Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton


I wanted to like this. I did. And I liked parts of it a lot, many of the ideas were fascinating, several of the characters I really dug. But there were other issues that hampered my overall enjoyment, and they can't be ignored.

On a small, barely developed planet, some kind of ancient alien force is unleashed, taking over some of the colonists. And this alien virus spreads, the chance that it will disperse through the known worlds grows as well - and what do these "sequestrated" humans want, anyway?

This is the core of the story. This is the story that is being told. The other stories around it are, well, interesting, but there are too many of them, and it's distracting. We cut away from this emotional core of the book to meander between the stars and be introduced to a myriad of characters, many of whom I enjoyed, even though they were superfluous. One of my favourite characters virtually disappeared from the last third of the story.

The universe Hamilton creates is very interesting, it is, and I enjoyed reading about it - but I'm pretty sure that could have been condensed, instead of explored in exquisite detail. It wasn't bad, per se, but in an 1100 page book, surely some of it could have been put in more concisely?

This book doesn't know where to put its focus, and so it has none. The story is interesting, but doesn't feel like it's told in any planned manner. I like meandering. People who read my reviews know I delight in a good meander. But "good" is the keyword. This was sloppy.

I have two other quibbles. I know this is sounding like I hated the book, and I didn't. But I was disappointed.

One, I really hate cardboard irredeemably-evil characters. I think they're lazy writing. Give me a more complex villain, and I'll read until the cows come home. But when you have a character who is just a psychopath, who just likes raping and torturing and killing, as far as I can figure, the only purpose is to make the reader uncomfortable.

Okay, so you made me uncomfortable in the first 50 pages, Peter F. Hamilton. Now what? Now what are you going to do with him for the next 1050 pages? What stories do you have to tell with him, how can you possibly make him interesting?

To put this in Song of Ice and Fire terms, which was the comparison my husband came up with, I'm not interested in reading the story of The Mountain. I am interested in reading the story of The Hound. And Martin is smart enough to concentrate on the latter.

Hamilton dwells on the cardboard psychopath, and it feels like ugliness for the sake of ugliness, with little contribution to the story after the first ugly scene. Of course, this villain dominates the first third of the book, and then mostly disappears for the rest, to make a brief recurrence about a hundred pages from the end. I'm sure he's still out there, menacing the second book. I'm not sure I care.

That brings me to issue two. Which is really two issues, but they both have to do with sex and sexuality, so we'll call them one.

There is a lot of sexual violence and sexual coercion in this book. There's a lot of sex, period. I'm fine with all the consensual sex. But the amount of rape, suggested rape, and coercing into sex through physical, mental and emotional torture roiled my stomach and made me wonder if I was going to make it through this book. Until the cardboard psychopath disappeared, at least.

This leads to the next problem - the treatment of queer characters. Unless I missed something, the only characters who engage in homosexual activity are the evil, evil Satanists. (I'm not kidding. Literal Satanists.) Many of the Satanists are bi, but the only time we hear about two guys having sex, it's the evil guys.

This could have been fixed so easily, Peter F. Hamilton. Sure, you had a fairly reasonable explanation about why the Adamists still had taboos about homosexuality. (I guess, but still.) They're heavily influenced by Christianity still, and bred out the gay gene. I'll sort of give you that one, even though I don't like it.

But what is your excuse for the Edenists? Here we have the opposing culture, where they are sexually free, non-monogamous, no hang-ups, plenty of sex...and every damn time, it's heterosexual sex. Every time.

So we're left with a universe where the people who are natural and free about sex are all heterosexual, and the only homosexual people are literally Satanists.

I don't remember this kind of upsetting view of sexuality in the other Peter F. Hamilton I've read, but once I noticed that this was going on here, I was just waiting for a gay Edenist character to be introduced, something to make this less icky. And nothing.

So, in the end? There is some good space opera here. The central issue of the novel is compelling and gripping, when he can be bothered to get around to it. But the meandering feels purposeless, and what it does accomplish could happen in half the pages. And the cardboard main villain and issues with sexual violence and homosexuality left a very bad taste in my mouth.

I'm not quite sure I'm at the point where I'll say screw it to the next book in this trilogy, but if I do pick it up, it'll be on a very short leash. I'm not investing another 1000 pages in being disappointed like this.


  1. Thank you for your review. Your review along with another has helped me to decide to invest the time reading the book though i will be careful to do so when i am in a particular frame of mind.

    Perhaps the author finds homosexuality icky. I'm fine with that diverse viewpoint. We are asked to tolerate all cultures.

  2. Hey! Totally agree with you on this; I wrote a way too long analysis of peter f hmilton here and linked your article

  3. Hi Megan,
    I just wanted to say that I agree with you too :)
    I began reading this book recently and so far it's quite enjoyable... except for sex/sexuality part. I'm gay and I admit, it gave me pause that the only gay character is an evil Satan-worshipping rapist...
    I was hoping we would have other gay/bi characters, but apparently not.
    Thanks for the heads up and keep on reading! :)