This second “taste” of Peter F. Hamilton’s short works was even more intriguing than the first, and since it introduces many of the elements of his massive novels – in particular the Night’s Dawn trilogy – it encouraged me even more to take the jump or, as some of my fellow bloggers defined it, to overcome author intimidation.
A Second Chance at Eden is a collection of short stories, but the one that truly fascinated me is the one from which the book draws its title: once more I encountered a murder mystery, as was the case with Watching Trees Grow, but it was completely different, starting with the background in which the investigation takes place.
Eden is a peculiar habitat created from bitek – genetically engineered living matter with the ability to adapt to specific uses and to grow like any living creature, to the point it can develop sentience and can communicate with its human population through affinity, a bond that is created through the insertion of specialized material in any given subject, or genetically programmed in a fetus. Affinity allows a form of telepathic communication between humans and the habitat’s personality, and the control of servitors – specially bred monkeys devoted to al menial tasks.
At the start of the story, Earth is a place devastated by climate upheavals, where life is possible only in arcologies – city enclaves shielded from the fiery elements, where however crime is rife and the quality of everyday existence is poor. Harvey Parfitt is the new Chief of Eden’s police force: he arrives at the habitat with his estranged wife and two teenaged children, and is immediately confronted with the murder of one of the habitat’s founding scientists, a very unbelievable murder, since it was committed by one of the chimp servitors – something no one had though possible until that moment.
Through Parfitt’s search for the guilty party we learn about this “brave new world”, a fascinating place of wonders, a new frontier for humanity and – as the title suggests – the opportunity to do things right, and correct the mistakes of the past. No paradise is free from snakes, however, as the murder shows with merciless brutality, and human greed is always there to spread its taint: at some point someone says that there will always be need for enforcers, human nature being what it is.
What makes this story stand out, though, is the effect that such technological advances are going to have on humanity, and the division they create between opposing philosophies: such contrasting points of view are embodied in the Parfitt family, where the chief’s teenaged children take to the new way of life like fish to water, while their mother – a staunch believer in the Church’s edicts – rejects anything “unnatural” as affinity or even the new surroundings, with poor Harvey caught in the middle. I liked how Hamilton presented all the sides of this new era at its very beginning, and the way he showed the different paths humanity would take from this point on: a brief search confirmed that I would find many of the elements presented here in his more complex work, and this made me quite eager to start this… adventure.
At the end of the day, the murder investigation takes second place and I found myself more interested in the social and technological changes engendered by the discoveries presented here, rather than finding out who was the real murderer, even though I must admit that I did not expect the final twist concerning one of the main characters, a choice that was both saddening and baffling.
After this intriguing experience, I was more than ready to tackle Hamilton’s more hefty novels: I will post a review for The Reality Dysfunction in a short while…