Epic is such a clichéd word when describing a novel like Peter F. Hamilton’s magnificent and bold Fallen Dragon, however spot-on the word may be. Nonetheless, this novel is truly Epic (note the capital “E”), it carries the reader through the highs and lows of the hero’s journey, the decisions he makes, the consequences of those decisions and all the emotion that is involved in the hero’s life. Like the best of the epic tales, Hamilton leaves everything on the table, he fills this tale with romance, action, adventure and two of the truest hallmark of great science-fiction novels, sense-of-wonder and big ideas. Hamilton made a big name for himself with the novels of the Confederation Universe, the initial volume being the massive Reality Dysfunction. Despite my lukewarm response to the initial book in that series, I was looking forward to delving into Hamilton’s latest offering. Highly regarded authors such as Hamilton often deserve a second attempt, and with Fallen Dragon, I was more than willing to try and more importantly-I was utterly satisfied and impressed. Often Science Fiction, particularly the “hard SF” whose tenets include complex scientific postulations, explanations and technological prognostications, is accused of forgoing characters, story or plot in favor of these bold big ideas. While Fallen Dragon does rely on these technological elements and truly plausible societal postulations, Hamilton invests so much time, and so much of the novel laying the groundwork for Lawrence Newton’s characterization, that the effect is that of an even, concise and confident writer completely at ease with his bountiful skills.
We follow Lawrence on his journey from who thinks he wants to be, his maturation and growth in Zantiu-Braun, a militaristic corporation whose goal is “asset realization” and his eventual fulfillment of who he is. With out a doubt, this novel is Lawrence’s story, which is not to say other characters are not prominent and artfully rendered, because Hamilton characterization skills are not spent on Lawrence alone. As Lawrence’s story unfolds, it unfolds doubly. Hamilton introduces the hardened Z-B veteran searching for a way back to a simpler time, a disillusioned man yearning for what was lost. We read his earliest days as an introverted dreamer, a young man with aspirations of the stars, his passion for “the greatest science fiction series ever made” Flight Horizon and his eventual first love, Rosalyn.
Great storytellers, and subsequently their novels, often have that resonating feel-the air of the familiar mixed with the sense of the new imparted by the writer’s imagination. There are many instances when this tale resonates with the everyday life we face, but perhaps the greatest sense of this resonance within the novel is the running story schoolteacher Denise tells her students. Acting almost as interludes, or rather hints of foreshadowing, Denise tells her students the tale of Prince Mozark and his galaxies spanning search for a proverbial Holy Grail for his wife to be. This is one of the storytelling techniques that seamlessly flow as the pages in the novel fly by.
If there is any complaint I can raise about this novel, and it is minor it is this; not much is really said by the characters or in the plot itself of the titular Fallen Dragon. Only about three quarters of the way through this hefty tome do we begin to see a clearer picture of just what Newton, as well as Denise and the Z-B higher ups are worked up about regarding this mysterious talisman. Having said that, Hamilton has such a deft hand in laying out these characters lives, the wondrous worlds Lawrence visits and simply the story itself, that it is truly not a hindrance to the pacing and overall quality of the novel. Though this sprawling picture of one man’s life is generally not considered the milieu of Science Fiction, Hamilton eschews typical thinking and blends these elements together in a wonderful and engaging novel that is deserving of the high praise it is already receiving, and will likely receive for many years to come.
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2003 Rob Bedford