Tuesday 11 January 2011
I recently read the "Night's Dawn Trilogy" by Peter Hamilton. I can't decide how good it is. Much of it is brilliant, but much of it is long-winded. It seems he took the great idea "what if, hundreds of years in the future, we discovered that souls were a natural phenomenon?" and ran with it ... for nearly four thousand pages.
One aspect of his writing I like is that he lets his characters hold opposing viewpoints, well-justified and strongly expressed; you can't tell who he favours. A lot of authors (many of whom should know better) let some character speak with the author's own voice, presenting only token opposition from other characters. I didn't like the ending; it must be the most literal deus ex machina I've ever read. Although at least it did end --- Neal Stephenson, I'm looking at you.
In the last book, a character presents the classic argument that the existence of evil proves the non-existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god. (I expect this is Hamilton's own view, although it's hard to be sure.) This intrigued me because Hamilton portrays multiple near-omnipotent alien civilizations pursuing a policy of not interfering with lesser species such as humans; this policy is apparently benevolent, on the grounds that it gives us self-determination, the opportunity to reach our own potential, etc. (Of course this is not a new idea; it's an old tradition in science fiction, perhaps most famous in the form of Star Trek's "Prime Directive".) I think there's a double standard here! Surely similar theodicies apply to both God and the Kiint.
I realize that science fiction needs superior civilizations to pursue a policy of non-intervention, otherwise god-like aliens will swoop in and solve all problems on page four. If there is too much intervention, there is no story to tell. I think maybe that applies to God too.