Magnetic and at once emotionally stirring and heart wrenching
Back in 2018 I broke the unwritten rules of Fantasy Book Review and submitted a review for a science fiction book – which, of course, is not actually breaking the rules at all. I love reading science fiction, but I normally reserve science fiction for myself, rather than needing to read with a mind to review. But there are some authors who deserve to be praised and recommended at every opportunity, and British science fiction royalty Peter F. Hamilton is prime among them.
Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton was the first book in a new trilogy and, while I really enjoyed it, I was nevertheless a little disappointed by the disjointed nature of the book: I thought it was a bit more of an anthology rather than a single, intertwined story. By the time you reach the end of the book this feeling certainly dissipates, but you are nevertheless left with multiple separate storylines which, only in hindsight, reveal one story.
Salvation Lost, the second book in Hamilton’s ‘Salvation Sequence’ draws together all the loose threads of the first book and provides a coherent, captivating, and utterly unmissable thrill ride and philosophical treatise on humanity.
I’ll note, briefly, I disagree fundamentally with many of Hamilton’s ethical and philosophical assumptions and conclusions, but that is to be expected of many of science fiction’s greatest books – it is, after all, a fictional attempt to explore the scientific possibilities of tomorrow. That there are disagreements over our assumptions of tomorrow is natural.
The reason I mention it, however, is that my disagreements with Hamilton’s ethical and philosophical choices have very little impact on my enjoyment of his writing. The assumptions of Hamilton’s view of our tomorrows provide for a fascinating underpinning to his grand story of humanity’s encounter with their extinction. Further, where Salvation seemed too disjointed, Salvation Lost brings together the temporally disparate storylines in a way that reads seamlessly – while never (really) actually allowing the two storylines to actively interact. There are beautiful sympathetic parallels between the ‘present’ and ‘future’ storylines which serve to enhance each story in ways that, on their own, they would each lack.
Salvation Lost picks up both storylines immediately where Salvation finished, and humanity’s future is bleak in both stories. However, unlike in Salvation, the way in which the temporally disparate threads vibrate in sympathy with one another provides a fundamentally and visceral hope for humanity – a hope which, by the end of Salvation Lost, feels as if it will be the central focus of the final book of the ‘Salvation Sequence’, Saints of Salvation which is set to be released later this year. The impact of this hope doesn’t undermine the dreadful extinction-level event taking place across both storylines, which is, honestly, difficult at times to read, heart wrenchingly devastating and downright traumatic.
One of Salvation’s strongest points was Hamilton’s promised ability to write three-dimensional and ‘real’ characters, which is only further proved in Salvation Lost as characters from both timelines benefit from the brickwork laid down in the first book and continue to be built, brick by relatable brick. Hamilton appears to be prioritising his trademark character three dimensionality on the future storyline – and in particular Dellian and Yirella. However, new priority is placed on developing new characters on Earth as the aliens make their move to invade, providing a more intense and emotional attachment to the devastating consequences of invasion.
What was most impressive to me, however, was Hamilton’s willingness to allow everything to go pear shaped before they get better. Hamilton has no intention of allowing the ‘present’ humans to pull a rabbit out of their hat, with minor victories serving to showcase not so much humanity’s ingenuity, but rather the scale of the danger they face.
By the end of the book I was glad to realise the third book of the series was only a few months away, with my interest in this particular story reaching a high point and the final act hanging heavily on the horizon. Salvation Lost pays tribute to the breathtaking pull-quotes that litter its cover and makes a strong case for being the “modern classic” Stephen Baxter is quoted as saying it is. Magnetic and at once emotionally stirring and heart wrenching, Salvation Lost brings Hamilton’s trademark science fiction mastery into the 21st Century with a bang.
Review by Joshua S Hill
Stephanie from United Kingdom
Not really much of a review, more a it is really good comment. Just re-reading the first two now. Cannot wait to get my copy of Saints of Salvation at the end of the month.
Walt Ceevers from USA
Let me preface this by including a bit of background. Ever since I read the Reality Dysfunction series (when it was published in six books instead of three, IIRC (correct me if my brain cells are deserting me again), Hamilton moved into what has to be the top slot in my own personal pantheon of Sci-Fi books, authors, and legends (stories). I was reading Hamilton when his early book photos were denoting a much more, shall we say, "diminutive" character. In fact, the current physical stature of Hamilton could well be said to have absorbed anywhere from three to perhaps as many as five of the earlier versions of Hamilton, by what process I cannot say, but I have a strong suspicion that Hamilton himself understands enough of the current situation to be able to explain it completely. Be that as it may or it might, I bring this fact to attention only because in my earliest days of reading Hamilton I recall comparing said photos and earnestly thinking one of them surely must be doctored and therefore possibly (likely?) inauthentic. Which was which among them was not important, really, but I confess having a bit of fun with the various permutations and myriad possibilities such analyses produced! (Enough about me.) Salvation Lost, while a rather obvious play on John Milton, perhaps, was to be the book in the series that would earnestly begin advancing the central plot promised in Salvation (elements throughout both Salvation and Salvation Lost, actually, assure us in many ways of the actual story he intends to unfold before us.) He dangles the promise of the story to come like an irresistible, juicy, tempting fruit exotica' kept only millimeters from us, relentlessly driving us mad with desire! I make this observation in this particular, perhaps even overblown manner, because the first book in the series, Salvation, itself failed to actually advance the plot to any satisfying degree. In Salvation, the plot in the very first chapter begins crackling with potentials, moving swiftly along, robust and bursting with promise! It was with real joy and anticipation that I was convinced I was about to be hurled into one of the best (and best written) Sci-Fi alien invasion/first contact romps & space operas yet--written in the inimitable style of Peter F. Hamilton! Alas, such was not to be the case! Like a Star Trek NG warp drive engine nacelle winding steadily up through increasingly audible frequencies, churning with howling, rotary turbining force vectors sounding more like an overloading chain-reaction device preparing to blast itself into oblivion--suddenly--abruptly--the promising plot simply deflates, and for the time being, dies on the vine! Frozen, after kicking off so masterfully in chapter 1, and for all intents and purposes--dead. We then more or less slog though several chapters of background and filler materials concerning many things other than the actual plot elements kicked off so well in the first chapter! The good news is that in Salvation's last chapter--you guessed it--the plot resumes for a few cliff-hanging pages--Salvation Lost briefly picks up the plot again and rinses and repeats the formula used in Salvation. I'm still giving Salvation Lost an 8--same thing I would give Salvation--and for the same reason! The potential of the third volume here is enormous! If BK #3 stays present tense, or thereabouts, and remains fixed to an intricate, ever-involving/evolving and unfolding plot--the real core of the whole tale--it could be a masterpiece! The teenybopper love stories and whatnot in Salvation Lost I could do without--the entire story could do without--the sexual relationships were immature and superficial. I really do not know what Peter was thinking there--his other works (I've read all of his books--still own most of them) simply radiate "An adult lives here!" Here's hoping the final book is so good that I can go back and give the trilogy a solid 10!
9/10 from 3 reviews