The Reality Dysfunction

Okay, you're absolutely right. I'm extremely late to this party. No excuse, really. Especially given the fact that I've owned the old-school Aspect paperback editions published as a two-book cycle for well nigh twenty years. The work that put Peter F. Hamilton on the map and made him a genre powerhouse has been sitting on my shelves for about two decades, and I couldn't possibly tell you why I didn't read it before now.

Perhaps I didn't want to tackle a work of that size, what with the two sequels being even bigger novels? Based on the fact that many readers consider that The Reality Dysfunction could be the very best space opera title ever written, I knew that once I got going I'd have little choice but to read and review the entire trilogy. Put together, we're talking about nearly 4,000 pages. Given the current average size of SFF novels, that would be the equivalent of eight to ten books. Quite time-consuming when my objective is to try to maintain a ratio of about four reviews per month.

But my Central American adventure was approaching and I had still not made my final selection of reading material to bring with me. And considering the number of bus/shuttle/ferry rides I would have to go through, I knew I needed to bring more books than usual. And bring some novels that would keep me busy for a while. Given its size, Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction fit the bill perfectly.

This will come as no surprise, what with my being twenty-something years late with this review, but though it has some flaws, Peter F. Hamilton's debut was a terrific read!

Here's the blurb:

Space is not the only void…

In AD 2600 the human race is finally beginning to realize its full potential. Hundreds of colonized planets scattered across the galaxy host a multitude of prosperous and wildly diverse cultures. Genetic engineering has pushed evolution far beyond nature’s boundaries, defeating disease and producing extraordinary spaceborn creatures. Huge fleets of sentient trader starships thrive on the wealth created by the industrialization of entire star systems. And throughout inhabited space the Confederation Navy keeps the peace. A true golden age is within our grasp.

But now something has gone catastrophically wrong. On a primitive colony planet a renegade criminal’s chance encounter with an utterly alien entity unleashes the most primal of all our fears. An extinct race which inhabited the galaxy aeons ago called it “The Reality Dysfunction.” It is the nightmare which has prowled beside us since the beginning of history.

THE REALITY DYSFUNCTION is a modern classic of science fiction, an extraordinary feat of storytelling on a truly epic scale.

The worldbuilding was truly spectacular and by far my favorite facet of this novel. Hamilton's story is epic in scope and vision, and the universe he created resounds with depth and originality. As a single work, The Reality Dysfunction shows more depth and complexity than even Frank Herbert's Dune and Dan Simmons' Hyperion. The Malazan universe created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont is the only more impressive setting that I've encountered as a reader, and the two authors have had nearly twenty installments to build upon. What Peter F. Hamilton has achieved with his debut is incredible.

Hamilton has put a lot of thought behind the politics, economics, social issues, religious beliefs, ethnic groups, military power, etc, of all the societies comprising the various star systems that make up the Confederation. Sadly, he had no choice but to rely on massive info-dumps from time to time to convey all that information to his readers. Personally, I didn't mind much, for it allows us to process a lot of data in just a few paragraphs and then get on with the story. Truth be told, there just was no way Hamilton could have streamlined all that information in any other fashion. Hence, it was a necessary evil, but one that doesn't really take anything away from the overall reading experience.

There is too much to love about all the concepts and ideas introduced in The Reality Dysfunction to complain about info-dumps. I mean, the originality and complexity of this creation never fail to astonish. Adamists, Edenists, the Ruin Ring, living starships like the voidhawks and the blackhawks, the germinated and sentient bitek habitats, the mysterious Laymil civilization and what caused its utter destruction, yada yada yada. The list goes on and on and on.

The characterization is superbly done. Indeed, The Reality Dysfunction festures a panoply of well-defined and three-dimensional men and women from all walks of life. No one truly takes center stage, and we witness events unfold through the eyes of many disparate protagonists. My favorites included the rogue Joshua Calvert, the flawed priest Father Horst, the just coming into power Ione Saldana, the mysterious Doctor Alkad Mzu, the satanist Quinn Dexter, and the Edenist Syrinx. But there are a slew of other POV characters throughout the novel, something that doesn't always work well. Perhaps it was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, but it often felt like we could have done without certain perspectives at certain junctures in the tale. I understand that the scope of this book is exceptionally vast and that a variety of points of view was required to truly do justice to the unfolding multilayered plotlines. And yet, I feel that The Reality Dysfunction would have benefited from less POVs.

The countless number of perspectives certainly has a negative influence on the pace of this novel. Not that it's dull or anything, but for about 400 pages or so the reader still has no idea what the heck is going on and where this story is going. You keep getting introduced to yet more protagonists whose importance in the greater scheme of things often appears questionable, and it takes more than half of the book for things to finally begin to come together. There are a few rough patches as far as the rhythm is concerned, especially in the first third of the novel, but never for a prolonged period of time. Still, trimming down a few points of view here and there would have helped speed things along.

And don't get me started on the unnecessary sex scenes found throughout The Reality Dysfunction. Not sure if Hamilton tones it down in the two sequels, but in this one he makes Richard Morgan look tame. I don't have anything against sex scenes if they're part of the plot and thus possess a certain importance as far as the story goes. But when they're just pointless, it can get annoying. Why Peter F. Hamilton felt the need to write that many sex scenes and why his editors let him get away with it, I'll never know.

One thing the author does well is space battle sequences. Such scenes were always well-written and exciting. The same goes for all the engagements on Lalonde soil, as the threat there never ceases to expand.

Past the midway point, the proverbial shit hits the fan and all hell breaks lose, and The Reality Dysfunction becomes impossible to put down. Things finally start to make sense and you can see the various storylines coming together. And it all ends with the sort of grand finale that leaves you breathless! Too bad the book started so slow.

Big on ideas and dazzling concepts, vast in scope, featuring compelling heroes and villains, imaginative and ingenuous, The Reality Dysfunction is everything space opera is meant to be!

And yes, I figure I'll now have to read The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God sooner rather than later!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

3 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

This is not his debut.. see the Greg Mandel trilogy

Patrick said...


I always thought the Mandel books came after. Oh well. . .

Anonymous said...

I've read the Night's Dawn trilogy three times in 20 years. I envy you the pleasure of reading them for the first time. - Ian.