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The Naked God by Peter F. Hamiliton

01/05/2012. Contributed by Patrick Mahon

Buy The Naked God in the USA - or Buy The Naked God in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 959 page limited signed edition hardback. Price: $ 60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-420-1.

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‘The Naked God’ is the final part of British Science Fiction author Peter F. Hamilton’s gigantic ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy, completing a series which weighs in at an extraordinary one and a quarter million words across all three books. The final volume was originally published in 1999. This review relates to the signed limited edition produced by specialist genre publishers Subterranean Press in April 2012, following on from similar limited editions of the previous two books.

For those not already familiar with this series, the story is a space opera set in the early 27th century. In the first book, ‘The Reality Dysfunction’, a wormhole was accidentally opened between our universe and ‘the beyond’, a parallel void where the souls of the dead reside. These souls became able to return to this universe, possessing people and endowing their bodies with super-human strength and almost magical powers to morph matter and energy to their will. The main plot-line across all three books concerns the fight between humanity and those possessed by the returned souls.

At the end of ‘The Neutronium Alchemist’, the second book in the trilogy, starship captain Joshua Calvert managed to destroy the Neutronium Alchemist of the title, preventing this star-busting doomsday weapon from falling into the hands of the possessed. However, that was one of the few high points for humanity. Nearly everywhere else, the possessed seemed to be gaining the upper hand.

In ‘The Naked God’, there are three main plots. The human Confederation is still trying to develop some way to send the possessing souls back to the beyond without having to kill the people they are possessing. The most promising hint they have had so far comes from the Tyrathca, one of the alien species that humanity has come into contact with. Their history records an ancient encounter with a ‘Sleeping God’, which helped them to solve the same problem of returned souls when it happened to them. The present day Tyrathca have nothing useful to say on the matter, so Joshua Calvert and his crew are sent out to the far side of the Orion Nebula, where the Tyrathcans originally came from, to see if they can find this Sleeping God and learn its secrets.

Most of the possessed have started to realise that their powers are not quite as limitless as they originally thought. They still have to eat and although they can change the appearance of items, making dry bread look like roast chicken if they wish, the body they are possessing will only get the nutritional value of the dry bread. If they don’t want their new bodies to die, someone has to grow decent food. Having originally thought they could lounge about all day and enjoy themselves, the possessed have to develop something akin to ordinary society. Suddenly, having super-powers isn’t half so exciting. This poses particular problems for the self-styled leaders of the possessed, like Al Capone, who is having increasing problems keeping their bored and trigger-happy troops under control.

Meanwhile, Quinn Dexter, disciple of the Satanist God’s Brother sect and the most powerful possessor there is, reaches Earth and starts to put into effect his plan to take over the whole planet, city by city. Earth’s population is the highest of any single planet, asteroid or habitat, at around forty billion people. Dexter believes that if he can possess the whole planet that this will cause the entire universe to fall to the power of God’s Brother. Though the Confederation authorities try to catch or kill Dexter repeatedly, he is highly intelligent, extremely ruthless and seems able to evade every trap they set for him.

A book of this length, let alone a trilogy, can only work if it is filled with a large cast of distinct characters who are real enough to step off the page. Hamilton achieves this feat with ease. He has a cast list numbering in the hundreds, yet even the smallest walk-on part is treated with respect and sketched in enough detail to make it real. The major players are fully realised, with significant development in their characters across the three books. For me, though, the strongest characters are generally those who occupy the second-in-command positions. Whether human or possessed, these are the people that Hamilton shows in the most piercing light. They have their current roles to play but many of them spend their time trying to work out where they will stand if their bosses succeed or fail. Will they be blamed or will that be their opportunity for promotion? Should they just do what they’re told or should they tell their commanders when they’ve got it wrong? These guys are real people, with all the ego and emotion that entails and because of the care he takes with them, the story comes across as fully authentic.

The final book of any series always has a hard job to do, needing to bring the various plotlines together in a satisfying conclusion that does not seem forced. Hamilton does this brilliantly, running a large number of plot-lines in parallel in such a way that I never got lost or confused. Hamilton enjoys putting his characters into increasingly tricky positions, yet the resolutions always seem natural rather than contrived. When I finished the book, I really was tempted to go back to the first one and start over. You can’t really ask more of an author than that.

It’s worth noting that this Subterranean Press edition of the book comes as a large format hardback. The pre-publication review copy was very nicely laid out with a clear typeface, making the reading of this very long book a pleasant experience. It also has a great cover picture by Tomislav Tikulin, which can be viewed on the publisher’s website if you’re interested. On the other hand, at nearly a thousand pages long it is pretty heavy, so it’s not a book to try reading while you’re standing up on the tube.

‘The Naked God’ provides an exciting conclusion to the ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy. This is space opera of the most enjoyable kind, yet Hamilton also manages to use it to explore issues of free will, the nature of consciousness and questions of life after death. If you haven’t read the trilogy since it first came out in the late 1990s, I’d urge you to give it a try. If, on the other hand, you’re an SF book collector then you’ll want to take a close look at this beautiful edition of a modern classic.

Patrick Mahon

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