Misspent Youth by
Peter F. Hamilton
Macmillan, Hardcover: ISBN
Review by John Berlyne
368 pages List price £17.99.
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Misspent Youth comes across as something as a departure for
Hamilton - an author more likely, it seems, to offer us hard-boiled SF
detective stories (i.e. the Greg Mandel books) or enormous
sweeping militarist space operas (The Night's Dawn Trilogy).
His latest novel has a far more pastoral feel it, less about futuristic
inventions (though they're by no means absent from the story) and more
about the emotions of the characters (not that I'm suggesting this was
ignored in Hamilton's previous works).
It is forty or so years in the future and Jeff Baker, the man
responsible for the creation of the datasphere - the information grid
that replaced the Internet - is the first person chosen for an
extraordinary gene replacement treatment. After spending months in
hospital, the seventy-eight year old emerges in the body of a
twenty-year old and the novel explores the effect this has on both him
and those around him, his family and friends.
It is an interesting notion and indeed a question we all ask ourselves
from time to time. Would we do things differently if we had the chance?
Hamilton gives us a "yes and no" kind of answer but displays
no ambivalence in the process. In spite of all the wisdom his long-life
has brought him, Baker soon finds his twenty-year old body leading him
around by his penis, and who can blame him! However his insatiable
appetites and the fact that he's not really thinking with his head soon
lead him into conflict - especially with his son, Tim. In exploring
Baker's condition, Hamilton touches upon the fragility of age (via his
Alzheimer effected mother-in-law) and the hot-headed impulsiveness of
the young, and the balance between these two poles is maintained
beautifully throughout. Though the book does sometimes dip into perhaps
more pedestrian and domestic areas than the average Hamilton reader
might prefer, the author keeps it all tightly within an SF-nal
Indeed, one of the things Hamilton does so well here is evoke a
believable setting - a Britain with a calm, suburban, almost Colonel
Blimp-like feel - specifically the county of Rutland, where the author
currently resides - though one dominated by the central governing body
of the European super state of which is now a part. This latter aspect
infringes upon the story with growing intensity until by the last third
of the book, it begins to read like the personal author's manifesto railing
against the political bureaucracy such a union might bring. This
transition is not a particularly comfortable one for the reader, but at
the very least it makes the book a demanding one.
I would put it to Hamilton that no character outside the most generic of
fantasy novels can believably say "Ye Gods" as an exclamation,
unless he's being ironic! Yet in spite of this, there remain few
stylistic lapse in this piece - indeed Hamilton displays admirable cheek
with the inclusion as a character of an ancient, though far from
doddering, Graham Joyce. Joyce (who accordingly to Hamilton, wins the
Booker prize in 2012!) has a new novel due out from Gollancz in December
- it'll be interesting to see if he returns the compliment.