Salvation Lost (The Salvation Sequence book 2) by Peter F Hamilton (book review).

‘Salvation Lost’ by Peter F Hamilton is the second novel in the Salvation Sequence trilogy.

This in line with so many of Peter Hamilton’s novels is a space opera on a grand scale across both space and time. Time-wise it comprises two threads, the Earth-centric one is set from 25thJune to 4thJuly 2204 and the other distant future Vayan-centric from 54AB to 56AB (After Bioforming). Story-wise we have what feels like four threads that have only the slightest of links between them. Three stories continue from the first novel ‘Salvation’, while the fourth is definitely new.

In the first novel, the Olyix have arrived at the Solar System on a journey to their God at the End of Time. In return for supplies to help them on their way, they supply new technologies such as Kcells. The team who were investigating the crashed Olyix ship on Nkya had found humans were cocooned on board and one strange body that remained relatively intact. Jessika has put an axe through the middle of Ferriton’s head to show his brain is that of a transplanted Olyix quint. Doing so has warned the Olyix that humans now know of their evil intentions. Jessika reveals she and the nearly intact body are biologics sent by another alien race, the Neána, to help humans to survive the now imminent Olyix attack.

The main story is that of the team members working out and doing what they must to ensure the survival of the human race. They conclude with the advice from Jessika that Earth is lost. The best chance of survival is to get as many people away from it as possible to settlements among the stars through the portals. This will take time, which means delaying the Olyix from achieving their aim as long as possible while making sure the energy supplies to the portals, city defence shields and for the evacuation effort is not sabotaged.

Callum uses his super-skill of make-do engineering to stop missiles destroying the deep space energy generators that use the Sun’s plasma. He goes on to identify a method of using a portal to attack the arkship.

Yuri coordinates the security to minimise the sabotage to power supplies. One of his top operatives Kohei identifies Croyden substation that supplies the interstellar portals as a key target. He stops an attack from succeeding and later identifies that interstellar portal hub at Kings Cross has been taken over by Olyix spies in human form. They stop it although the Olyix escape, but not before they get a picture of what one of them looks like, Jade Urchall.

Jessika reveals she and her co-biologic Socko carry a neurovirus that can get the Salvation of Life’s onemind to reveal where the gate to Olyix’s Enclave is. This would give the humans a chance to counterattack. However, for this to have a chance of working, they have to capture a live quint.

Kendara’s first kidnapping attempt when the Olyix try to capture an abandoned habitat fails, but it does give the humans a better understanding of the enemy’s technical capabilities. The second attempt is capturing Jade Urchall.

The second story is the continuation the story of Gwendoline and Horatio who are now divorced. Together, they see how London degenerates under its protective shield and when the Olyix’s gift of Kcells used to make body refinements start cocooning people ready to be delivered to the Olyix’s God at the End of Time. Gwendoline deals with big project finances, Horatio still helps the unfortunate of London. She is needed on the habitat the Zangari family is fleeing to and he is needed in London if the shield holds up. They are conflicted about staying together or doing what they must.

The new story is about the South Legion, a gang of six criminals, in London. We first meet them on a job to damage the Klausen Nutrition firm who have not paid their protection money to a crime family. They use darkware to overload their office network, micro-missiles to break through a door and exploding creeperdrones to rip apart cables and relays. The attack is sophisticated, timed to the second and made as professional as they can. They want the next big job from the big gang that will pay them more money.

They get that job at short notice from the crime family’s lieutenant, Jade Urchall, to sabotage Croyden power substation. It goes wrong and the remaining four go on the run knowing that the net is being scoured for all their contacts and associated places. They end up in the one place they have never mentioned on the net, the house of one member’s scam target. Their aim for the rest of their story is to avoid capture by the authorities one way or another and that includes calling on Jade for help.

The far future story starts with a Neána insertion of six biologics into the Vayan society, much like the first novel did for Earth. Instead of blending into the up and coming species, they are met by Yirella one of the ‘human’ task force who is behind setting up the society. It is bait to lure an Olyix arkship so they can attack it to find out where the gate to the Olyix Enclave is. The Neána bring within them a neurovirus capable of accessing information in the arkship’s onemind that might yield that information.

