Fiction Reviews


Misspent Youth

(1997) Peter F. Hamilton, Macmillan, 17.99, hrdbk, 358pp, ISBN 0-333-90070-7

(2013 reprint) Peter F. Hamilton, Pan, 8.99, pbk, 438pp, ISBN 978-1-447-22408-2

(2016 reprint) Peter F. Hamilton, Pan, 8.99, pbk, 500pp, ISBN 978-1-447-28439-0

  .

It is nearly half a century into the future and a successful IT inventor who literally gave his billion dollar idea free to the World is chosen to receive Europe's first rejuvenation treatment. And so the 78 year old is reborn as a 20 year old. Scientifically and politically there is much riding on this first application of what could effectively be a gateway to immortality. There are also social and economic implications. But closer to home there is the inventor's formally younger wife and his son. There is no getting away from the implications right under their nose. Tensions mount. Even the son's girlfriends could succumb to the temptation of a billionaire immortal that looks the youngsters' own age.

Peter Hamilton is known for his large books but, at a paltry 358 pages (438 with 2013 reprint and 500 with the 2016 reprint), this work is comparatively light weight and so manageable. We (on the Concat team) know that a proportion of readers (probably only a significant minority but equally maybe more) simply can't be bothered with the usual size of works he turns out. For though reviews of the man's previous books elsewhere have been all right, if not good, they have not generally rated them fantastically, outstandingly brilliant, and so for a few it has not been worth wading through say 999 pages (The Neutronium Alchemist) or 1,174 pages (The Naked God). However, by contrast Misspent Youth's page count is positively restrained. I have to say that I can understand Hamilton ending up with such large works. His style is easy to read and one putters through his book quite amiably. His style is unrushed and does not appear padded. However you get to the end of the book and wonder where the time went. The answer is largely not on the plot but on the scenery and ancillary activity that really is not strictly necessary even if pleasant at the time. It is an enjoyable enough ride and this is very fine if it is the ride you want. Conversely, if you are after going some place then Hamilton is decidedly slow in delivering and the pay off is not that great given the ground you have had to cover. This is not a criticism but a fact of book reading/writing. It all depends on what sort of work you want to turn out and for Hamilton it tends to be the scenic variety as opposed to the destination sort.

There is another difference between Misspent Youth and much of Hamilton's other work in that it reads more like a techno-thriller (minus some of the thrills) than outright SF. Yes, the countryside is covered by GM crops (but there's no mention of the ecological consequences) and, yes, the internet has long since been replaced by the datasphere. This ironically makes professional writers, as well as film makers, redundant, something which is simply not convincing and Hamilton does not appear to have researched this (but then I have been peripherally involved in academic publishing for over one and a half decades and so have had to wrestle with some of the issues Hamilton superficially explores). But there really is not that much in Misspent Youth to engage the SF reader. Given we are in at the birth of what might be an immortal, the protagonist does not have the years, centuries or millennia, under his belt to inspire a sense of wonder. (I could go on but I don't want to unravel the story for you.) So the question arises as to whether Hamilton is attempting to attract a more mainstream readership? This may well be a possibility as in 1997 his publishers had an underground rail poster advertising campaign in London for the paperback release.

If you've not tried Hamilton before, then now's your opportunity. You'll find that the man is comfortable in generating prose and can tell a story. If this down-sizing of his books' page counts is part of a longer term trend then it is most welcome, but Hamilton will have to decide who he is writing for - speculative fiction readers or mainstream - as at the moment he is in the danger of falling between two stools. Of course, if he can pull it off then great...

So a somewhat qualified thumbs up for Misspent Youth. And, indeed though this review was first drafted over a decade ago, the intervening years have seen Hamilton develop a reasonable following. His regulars who missed out on some of his earlier stuff will undoubtedly welcome the new edition.

Jonathan Cowie


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