Friday, August 08, 2008

Too long in the waste (of time) land -- Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained

2000+ pages...
Cast of thousands, no, billions...
A first-book non-ending that pissed the hell out of me...

How did I end up enjoying the ending of Peter F. Hamilton's weighty dualogy, "Pandora's Star" and "Judas Unchained"?

Well, I have to admire the sheer gall of a story with this kind of scope. I could call it a 300+ year tale, but only the prologue occurs in the 21st century, the rest more than 300 years later. The sheer number of characters and worlds created is pretty astounding too. There's a lot of irons in the fire, balls in the air, and a couple dozen other metaphors too.

But the seams show, way too much. Worldbuilding should be about what the author knows, to make the story better. It seems sometimes like Hamilton felt that because he put the work into it, he had to write it all down in the final story, there's just too much there. Upon introducing a person, we don't need to know what they're wearing, maybe just the class of dress. When we get to a planet, we don't need to know about the foliage, only that it's a jungle.

There are at least a half dozen alien intelligent lifeforms (counting an AI) in this story, that's a strength, that they fit (although I was hoping for one of them to have a bigger role in the finale). There are at least a half-dozen major narratives, including a mechanic disatisfied with his factory-world life, a murder mystery, a political thriller, a world-spanning adventure, a war story, and they interact only tangentially initially. In fact the first nearly 1000 pages of "Pandora's Star" really doesn't get very many of the characters together, and it ends in a literal cliffhanger, no major conflicts resolved at all.

Personally, I'd have rather seen three or so mostly-unrelated novels, with each story being told linearly, rather than taking 100-page vacations to hit the other threads. By the third or fourth books, it could all start coming together with a smash, finishing up at maybe 1400 pages total. It's really way, way too long. For instance: he tells us every single gosh-darned time that it's "enzyme-bonded concrete" -- whatever the hell that is. After the first time, call it "concrete" and I'll be pretty sure that's the enzyme-bonded stuff unless I'm told it's the "old-fashioned, not even enzyme-bonded" type. Same with "plyplastic" and "malmetal." There's just no need for that.

But he comes up with a solution to the story that works, and the characters find their proper place in the universe in a rather deft fashion. That's impressive. Is it enough to get me to start another over-500-page book by PFH? Not sure. A friend recommends "Neutronium Alchemist" but I need to read two other books before getting to those two.

I doubt he's getting paid by the word, so what he really needs is an editor. Remember Blaise Pascal:
“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

(I had thought that quote from Mark Twain, the closest from him was “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”)

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