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Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton is a nostalgic return to the sort of old-fashioned science fiction where Mankind explores the stars in cool spaceships and battles aliens. It also switches viewpoint characters every few pages, is almost a thousand pages long, and ends in the middle of the story (the ultimate cliffhanger is weirdly parallel to the end of Colour of Magic). This was a Christmas present from a friend of mine, and I can see the motives for the recommendation: the interstellar train network is fun and unexpected, and when the evil alien bent on universe-domination (and sadly in need of some Loraxian consciousness-raising) finally makes its appearance c. page 500 or so, it's both interesting and rather quaint in its single-minded destructiveness. By the end of the book I did sort of want to know what happened next. At the midway point, though, I was only sustaining my interest by writing mental reviews and counting characters who weren't sex objects . . . because unfortunately, Pandora's Star is the sort of old-fashioned science fiction that thinks it's really progressive, but seems to have missed certain basic cues. One wonders, for instance, why the Afro is the only hairstyle that has never become fashionable again in three hundred years, or why the environment-obsessed multibillionaire decides, when founding his own town, that it should be reachable only by road (on a grade too steep for trains) and that residents should live in single-family homes each with yacht, dog, and (electric) car.

I found the sexual politics particularly distracting. The following passage is memorable. Patricia, aide to Elaine Doi, who is running for president of humanity, has brought a young, dumb, and good-looking girlfriend to a weekend retreat planned by a group of wealthy wheelers and dealers, who discuss her motivations:

Thompson dropped down in one of the winged leather chairs in front of the big fireplace. "Not like Patricia to take any sort of risk. The girls she normally fucks are completely sanitized as far as political connections are concerned."

"Maybe it's true love?" Justine said in amusement.

"That'd be a first," Thompson said. "Why the hell Patricia doesn't simply get a body reassignment while she's in rejuve I'll never know."

"She can't," Gore said. "Most of Doi's team are female; it's an image she's worked hard at for twenty-five years. Nobody's going to screw that up now by growing a dick in the tank."


(We later learn that Patricia has brought the girl to seduce Justine's ex-husband.)

The women in this future are genetically engineered, or re-engineered, to be long-legged and small-waisted and big-breasted; even slightly short is striking. They rejuve to late adolescence again every forty years or so. I think that's supposed to be enticing, albeit decadent. But it's absolutely not my fantasy. Especially with rejuvenated three-hundred-year-old men.

(When I was little, I hated being called cute, or for that matter "a kid"-- I thought, rightly, that it meant people weren't taking me seriously. In my own late adolescence I realized that I was more or less doomed to be cute for the rest of my life-- smallish and roundish and smiling were going to be my attractive physical traits, for anyone minded to be attracted to me. I realized, reading this book, that a future where everyone is tall kind of gets to me.)

November 2016

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