Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Manhattan in Reverse

Title: Manhattan in Reverse
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Pages: 260
ISBN: 9780230750319
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction / Short Story Collection
Source: Review copy from publisher

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Thirteen years after the release of his first short story collection Peter F. Hamilton returns with a new collection including 'Manhattan in Reverse' an original and exclusive story featuring the popular detective Paula Mayo from his bestselling Commonwealth series.

From 'Watching Trees Grow' and a murder mystery set in an alternative Oxford in the 1800s to 'The Forever Kitten' and the questions of eternal youth and the sacrifice required to pursue this, these stories deal with intricate themes and sociological issues, and take an intriguing look at what makes us enduringly human.

With all his usual imagination for futuristic technology, complexity of character and brilliantly conceived storytelling Peter F. Hamilton shows through this collection of work what it is that makes him Britain's number one science fiction writer.
Peter F. Hamilton is best known for his immense, in both scope and sheer physical size, space opera tomes. Any self-respecting science fiction fan will immediately know what I’m talking about and glance lovingly at the sagging shelf where their Peter F. Hamilton collection resides. If you aren’t familiar with his work then you need to take a year-long vacation and immerse yourself in The Night’s Dawn Trilogy (± 3630 pages), The Commonwealth Saga (± 2000 pages), The Void Trilogy ((± 2000 pages) or even Fallen Dragon (a mere 650 pages). Alternatively, if that sounds like a daunting prospect, you can just pick up Manhattan in Reverse and be introduced to the brilliance of Hamilton in a far more manageable 260 pages.

Manhattan in Reverse is Peter F. Hamilton’s second collection of short stories and contains a selection of seven stories centering on the theme of humanity, society and what makes us human. Most of the short stories have previously appeared in other anthologies or magazines, but the story from which the title is derived, Manhattan in Reverse, was exclusively written for this collection.

I haven’t read any of Hamilton’s short stories before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was always convinced that a good story needs lots of pages to be told convincingly, but after reading Manhattan in Reverse I’m cured of that misconception. Hamilton is just as adept in the short form as he is in writing full-length novels and I was amazed at the scope and intricacy of the stories he managed to portray in such a brief form.

Watching Trees Grow is a murder mystery set in an alternate history version of Earth where the Romans conquered the world. The ruling families are exceptionally long-lived and murder is an almost unheard of crime, making it all the more heinous when it happens. A young student, Justin Ascham Raleigh, is brutally murdered and the family representative, Edward Buchanan Raleigh, will rest at nothing to bring the murderer to justice. Edward is unrelenting in his quest and even though it takes him over 200 years to solve the case he never gives up.

The most impressive part of this story is the amazing progression of technology in the two centuries it takes to bring the case to a close. Edward uses these technological advances as tools in his search for the murderer, but ultimately it is human nature that provides the breakthrough. The idea of an exceptionally long-lived society is interesting and the punishment meted out to the murderer at the end is both terrible and just.

Footvote takes place in a near-history version of the UK where the country is falling apart after a mass exodus by the disillusioned population after a wormhole to a new world is opened. A mother is forced to choose between her children or sticking to her ideology.

If at First… is a great time-travel story with a nice twist at the end.

The Forever Kitten is the shortest story in the collection, but also one of the most disturbing. It deals with the question of genetic manipulation and how far parents will go to protect the innocence of their children.

Blessed by an Angel is the only story I struggled with somewhat. I haven’t read the Commonwealth saga yet (I’m hoarding it for a rainy month) so I wasn’t familiar with the background necessary to really understand the events completely. I’m sure it would be far more enjoyable if you’ve already read the saga. There is a very nice, unexpected twist at the end though.

The Demon Trap and Manhattan in Reverse are also both tied to the Commonwealth saga and features the recurring character of investigator Paula Myo. Unlike with Blessed by An Angel I had no trouble understanding the world and what was going on. Both stories are police procedurals with a science fiction setting. The Demon Trap deals with a terrorist attack while Manhattan in Reverse is about unrest amongst possibly sentient alien wildlife caused by the newly arrived human settlers.

You know Paula will track down the culprits in the end, but how she goes about it is what makes the stories so compelling. Since Paula was genetically bred for her profession she excels at law enforcement and her overriding sense of justice shines through. There are quite a few twists in the plot and she gets to play with some great technology in order to solve the crimes. I loved the Commonwealth world which gives a new meaning to train commutes – hopping on a train and traveling to a different world through a wormhole is an intriguing idea. I really should get started on the Commonwealth saga sometime soon.

The Verdict:
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of Manhattan in Reverse. Peter F. Hamilton is at the top of his game and this short story collection just reinforces that fact.  If you are a fan you will absolutely love this collection, but newcomers will find this an excellent introduction to his work without having to commit to a full-length novel. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA for the review copy..

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