Posted in Book Reviews, Diary

Great North Road – My Sci-Fi Diary Part 1

I like Sci-fi. In fact, I would consider it one of my favourite genres. Yet, up until now, I have only ever really experienced it in films, tv and games – never books. I have tried to read sci-fi books in the past but for some reason I have always bounced off them. Even the Hitchhiker’s guide books, of which I have read 4, was a struggle. I would read a few pages and then put it down again for a couple of hours and then repeat. I could never engage with it for very long.


I’m not sure what it is about this genre that means that I can binge watch star trek and yet not concentrate on a book that might have a similar storyline. It makes me sad though as I know that there are a great number of authors that I haven’t been able to appreciate because something just hasn’t wanted to click.

As part of my ‘relearning to read‘ which I wrote about in my last post, I’ve decided to start off with giving sci-fi books another go. So here it is, the first part of my diary chronicling my first proper journey into the world of Sci-Fi. For this experiment, I’ve been lent a copy of ‘Great North Road’ by Peter F. Hamilton. (Note: The rest of this post will contain lots of spoilers.)

For the first sci-fi book that I have attempted in a very long time, this is slightly intimidating. This book is huge (1087 pages to be exact)! I honestly didn’t think that there was anyway that I would be able to read this. I asked my husband if there is maybe something slightly smaller that I could start with but he assures me that he thinks this is my best bet. “It starts of as a murder mystery, and we both know you love them.” he assures me. So I smile, gulp and pick up the massive tome.

Settling down, the first thing I notice is the cover and the information on the inside of the dust jacket. The front cover have 3 helicopters descending on what I assume is some kind of space station. It looks a little bit like something out of a Vietnam war film. The inside assures me that indeed, it does appear to be a murder mystery. Admittedly, it’s set in 2142 (in Newcastle-upon-Tyne which is a bit random but hey!), the victim is a clone and the investigation leads the main character to a different planet but it appears to be a murder mystery non the less. From what I can tell, it’s not going to be all spaceship battles and explosions and guns etc so maybe I will be able to get into this after all.

On one of the first pages there is a map. I take this as an encouraging sign. If there is one thing that I have learnt from fantasy and adventure stories, it’s that there seems to be a correlation between how good a story is and how good the map in the front is (I’m not sure why this works, but it does seem to…). After this there is a timeline detailing the history of the North family and important world developments from 2003 to 2121. There are a few things that are casually mentioned that I don’t understand, such as ‘trans-special connection’ and ‘Zanthswarm’. I start to panic slightly, wondering if already I have missed something – should I know what all this means? I double check but there definitely isn’t anything telling me what these things are. I’ll just carry on and see what happens. When I finish the timeline, I go back to the beginning and read it again. I have to go back and read it a couple of times before I remember what the abbreviations for various different companies and organisations mean. I still don’t know what a Zanthswarm is but it doesn’t seem to be very important yet so I assume that I will pick it up later. On to the main story.

Nope, wait, first there is the list of ‘Principle Characters’ which consists of four pages of names broken up into sections with details of people’s roles. I’ve learnt my lesson from the timeline though, and rather than try and understand everything slightly unusual, I decide to just brush over it and get to the first chapter.

Great North Road starts on 13th January 2143 on a snowy Newcastle night with Detective Sydney Hurst and his partner on their rounds. Apart from a couple of mentions of technology that doesn’t currently exist, this reads pretty much like a general police procedural mystery story. The detectives start of with a mugging and then just before their shift ends, they are called to a ‘Body found in Suspicious Circumstances’. The victim turns out to be one of the many clones that makes up the great North family. With such an important victim, Detective Hurst has to ensure the smoothest of investigations, catch the culprit and make sure that the evidence can stand up in trial.

So far, I have to admit, I’m really enjoying it. The pacing is good and the main character is instantly likeable. The descriptions of Newcastle made the place seem instantly recognisable despite being set over 100 years in the future and I have to admit, it did bring a smile to my face that it still seems fairly similar to how it is today. The sci-fi elements seem to be being introduced quite gradually so I don’t feel particularly overwhelmed with new information. I do have to reread any part where new technology is mentioned though, so that I can get a good understanding of how it works (the characters in this story all seem to have computer implants that can do…well – pretty much anything actually) and that is currently breaking the immersion for me. I think that once I get further in however, this will probably stop. I should also note that unlike some sci-fi books, you certainly aren’t chucked in at the deep end with regards to sci-fi tropes that can make you feel like an outside if you don’t understand them. I’m looking forward to tomorrow where I can carry on with this book. I’ve currently left it with a clone taking a conference call inside a carbon silicon globe somewhere on Jupiter….


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