The Barnes & Noble Review
When you wear enough weaponry to level a small city, it's never a good idea to let your emotions get the best of you. Lawrence Newton is angry and scared. This combination of feelings was unthinkable a couple of weeks ago as his squad prepared for their second "asset realization mission" on Thallspring, a bucolic colony planet. Thallspring was due to pay another dividend on their development loan, whether they liked it or not.
Over the years and across the planets, no one had been able to stand up to the giant corporations' technological superiority. Their purchase of outstanding loan obligations from companies no longer willing to put in the effort to collect had been very profitable. But profit margins shrunk with the logistics of interplanetary travel to colonies further down the galactic arm, and delays or losses of men or materials could quickly put a mission in the red. The disastrous events of Santa Chico had been the beginning of the end for realization missions. The locals not only repelled the invaders, inflicting huge losses in life and capital, but were now exporting their genetic manipulation techniques to other worlds looking to bolster their defenses against the corporate raiders.
Company intelligence had charted Thallspring's development and declared that they were ready for collection and of no threat to the security of the mission at all. To Lawrence, however, it appeared that Thallspring had been an eager customer and had made some modifications of their own. As a kid, he'd never given any thought to being a pirate. He dreamt of piloting starships to unknown regions of this and other galaxies. But in order to become a pilot, he had to give up his birthright stake in the corporation that had been his whole life, and start at the bottom with a competitor -- the only corporation that still invested in exploration and colonization. Bottom was a strategic security squad member, called a Skin, based on their bio-armor that was both a shield and a weapon.
He and his squad landed on creditor planets and demanded payments on loans. Backed by overwhelming firepower and "might makes right" legality, they diverted whatever valuable production that was available from the worlds' factories and, regularly, anything else that took their fancy. At first, there was a rationale to what he did. Companies put together consortiums to supply the materials and credit necessary to enable the colonists to survive in their new homes, and even to prosper. It was prosperity that drove the consortiums, the expectation of a return on investment. The huge fees levied to potential colonists were not even close to covering the costs involved in jump-starting a new world; they usually only covered the costs of getting the colonists there. But to leave a crowded Earth for the promise of paradise, there was no shortage of takers. In addition to the fees, colonists contracted to pay steep and prolonged interest on the loans necessary to outfit an extra-planetary expedition.
When disagreements arose as to the schedule of repayment, Lawrence and his men were the muscle that backed up the tax collector. He was there to legally enforce a contract against deadbeats who got what they wanted and now didn't want to pay for it. He soon found out that colonies are usually reluctant to have their economies stripped to pay the usurious fees demanded by a heavily armed tax collecting invasion force. This sometimes required acts that demonstrated the resolve of the collectors -- like making vast tracts of land forever uninhabitable or selecting hostages whose lives acted as collateral against disruptions in the factories. Still, they always left the infrastructure intact so that the economy could recover and be reharvested on the next payment date visit.
In the middle of a firefight against heavily armed and technologically superior foes, as his usually invulnerable armor rocked from blows that steadily wore down his crumbling defenses, he reaffirmed that his employment with Zantiu-Braun was officially over. Years invested in the pursuit of his dream had only gotten him one step further up a really tall ladder in the
Z-B hierarchy, as lesser qualified but better connected people filled all available openings. It was time to take the easy step that so many of his pillaging comrades had made and ask, "where's mine?" The only irony was that, as a soldier, he could not uncover the subversives he was sure had so successfully camouflaged their attacks as accidents and equipment glitches, no matter what trap he set
or what checks he ran. When searches uncovered no evidence of tampering, his superiors dismissed his suspicions as just bad luck and paranoia. But the bad luck continued to plague them. Now, when he'd deserted and taken his squad out for personal gain, to get the stake that would enable them to get away, they'd revealed
a treasure beyond value but they wouldn't live to enjoy it.
Peter Hamilton writes broad, sweeping scientific and social fiction. His Night's Dawn trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God) -- where souls of the dead escape from hell and wage war against the living for available bodies -- was a huge acclaimed favorite and is a must-read for fans of grand space opera. How do you defeat an army of the dead who take over living bodies, without killing the bodies and adding to their number?
