Wednesday, July 29, 2009

JD's Take: Misspent Youth (Peter F. Hamilton)

I love Peter F. Hamilton so it was without thought or hesitation that I picked up Misspent Youth. I barely even complained that it seemed to come out between The Dreaming Void and The Temporal Void, figuring that maybe he wrote it before those. I don't know. Publishing is a weird game. Besides, I correctly assumed, I'll probably still end up reading the Temporal Void first, my stack being what it is and my priorities being what they are.

So, I finally got around to pulling this off the shelf last week, and discovered that Hamilton had put aside Space Opera to take a stab at Near Futurism. This, I thought, ought to be good. Hamilton is an absolute master of extrapolating technology in interesting ways! However, my excitement slowly faded into... not disgust but at least apathy. By halfway through the book, I had no desire to open it again and placed it, sadly, on the shelf.

So what went wrong? The story follows a well-off family in 2038-ish England. The father is missing, gone to get the world's first Rejuvination treatment. This rare honor was given because of his massive popularity and fame, having invented a crystal memory lattice that could be grown cheaply and provided unlimited storage space... and then giving it away for freesies. His beloved son and trophy wife are waiting for him to return from the 8 months in isolation, and the security teams from the EU are setting up shop to protect against terrorist assasination attempts. So far so awesome, yeah? The problem is that when Hamilton turned in Space Opera, he traded it out for Soap Opera. The first part of the book was spent following the son and his friends in their drama-tastic sexual exchanges. Then the dad comes back and we get more of the same with the father. And the Wife. And the neighbors, the old friends, and probably the postman.

The technological and societal extrapolation was interesting, but very much in the background. Normally I'd consider that a good point, but in this case the foreground was filled with vapid, unlikable characters. The greater sin, however, was that like all Soap Operas, this novel lacked any kind of real plot. There was no conflict, no villian, no political intrigue. There was nothing to keep me reading unless I actually cared if the Father and the Son's Girlfriend would hook up (really. That was the big suspense when I set it down).

So give this one a miss, and busy yourself reading everything else this man ever wrote.

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