Peter F. Hamilton,
Fallen Dragon
(Aspect/Warner, 2002)

Fallen Dragon is a novel that should appeal to both male and female readers who enjoy the science fiction genre. At first glance it appears to be focus on interstellar military missions and planetary discovery and development; however, it is solidly character-based, centering on the life of one Lawrence Newton. He has served 20 years as a star-faring soldier in the piratical, virtually omnipotent Zantiu-Braun Corporation, enduring disappointment and danger in pursuit of his personal goal, which he now perceives to be within his grasp. The complexity and development of his character provides a very personal nucleus to the story and the reader is given insights as to why Newton's dedication wars with his disillusionment; the remnants of an idealistic humanitarian battle the alter-ego's cynical and selfish opportunist.

The author displays an admirable gift for detail, which he unfortunately fails to utilize in an even-handed manner. He subjects the reader to reams of tedious minutia in some areas, yet is frustratingly reticent regarding other 25th-century technologies in common use and ascribes abbreviations to several futuristic capabilities, seldom explaining their meaning and modus operandi. Had the 630 pages and 19 chapters been subjected to more rigorous editing, I think the story would have been tighter, better balanced, and its machinations deeper and more demanding by comparison. It is a good yarn; my desire to unravel the multifaceted motives and discover the fantastic result kept piquing my curiosity, but my customary speed and enthusiasm for such yarns was regularly curtailed by Peter Hamilton's penchant for meandering trivia.

The story is told by the author in the third person, alternating actual time with flashbacks. Although we are introduced within the first chapters to Denise and Simon, the two other main protagonists, their full identities and agendas are not revealed until the last third of the book. The nature of the "Fallen Dragon" of the title and its significance is tantalizingly withheld until the final few chapters. It is an unexpected and quite novel twist to the tale, startling in its originality. Once Hamilton has divulged this, however, he uses the device of increased pace to further heighten the drama; but without the anticipated elucidation and plethora of detail previously available, I negated this effect by turning back to ensure I had not inadvertently skipped some vital information.

The book builds to the intersection of chance and desire of Lawrence, Simon and Denise, each born on a different planet, nurturing antagonistic priorities, and each determined to achieve their own success. Conflict is inevitable, and the author does not disappoint, spicing the finale with several unforeseen complications. Some readers may feel the ending to be rather trite; others may be pleasantly surprised by the varied consequences of the adversaries' actions. While ultimately providing many answers, several issues are left open to the readers' interpretation: a double-edged sword for any author to wield!

I have an inkling that I may enjoy it more on the second reading, having an idea of what quagmires of excessive garrulity I may skim over and which areas require close attention to the scant details provided. I may be more accepting of the less than concise editing, bolstered with the foreknowledge of a layered and intriguing plot. Overall, Hamilton has written an innovative novel that sheds astonishing light on the too-frequently jaded theme of science fiction, propounding ideas worthy of the maestro himself, Arthur C. Clarke.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002

Buy it from