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Peter F. Hamilton’s ‘The Night’s Dawn Trilogy’

Séamas Ó Sionnaigh

It’s Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It

There’s space opera, and then there’s epic space opera, and then there’s British Sci-Fi author Peter F. Hamilton’s massive and portentously titled ‘The Night’s Dawn Trilogy’. With three massive books hefty enough to floor a cow with one well aimed swipe, they became the most talked about genre cross-overs of the late 1990s, combining Science-Fiction space opera and hard-core military SF with elements more at home in traditional Horror fiction, and all neatly packaged in one unexpectedly good and intricate blend. Beginning with ‘The Reality Dysfunction’ (1996) they took readers and critics by surprise as an otherwise conventional Sci-Fi story set in the far future of our own Galaxy which has been colonized many times over by the Human race, and which is replete with the standard fare of multiple characters and interweaving storylines, high technology and strange societies, is suddenly dropped into Stephen King territory – and with great effect.

The Night Dawn Trilogy

The first book set up the basic premise and tone of the complex narratives, and ensured readers knew that something rather different was taking place here, while succeeding editions carried on the story further – though ultimately towards a somewhat over familiar ending, in SF terms at least. However for originality, combined with some good if basic characterization and dialogue, the series rightly won praise, even if some other elements were less than successful. There is some enjoyable (if fairly unlikely) high-tech imagery and descriptions, lots of stock (if refreshed) SF tropes and clichés (telepathy, psychic powers, super powerful alien races working on ‘higher’ planes, etc.), long passages devoted to military hardware and battles, and then, of course, some initially unexpected yet effectively creepy elements of Horror and suspense. There are a few good twists, some likeable enough characters, and the whole thing comes together satisfactorily enough, albeit with the help of some suitably mysterious dei ex machina. It is finally a remarkably imaginative tour de force and a tribute to the author.

The latter two books in the trilogy, ‘The Neutronium Alchemist’ (1997), and ‘The Naked God’ (1999), are not quite as good as the initial book, perhaps not surprisingly once the unexpected cat has been let out of the bag, and the Horror elements are given quasi-scientific rationales that take away somewhat from their power. However, it remains one of the defining series of Sci-Fi novels from the 1990s and Hamilton continues to be part of the new wave of big budget British SF authors like Iain M. Banks and Alastair Reynolds who have challenged in their different ways the more staid and tired conventions of the genre.

The three table-thumping tomes making up ‘The Night’s Dawn Trilogy’ are widely available, and though at times they take some concentration (they are large books with a large array of characters and storylines) they are still represent some of the best, and most innovative, Science-Fiction works of recent years.


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