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The Reality Dysfunction

The Reality Dysfunction - Peter F. Hamilton
"TL,DR. There are very few SF stories that justify more than 120,000 words."
- Jo Walton's blog on Hugo Nominees: 1998
Jo Walton is the best sf books reviewer extant (IMO), as an author she is no slouch either. Unfortunately for her The Reality Dysfunction is the exception that proves the rule, this is one of the "very few SF stories" that she is talking about. Certainly a book this magnitude, clocking on at over 1,200 pages, is dissuasive for many people. If you are interested in reading this book but feel intimidated by the high page count I suggest you treat this one volume book as you would an entire trilogy. Read one third, go read another book, come back read the second third, go read yet another book etc. Don't worry that there are two more gargantuan volumes in the Night Dawn Trilogy, you may not even want to read them! Sandwiching shorter books between long ones work wonders for me. Of course nowadays long novels are in vogue, especially for fantasy novels, clearly books this size is exactly what a lot of readers want.

The Reality Dysfunction is Peter F. Hamilton's breakout book, it established him as the leading exponent of huge sprawling epic space operas. Still, I have to admire the author's gumption in writing a novel of such an uncompromising length, which is certainly not the norm for science fiction. He clearly did not do it for the money, he could have written shorter faster paced books and they probably wold have been easier to get published. He has this huge story to tell and he wants to tell and he will tell it in as many pages as necessary. The success of this book and the series as a whole totally vindicated him. His shorter books are far less popular than his whale size space operas.

The Night Dawn Trilogy is essentially about humanity's fight for survival against invaders from another dimension. The twist is that the invaders are not aliens. To say any more would be venturing into spoiler territory, though if you have read other reviews you probably know what I'm being coy about already. Actually before I read this book somebody told me it is about space zombies, I thought may be it would be something like Dawn of The Dead in space which sounded like a hoot to me though I was surprised such a story could span three elephantine books. Any way, it is not about zombies, there are no zombies in The Reality Dysfunction (I can't speak for subsequent volumes at this point but I doubt the zoms will show up), but I now understand the oversimplification.

As he is working on such a huge canvas Hamilton takes time to setup his pieces, worldbuilding, characters developing (so damn many of them), and meticulous plotting. For the first 300 or so pages I had no idea where the story is going, or who the main protagonists or antagonists are. The book is not hard to follow though, Hamilton has a clear clean prose style, not much in the way of lyricism but the more prosaic style is more practical for this kind of epic space opera I think. There are already so many worlds, species, people and cultures to introduce without further befuddling the readers with a poetic narrative. The author saves his inventiveness for his creations, living organic spaceships, cities, houses, all kinds of weird gadgets, and more alien and strange creatures than you can shake a stick at. This book is also, to some extent, a sci-fi/horror mash up, there are scenes of supernatural horror that I did not expect to find in a space opera. A lesser author would probably make the whole thing ridiculous but Hamilton is no ordinary author and he made it work. This book is also, to some extent, a sci-fi/horror mash up, there are scenes of supernatural horror that I did not expect to find in a space opera. A lesser author would probably make the whole thing ridiculous but Hamilton is no ordinary author and he made it work.

As mentioned earlier there is a huge cast of characters and sometime it is hard to remember who is who, but he does return to a few main characters more than others. Many of the characters tend to be archetypes, the evil charismatic genius sociopath, the rebellious teenager straight off a daytime soap who gets more than she bargained for, the bad boy turned good etc. Characterization is not one of the strengths of this book, though the characters are not so flat as to leave you with no one to root for or want dead. There are also a lot of sex scenes in this book which I don't find particularly sexy or relevant to the story, certainly this is not a book to read to your children.

The book is longer than it needs to be, but not by too much; cutting down on the unnecessary sex scenes would probably shear off a centimetre or so from the book's thickness. But Hamilton makes it all worthwhile by the explosive end of this first volume where a small group of characters win a minor victory for humanity. The war itself has just begun of course.

If you have never read Peter F. Hamilton before I would recommend reading [b:Pandora's Star|45252|Pandora's Star (Commonwealth Saga, #1)|Peter F. Hamilton|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347952635s/45252.jpg|987015] first. This is the start of an entirely different series which he wrote some years later than this book, it is better written, more refined, and the characters are better developed. Still, if you insist on The Reality Dysfunction as your first Hamilton I doubt you will regret the decision. I am certainly going to read the next obese volume [b:The Neutronium Alchemist|479561|The Neutronium Alchemist (Night's Dawn, #2)|Peter F. Hamilton|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347555003s/479561.jpg|6519560]. Damn you Mr. Hamilton, you are practically monopolizing my reading time!

Update December 2013: Just read The Neutronium Alchemist (my review) it is a substantial improvement on The Reality Dysfunction. I particularly enjoy the chapters from the possessed people’s point of view.