Book Review: Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton
This one was a very slow read for me. In large part due to life circumstances, another large part because I read The Girl and the Moon (Book of the Ice #3) when it came out, right in the middle of this.
The largest reason was that I also didn’t overly enjoy my time with the book’s first sections. By the end, I was much more engaged but it certainly took a while to get there. But I’m jumping ahead of myself! Onwards!
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Series: Salvation Sequence #1
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Published: September 4th 2018
Source: Personal Copy
Read: April 18 – July 26, 2022 (on Kindle)1
Rating: 3 of 5 stars (I liked it)
Drifting through interstellar space, three lightyears out from the star 31 Aquilae, The Neána abode cluster picked up a series of short, faint electromagnetic pulses that lasted intermittently for eighteen years.
In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. A new technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transportation–including starships–virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet mankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful…until a crashed alien spaceship is found on a newly-located world 89 light years from Earth, harbouring seventeen human victims. And of the high-powered team dispatched to investigate the mystery, one is an alien spy…
“There always has to be a balance between freedom and restriction; that is fundamental to any society. Without law there is anarchy. But too much law, applied rigorously, becomes oppression.”
— Peter F. Hamilton, Salvation
As noted in the intro… I had a hard time engaging with Salvation to start with. Something about the prose irked me right from the opening pages. The book’s structure also had a part to play, I think.
Salvation is written in the style of a TV show which has a meta-container story happening in the present, but each episode drills into the history of a particular individual, telling why they’re where they are. This isn’t a format I have any particular distaste for, I think it can be rather successful when used well, even.
The trick to it, I think, is balancing forward momentum in the present day and doling out answers to certain mysteries with the flashback stories while ever creating new, deeper mysteries. The two parts of the story need to be cleverly intertwined.
With Salvation, I felt that the flashbacks (or, more accurately, recounting of their stories while the group travels together) were thinly veiled exposition dumps setting out the nature and technology of the world. Sure, they were sometimes telling rather action-packed stories in the process, but they seemed to lack much meaning in the grander scheme of things. They weren’t driving the overarching narrative forward.
Until all of a sudden… they were. There is a turning point where the picture starts coming together. Where the exposition you’ve been given to date starts to take on new form. Where the stories being told much more directly link into the present.
Peter F. Hamilton is one of my favourite Sci-Fi authors, so I must admit — until that turning point, I was rather disappointed. But this shift saved the book for me and helped ensure that I will be reading the remainder of the series. By the end of Salvation, the scene has been set, the players identified, and you, as the reader, are firmly buckled in, ready to enjoy the rest of the ride.
Many of the issues I felt with this book can be explained by the fact its the first in a standalone series. It isn’t based on Hamilton’s Commonwealth or Night’s Dawn universes. Any preconceptions you have of those universes and the technologies therein had to be reset before the meat and potatoes of this new story could really be left to unfold.
All in all, I came away from Salvation with a positive impression. I liked it. I’m keen to continue and anticipate liking the remaining books in the series even more. However, if you’re coming in fresh to Peter F. Hamilton’s body of work — it also isn’t the place I’d recommend you start. Reading anything of Hamilton requires a fairly lengthy commitment to be sure, but perhaps the easiest and best place to get a taste for his work would be The Commonwealth Saga, starting with Pandora’s Star.