the page like water droplets in a hurricane. Steakley really knows how to place you in Felix’s shoes while making you hope you never have to fill them. Although this book is a standalone, it is one of our top books of all time and we highly recommend you check it out.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – It’s often said that “war never changes”, and Haldeman takes it to heart in his novel about an endless war with an alien species. However, Forever War takes that phrase and adds, but life around it does. In this war, the soldiers experience time dilation effects as they travel through space, aging months while the folks at home age years even decades. Haldeman focuses more on the emotional and psychological effects of playing catch up and being forgotten by the world, painting an incredibly human picture of one caught in a forever war.
An Anthropological Study of the Human Condition: These books are anthropological experiments in what would happen to humanity if a new technology were introduced. They are fascinating maps of humanity as a whole and provide a window into some of our possible futures – some not that far off.
Terra Ignota by Ada Palmer – It’s hard to say something about this series other than just read it. Palmer accomplishes nothing short of amazing, and the series is not even finished. It’s a vision of the future that is free of national boundaries, and people’s politics are organized around what they feel humanity should strive for. Palmer instills the future with a sense of history as well, giving reason and weight to the way the world works, and how people navigate the power structures within it. The characters are larger than life but grounded, the world is detailed and stakes are incredibly high.
Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton – One of the first science fiction books many of us ever read, this series holds a special place in our hearts. The books focus on how the invention of faster than light travel and the existence of aliens would change the nature of humanity. Although these are not new questions in the science fiction genre, few authors approach them with the same level of detail and examination as Hamilton. These books are beautiful maps of the potential routes we as a species could take as new technology is developed and gives insightful commentary on our nature as a collective and as individuals. The book is the first in a duology, followed by Judas Unchained, and we highly recommend both.
A Future Born of Imagination: Books that overwhelm the reader with a myriad of imaginative impossible futures for humanity, immersing the reader in a torrent of ideas to distract them from the now.
The Machineries of Empire by Yoon Ha Lee – It’s no secret that we here at the Quill to Live love this highly imaginative trilogy. The series is imaginative to the extreme with its calendar-based warfare and fascinating approaches to identity. Lee’s ability to describe the technologies within his universe is incredible, leading us to experience wonder followed quickly by terror at the potential massacre they can produce. His characters are lively and filled to the brim with an undeniable charm, it’s impossible not to root for them. If you want something weird and exciting that involves a lot of sedition, espionage, and action, we highly recommend diving into the world of the Hexarchate.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Filled with adventure, intrigue, sword fights, and bone-painted necromancers, a reader could be forgiven for mistaking Gideon the Ninth for the start of an exciting new fantasy series. While Muir does use some language and ideas that are typically explored in other genres, Gideon the Ninth is made even more flavorful and unique for the fact that it’s set in the decaying remains of a galaxy spanning civilization millennia after its height. Treachery and intrigue reminiscent of the political machinations of a medieval court? Big check. Action sequences that had me on the edge of my seat? Oh yeah. Irreverent wit and comedy that had me guffawing at times? That’s a big 10-4. A character named Harrowhawk Nonagesimus? Oh yeah buddy. If you like books that cover heavy themes while not taking themselves too seriously a la Kings of the Wyld, I’d recommend checking out what I think is its sci-fi flavored second cousin.
Finally, we would love to hear from all of you. Are there any other categories of books that have helped you deal with 2019? Are there books you have read that fit into any of these categories? What do you think of the list? Please let us know.
We are back with another audio discussion. This time we are doing book two, The Neutronium Alchemist, in The Night’s Dawn trilogy, by Peter Hamilton. You can find the spoiler-free written review here: Neutronium Alchemist review. The goal of this discussion is to dive a little deeper into the book to better explore what makes them good, bad, and unique. There are a lot of spoilers for the books in these discussions, so if you wish to remain ignorant I recommend you check out the written review. Otherwise, here is the discussion of book two:
And if you are looking for the discussion of book one, it can be found here: The Reality Dysfunction
I am back with installment two of our collective journey through the strange abyss that is Peter F. Hamilton’s The Night’s Dawn Trilogy. If you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, the staff of QTL is doing a collective read and discussion of this iconic sci-fi trilogy. However, the discussions have a ton of spoilers for the books, so as the reader who is the most on top of his schedule I am also writing some reviews of the books. Today I will be talking about book two, The Neutronium Alchemist. You can find the spoiler-free review of book one here and the group discussion of book one here.
