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“Mindstar Rising” by Peter F. Hamilton


Peter F. Hamilton’s biggest success has been with the epic Night’s Dawn, Commonwealth and Void series, space opera of immense scope (and immense page count). His first three books were more modest, a trilogy of science fiction detective novels featuring psychic detective Greg Mandel. The first book starts in the mid 21st Century, after decades of global warming have let sea levels rise catastrophically and ruined the global economy. For a couple of decades in the early 21st century England was governed by a disastrous hardline socialist government, the People's Socialist Party (PSP), whose dictatorship collapsed a few years before the start of the first novel, “Mindstar Rising”. England (and the world) is now struggling to rebuild its shattered economy and recover from the drastic climate changes. The books take place around the English city of Peterborough - the area has experienced unlikely good fortune (it's probably no coincidence that Hamilton lives in that area) and is now home to some of the world's most technically advanced corporations. It gained this status after it was decreed to be a special economic zone, to attempt to lessen the plight of the thousands of refugees from East Anglia, whose homes were flooded in the global seal level rise.

The main character was a former soldier in the English army, who took part in a government weapons program codenamed Mindstar, which attempted to develop soldiers with telepathic abilities. The program was militarily a disaster but it left Greg Mandel with some psychic powers – principally an empathic power that helps him to read people’s emotion and decide whether they are lying to him. After leaving the army Mandel helped a group of rebel paramilitaries in their fight against the PSP's brutal enforcers. Now, with the 'New Conservative' government trying to bring democracy back to England and the country slowly being rebuilt, Greg is trying to live a more peaceful life – using his telepathic abilities and logical mind to work as a private detective.

In “Mindstar Rising” Greg is hired by Philip Evans, a wealthy multi-millionaire and head of the largest electronics company in England. Evans believes that someone is trying to have him assassinated, either a ruthless corporate rival or a relic of the PSP era objecting to Evans' backing of the opposition to the socialists during their oppressive reign. Greg must try to find the people threatening Evans, as well as protecting his granddaughter, Julia Evans, a clever but insecure teenager who stands to inherit the company when Evans dies. With the aid of old friends from Mindstar, the army and the former rebels he is well-prepared, but so are his opponents, and he soon finds out that there is more going on than a simple attempted-murder investigation.

Compared to later Hamilton works the Greg Mandel books are comparatively light on technology, or science fiction concepts. They are fairly standard detective novels, with the novelty here being the slightly-futuristic setting. Although it is not the focus of the series, Hamilton's vision of a semi-post-apocalyptic England is more than just window dressing. The themes of trying to rebuild – and exceed – past glories is returned to repeatedly in the series, with Evans' company leading the technological revolution – and re-starting humanity's space program. The environmental disasters the world has gone through are scarily believable, possibly a timely warning of the dangers of climate change, and overall the technology and setting seem highly plausible.

The detective part of the story works well, the plot is well thought-out and there are a few interesting twists in it. The characters are interesting, well developed, often likeable and their actions and motivations – although possibly a bit unusual at times – are believable in the context of the plot. Greg Mandel is a particularly good protagonist, a hero who is less than perfect and has done some decidedly non-heroic things in the past. The requisite action climax is suitably exciting and (unlike some later Hamilton books) is a good conclusion to the plot.

“Mindstar Rising” certainly isn't a revolutionary piece of science fiction, but it is highly entertaining, and the near-future setting is interesting as a warning of what might occur.

Rating : 8 / 10