#CBR4 Maneuver #19 – Mindstar Rising
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery
Summary: From Goodreads.com, “Greg Mandel, late of the Mindstar Battalion, has been many things in his life. Commando. Freedom fighter. Assassin. Now he’s a freelance operative with a very special edge: telepathy.
In the high-tech, hard-edged world of computer crime, zero-gravity smuggling, and artificial intelligence, Greg Mandel is the man to call when things get rough. But when an elusive saboteur plagues a powerful organization known as Event Horizon, Mandel must cut his way through a maze of corporate intrigue and startling new scientific discoveries.
And nothing less than the future is at stake.”
After Action Report:
I haven’t read a lot of Peter F. Hamilton’s work. He’s generally considered to be one of the better New Space Opera writers out of the U.K. I enjoyed his Void trilogy when I read them in Cannonball 3, but they didn’t really inspire me to pick up the rest of his cannon. Rather, it was my commentary on Space Operas itself that spurred me to check out both Hamilton and his contemporary, Ken MacLeod, in a little more depth; particularly their early novels, which I knew almost nothing about.
It is somewhat interesting that we segment out science fiction from regular fiction, when there is really no such thing as a ‘science fiction novel.’ More accurately, science fiction isn’t a real genre, just a setting in which other stories are told. Mindstar Rising is very much a detective/mystery novel that utilizes a semi-apocalyptic future earth to create unique conflicts. In the wake of global warming induced ecological collapse and multiple wars, the communist leadership of England is forced from power and the monarchy reinstated. The country is in shambles and its revitalization lies almost entirely in the hands of the megacorporation Event Horizon and its ailing chairman, Philip Evans. The company was one of the critical factors in the downfall of the communist regime, and has taken it upon itself to rebuild Great Britain’s failing infrastructure.
So when Event Horizon starts hemorrhaging money to an internal conspiracy, of course they’d call in the best detective available, Greg Mandel, a former psychic soldier turned detective. A human lie detector. Of course there’s more going on than at first glance and Greg finds himself increasingly enveloped in a web of politics, corporate greed and simple jealousy.
Without giving too much more away, the mystery story is quite well done. The big reveals are handled well and all the players are adequately characterized. The science fiction elements are mostly well integrated, aside from the wacky psychic Mindstar glands that secrete ‘neurohormones,’ which in turn enable psychic abilities. It is a future that doesn’t feel so far off right now. At the same time, there isn’t anything truly stand-out about Mindstar. It doesn’t ask any questions that haven’t been considered already, and the use of communist-capitalist rhetoric clearly marks it as a product of the last century.
A piece of science fiction draws a great deal from the author’s experience of real world events. It isn’t surprising that literature from the early 1990s would revolve around the ‘threat’ or collapse of communism. At the same time, present day readers will find themselves removed from the plausible reality of the setting because we’ve moved past those threats and have started focusing on new ones. Science fiction is only science fiction until we pass the timestamp of the story, at which point it’s just fiction. While Mindstar still takes place in our relative future, we’ve removed ourselves from that particular set of possibilities, so the setting just isn’t as effective.
The only other complaint I’d like to voice concerns the character Julia Evans, Philip’s granddaughter and heir apparent. Her portrayal is bizarrely sexualized, with her introduction featuring her peeping on the sexual antics of two of her friends. This character trait occupies a shocking amount of Julia’s PoV chapters, and just seems to degrade an otherwise intelligent, cunning and charming character. The trope becomes even creepier when she starts letting her grandfather’s personality ride around her in computer implants, allowing him to experience some or all of her senses. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what Hamilton was trying to do with these unsettling side moments, but they come off as sexist at best and downright misogynist at worst.
Still, the book is quite satisfactory and would probably make a great summer reading selection. It won’t be the best thing you read, but you’ll probably still enjoy it.