So long story short, The Neutronium Alchemist is reallllllly good. It’s superior in almost every single way to book one, The Reality Dysfunction, and is probably one of my favorite science fiction books. The plot is a little hard to talk about without spoilers, but the story, in brief, is a natural continuation of the events that started in book one. The aforementioned spirit plague has started consuming entire planets, but the collective of humanity now understands the threat that they are facing and are starting to get organized around the threat. Despite everything I loved about The Reality Dysfunction, one of its few major misses was the fact that the overarching “spirit plague” plotline felt divorced from the independent stories we were reading through the various characters. Conversely, The Neutronium Alchemist is almost entirely a reactionary piece cataloging how humanity is facing this new massive threat. Through this narrative, Hamilton fleshes out the higher level plot in ways that were severely lacking in book one as well as showcases his incredible ability to explore how a collective species would react to rapid large scale changes in their lives. In my opinion, The Neutronium Alchemist is an anthropological wet dream.
Additionally, the characters grow both in depth and in cast size. There are some very satisfying development arcs with existing characters, as well as a much more even division of POVs across Hamilton’s universe. I mentioned that there felt like there was some potential lurking sexist writing in the first book, and while The Neutronium Alchemist doesn’t do much to justify the small problematic parts of book one there also aren’t any additional offenses that I noticed. The second book seems to do a much better job elevating female POVs and putting them center stage. The worldbuilding is a step more coherent, with Hamilton moving from describing a number of individual planets to painting a picture of a large galactic human empire. The second book does a much better job characterizing humanity as a whole and showing the tensions and interactions between the various sects of human culture.
All in all, if you enjoyed The Reality Dysfunction – you are really going to like The Neutronium Alchemist. If you managed to finish TRD but didn’t know if you wanted to continue, I recommend that you do. Book two has kept everything that was good about Hamilton’s debut novel and improved almost every place it fell short. Despite being over 1300 pages I tore through TNA and could not put it down. Now we will just have to see if my fellow site members agree with me.
Rating: The Neutronium Alchemist – 10/10
As I mentioned back in my Reality Dysfunction review, we are trying something a little different this year. Here is the first of a series of audio discussions that we will be putting up on the site. The goal is to dive a little deeper into some books to better explore what makes them good, bad, and unique. If you have some time and fancy a listen, take 45 minutes and check out the first ever Quill to Live discussion:
The writers of The Quill to Live are undertaking a small project this year – we are reading a book series as a group and recording an audio discussion for each installment. The series in question is The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton. The books, starting with The Reality Dysfunction, are absolutely massive, clocking in at over 1200 pages of dense reading apiece. As such, there is a ton to unpack and discuss, especially given that our reviewers did not agree on how we felt about the book. Expect to see that audio discussion sometime this month, but if you would prefer to just read a short review of the first book, we have you covered. Please keep in mind that these are just my (Andrew’s) opinions, and the other site reviewers do not necessarily agree with my review (as you will hear in the coming discussion).
So what is The Reality Dysfunction? To begin with, it is Peter Hamilton’s first book – and as someone who has read most of the larger body of his work, it is interesting to see how far he has come as a writer. Hamilton is one of my favorite science fiction writers, though I think some of his books are definitely better than others. In particular, I am a massive fan of his Pandora’s Star duology. Hamilton brings a degree of anthropology to his books and likes to explore how new technology and information permeates society and how it changes the human experience.
The Reality Dysfunction takes place in a future human confederacy. Our race has spread to the stars, colonized a number of new planets, invented a number of new technologies and cultures, and met a few alien species. We are happily spreading among the stars until an unlucky group of colonists essentially accidentally starts a spiritual plague. People begin to become possed by otherworldly beings and it spreads across humanity like a strange plague. We view these events through a wide and diverse cast of characters. The lead, if there was one, is Joshua Calvert – a young space captain, and notorious sex fiend (we will come back to this). There are also a number of other scientists, leaders, colonists, criminals, and blue-collar workers spread across a number of worlds. Each of these POVs gives you insight into different parts of Hamilton’s world and comes together to build a massive holistic experience.