The human taskforce has been waiting for far too long for the Olyix to turn up and the soldiers are restless for action. Some become so depressed, they commit suicide. A diversion is needed and Yirella comes up with the idea of building a super spaceship to search for the fabled Neána Sanctuary. Then an Olyix arkship turns up and they are eager to attack. This time they succeed in getting the virus into the onemind, but at a terrible cost.

Meanwhile, in the depths of dark space, an AI spaceship watches the unfolding of Vayan events. It keeps its intelligence deliberately low until certain events trigger it to upgrade.

This is a space opera that romps through its plot-driven story at pace with plenty of varied action scenes and gadgets enough to keep even the most demanding geek happy.

The two timelines are really a comparison of how far the humans have progressed in fighting the Olyix. They use the same strategy in their attack, though the details are humongously different. Of course, the future timeline is more successful that the Earth timeline, but it is not enough as the book’s title suggests.

One of the things missing from this novel is a sufficiently detailed relevant background from the first novel. Yes, there are flashbacks for some of it during the novel itself, but the implication of important details are missed by those who have not read Salvation eg the fact that Kcells were given to humans by the Olyix.

Because this story is on a grand panoramic scale, there are a lot of viewpoint characters: Ollie, Tronde, Callum, Yuri, Kohei, Kandara, Alik, Gwendoline, Yirella, Dellian and the AI watcher, a total of eleven over 461 pages, an average of 42 pages per person or AI. The reader has little chance getting into the depths of these characters. For those who have read the first novel, the natural tendency is to enjoy Callum, Yuri, Kandara, Alik, Gwendoline, Yirella or Dellian. Otherwise, it is to latch onto the character that is closest to their experience. This makes the novel feel patchy in quality when it really is not.

The language of the novel is clear. The reader always knows where you are, what is going on and how it fits into the story. But the feel the reader experiences could be enhanced by varying the language a bit more. Let me give you an example. Here, Ellici is instructing Dellian while he boards the arkship. Ellici said, ‘Motaxan has been reviewing sensor data. The front end of the arkship has taken heavy damage. We need you to head back towards the second chamber. There are some caverns between the two that are full of life-support systems; they should have a major nexus in them.’

It waffles for someone giving orders mid-action. The phrases should be sharper and contain the necessary content for Dellian to act on. There is no need for background explanations. ‘Arkship’s front has taken major damage. So head back to the second chamber. A major nexus should be in the caverns before you reach it among the life support systems,’ is an example of what to put instead. More importantly, it takes the reader out of the humdrum explanation that pervades the novel and makes her or him sit up a bit more.

The far future story leaves a goodly scattering of hints of what to expect in the third novel of this trilogy. They act as mini-spoilers. While a few could not be avoided for ‘Salvation Lost’s story purposes, a lot of them should really not be there.

On the technology level, a few minor things made me inwardly wince, eg a spaceship being made fully radiation-absorbent in every spectrum to make it invisible to any telescope when it should be reflecting the background cosmic radiation to camouflage itself. They made no difference to the story and let’s face it, no Science Fiction author can be up-to-date with all the technology he or she deploys in their novel. However, Peter F Hamilton did bring out one very serious point when dealing with technology that can be summed up by what Jessika says, ‘… I understand the psychology (of Neána society) by the level of technology involved. If – when – humans rise to this level, you will need to change also.” It is very much to the author’s credit that he tries to reflect this principle in the rest of his novel, which is a far from an easy task.

All in all, ‘Salvation Lost’ is an ambitious novel in both the scope of space opera and trying to show how humanity and technology might develop and interact under constraining circumstances. The latter theme is particularly difficult to tackle and get anywhere near right. It has succeeded far beyond most other novels that have ventured into these themes and is a worthwhile read for this reason alone.

Rosie Oliver

February 2020

(pub: Pan Macmillan, 2019. 461 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-144728-135-1)

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