Hamilton is establishing himself as a great storyteller. Having won a British Sci-Fi Award for best short story, Fallen Dragon should put him on the fast track for either Nebula or Hugo novel consideration. I grabbed the book because of its pedigree and enjoyed every word. Oh, and did I mention that it was also a love story?
This hefty novel of interstellar war and alien contact in the 25th century, a sort of Starship Troopers as if written by Charles Dickens, ranks as one of Hamilton's best. Though he's a mercenary for the Zantiu-Braun corporation, which gets its profits by periodically looting old interstellar colonies, Lawrence Newton has his eye on picking up a treasure trove of alien technology not on his employer's approved list of loot. When the Zantiu-Braun Third Fleet descends on the planet Thrallspring, the invaders unexpectedly find the inhabitants, who have access to some of that lost alien technology, prepared to fight back. After several hundred pages of well-depicted action and intrigue, the technology of the "dragons" makes the war superfluous, a definite victory for all opponents of the corporate pirates. It also makes it possible for Newton himself to travel in both time and space, and to put right the mishandling of a youthful love affair that forced him into exile in the first place. Ignoring conventional wisdom about expository lumps, flashbacks and viewpoint shifts, Hamilton (The Reality Dysfunction) nicely develops character while he also does some fine world building that's as good as it gets in space opera short of Lois McMaster Bujold. Despite the somewhat uneven pacing, the book is undeniably a page-turner and should provide many absorbing hours for the author's existing readers as well as a salutary introduction to a major SF author for a new audience. (Mar. 11) Forecast: With a five-city author tour and national print advertising both mainstream and genre, expect this one to rack up strong sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In a far future, where interstellar trade has devolved into legitimized piracy, the Zantiu-Braun Corporation sends an elite troop of Skins, nearly invulnerable soldiers, to the planet Thallspring to collect their periodic dividends. The residents of Thallspring, however, have different ideas, as well as a secret weapon that has the potential to change not only the future but the past as well. The author of the "Night's Dawn" trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, The Naked God) offers a standalone novel that combines personal drama with high-tech military sf and political intrigue. Hamilton has a knack for complex, believable characters; his heroes have flaws while his villains act according to their own codes of honor. A good choice for most sf collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
New stand-alone science fiction yarn from the author of such behemoths as The Naked God (2000), etc., whose shimmering skeins encompass colonial oppression, the military-industrial complex, alien empires, time travel, genetic manipulation, nanomachines, and what-all. Several centuries hence, with interstellar trade prohibitively expensive, Earth remains overpopulated and poverty-stricken. Predatory corporations like Zantiu-Braun have developed a policy of "asset realization," sending starships full of troops to strip hapless colony worlds of everything they produce. Next on Zantiu-Braun's hit list is planet Thallspring. This time, though, experienced trooper Lawrence Newton has private plans. On a previous visit to the planet, he stumbled upon a tantalizing and valuable secret, and now he's determined to grab it and escape his oppressive employers for good. At first he and his fellow troopers-they wear "Skins," strength-amplifying muscle suits with built-in armor and powerful weaponry-easily dominate the locals, as Simon Roderick, Zantiu-Braun's multiple-clone head of security, takes hostages to ensure their cooperation. But soon a more organized and effective opposition emerges, and the troopers face bloody street battles and civilian trickery. Storytelling schoolmarm Denise Ebourn and a handful of colleagues are the true resistance: they carry Primes, miniaturized Artificial Sentiences far more powerful than Zantiu-Braun's, and possess other highly advanced mental and physical adaptations whose "nanonic" source derives from the mysterious "dragon." Newton's goal is to learn Denise's secrets. Roderick, as soon as he learns of the dragon, demands the secrets too, for different reasons.Denise has her own basis for denying them both. And, Denise wonders, how and why does Newton also carry a Prime? A fascinating, compulsively readable clash of hardware and ideals. Author tour
"A fascinating, compulsively readable clash of hardware and ideals." Kirkus