Reviewing The Reality Dysfunction was hard because while I really enjoyed the book overall, I had a mixed experience with each element of Hamilton’s storytelling. For example, the worldbuilding was incredible. Hamilton, over hundreds and hundreds of pages, slowly and beautifully pieces together a massive human empire that feels like a complex living machine. He does this through insane attention to detail when it comes to economies, environments, cultures, and people to paint what feels like a possible future for our species. On the other hand, Hamilton says the Confederacy is a collection of hundreds of worlds, but we only find ourselves hearing about five – which made the universe feel a bit empty (especially compared to his other books where the galaxy feels a lot more vibrant).
Then we have the plot. The book begins with almost twenty unrelated POVs that take place across the galaxy. As the book progresses, Hamilton hooks you with more than ten exciting subplots that had me coming back for more. At about the midway point in book one, the spirits make an entrance and we start to see how the different subplots are related. I think the biggest sin that Hamilton commits in this book is that the subplots were more interesting than the major possession plotline. That is not to say the possession story is bad, it is just that I was insanely invested in these smaller stories and it almost felt like the possession story was unnecessary. There is A LOT going on in this book (which is unsurprising at page count over 1200). I just wish that Hamilton had done a little more with the main plot to make it feel more integral to the characters’ stories.
Next, we have the characters, which are a little uneven. I called Joshua the theoretical protagonist, but that is only because he is clearly Hamilton’s favorite. Joshua is a walking cyclone of Gary Sue-ness, and the reviewers and I collectively started referring to him as Joshua Hard Penis (JHP), as he fucked literally everything with an orifice in this book. The characters collectively were a wonderful, diverse, and complex cast. However, I feel it could be argued that there might have been some subtle sexism in Hamilton’s writing. The female cast often feels a little less capable and more focused on being sex objects. That being said, I’ve read my fair share of Hamilton and never once felt his writing was sexist. This being his first book, it’s apparent he had yet to work out the sexual kinks.
Following up on this, one of Hamilton’s strongest abilities as a writer is that everything he does is visceral and intense. His descriptions suck you in and make you feel like you are there, his action gives you an adrenaline rush, his torture haunts you for days after you read it, and his sex scenes make you feel like you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be reading what feels like erotica on your subway ride. His writing is extremely evocative and it gives his novels a deep and lasting impression and helps you immerse yourself in his worlds. Most of his books have a respectable amount of sex, but it was super clear that Hamilton was trying to use smut to sell his debut novel. There is so much god damn sex in this book. We are talking anti-gravity sex cages, weird astral projection orgies, and super genetically enhanced genitals. If you really like your sci-fi to have a lot of steamy sex, this book might be your fetish. But, for a lot of people, I suspect that there is simply a little too much sex in this book. All of his later work is a lot more toned down in this area, and I am hoping it will level out in the second book in the series.
The Reality Dysfunction takes a little patience to read, but I think it is worth it. I loved this book, but I do think it is slightly bogged down by first-novel jitters. Having read his later work it is clear that he grew a lot after writing this first book – but The Reality Dysfunction is still a very solid science-fiction novel that will delight most readers. Its biggest hold up is honestly probably its prohibitive size, and I suspect a number of readers will be scared away by its density. For those of you who might be holding out, Hamilton is an expert in taking you to new worlds and I highly recommend you set aside a chunk of time and dig in.
Rating: The Reality Dysfunction – 8.5/10
In some ways there is very little point in reviewing a Peter Hamilton book. When it comes to his novels, people fall into three groups: those who have read him and love him, those who have read him and hate him, and those who have never read him. As there is little point in talking to the first two groups about his newest novel, A Night Without Stars, I will be addressing this to the last group.
Where do I even start with Peter Hamilton? I guess a good place is to tell you he is one of my tier 1 authors; someone who everyone should read at some point. His books are extremely polarizing, but if you are lucky enough to find that you like one of his books, you will have opened a door into a plethora of novels that will rapidly rise to the top of your favorite book lists. Hamilton writes hard sci-fi novels, and I mean diamond hard. These are some of the most dense, most technical laden, slowest moving, books that you could easily beat someone to death with due to their size. I am completely serious when I say they make Malazan look like light reading. These tomes are not for a light reader and are not a book you can casually read at the beach.
They are, however, completely worth every single second you put into them. Hamilton’s novels are dense because they are packed to the brim with imagination, insight, philosophy, characters, creativity, and world building the likes of which you have never seen. You will need to either know some physics, or have a desire to learn some, because he does not skip the science. Hamilton is a modern Asimov, using current technology and his imagination to create a future for humanity that both feels grounded in reality and defying imagination. His books take things like perpetual motion, wormholes, genetics, aliens, space travel, and a plethora of other classic sci-fi concepts and use them to flesh out the rise of humanity as a space faring race. These books are first and foremost about the evolution of civilization through scientific advancement. The density of the books come not from overly descriptive passages you might find in Jules Verne, but from Hamilton exploring every single minute ripple of impact a new invention would have in human society. The result is often a book that feel more like a history text from the future instead of a sci-fi novel.
Then there are the books themselves. This piece is technically about A Night Without Stars, the second book in the Chronicle of the Fallers and the seventh book in The Commonwealth Saga. The saga is comprised of three series (one trilogy and two duologies) that all take place in the same universe with the same tech, though the sub series are placed hundreds of years apart. Each subseries handles very different crises in the story of human civilization in space and each shows that Hamilton’s imagination is without par. The Chronicle of the Fallers in particular is the story of a group of scientifically advanced humans who get trapped in a somewhat parallel world where their technology no longer works, but they are granted telekinesis instead. Trapped alongside them is a horrific race of aliens that consumes humans and takes their place, making life a little hard for our humans. It is a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the best I can do without devoting four paragraphs to it. The Chronicle of the Fallers can be read without the first two series, but I would not recommend it as you will appreciate the most recent books more.
Without going into spoilers, A Night Without Stars (and the previous novel The Abyss Beyond Dreams) was impressive despite my high expectations for the book. For example, the novels contain some of the most genuinely unsettling situations I have ever encountered in sci-fi. Crafting upsetting challenges for his protagonist that will make the staunchest of reader shudder. Another key draw of Stars is the mystery of what is happening. One of my favorite qualities of Hamilton’s writing is that instead of just creating a mystery and solving it for you, he slowly gives you the tools to solve it yourself. It makes the final reveal much more satisfying, and increases your immersion greatly. A Night Without Stars has complex and strange characters that are also quite relatable. It will result in you questioning why you have so much in common with a psychic communist dictator who is trying to save his people from an external menace. Star’s technology is mind blowingly cool as is usual for Hamilton, with some incredible poignant scenes that I would do illegal things to get on a big screen. Finally, the last Chronicle of the Fallers book ties up a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions from the previous series (The Dreaming Void), which was appreciated.
However, with all the good I have outlined there is also some less good. As with most 800 page monstrosities, I felt that the book could have paired down some of its text. Not every scene was pivotal to character or plotline development, and I felt like some characters were only introduced only to prove that not everyone is important. This is the second series that Hamilton has placed in “the void”, an event in the commonwealth storyline, and while he has certainly created a fresh and fantastic story that defied expectations, I also was getting a little tired of hearing about the void by the end.
In the end, despite the book feeling like it could lose 50 pages or so, I don’t regret a single minute I spent in this book and will definitely read it again some day. It is astounding that Hamilton continues to pump out high quality books like A Night Without Stars regularly, and he has firmly cemented himself at the tops of my lists. Chronicle of the Fallers is an excellent duology for any sci-fi fan, and A Night Without Stars is a welcome addition to The Commonwealth Saga. The Quill to Live unconditionally recommends anything by Peter Hamilton.
Rating: The Abyss Beyond Dreams – 9.0/10
A Night Without Stars – 9.0/10