Fallen Dragon was recommended to me as ‘hard’ science fiction which I was not what I expected from the title. The reason for the title was an edgy mystery for most of the book, which is more than 800 pages long, but revelation of the ‘dragon’ was rather underwhelming.
But back to the hard science fiction component of the novel. There is indeed a lot of futuristic technology here; acres of detail about such as cyrogenic fuel, gamma soak, landing pods, Skin and interfacing with personal AI via bracelets or pearls. Sometimes it was as if I was reading a raft of operating manuals though the author was good enough to keep me reading. The majority of the description hones in on ‘advanced’ weaponry and fighting techniques, whereupon I realised that I was not only reading hard science fiction but a ‘shoot ’em up!
Now I have read my way through a lot of ‘fighting’ novels; I am familiar with Roman and Viking fighting styles, and with that of the Visigoths, the Huns, the Crusaders, the Tudors and the Russian Tzars. I have a pretty good idea of the weaponry and tactics used to implement Spanish, British and French Imperialism. I have read one hundred Westerns. I have read about battles in WWI and WWII. I have read about intense battles in imaginary places. Fallen Dragon ended up being a story in the style of macho WWII/Vietnam type platoon engagement with more whizzy weapons.
What makes a ‘fighting book’ bearable and credible is having an interest in the characters that fight. Hamilton has expended too many words on things and too few on people. I found the sexism, thuggery and moral vacuum of the soldiers, the ‘grunts’, handling superb weapons and asset stripping extra-ordinary planets depressing and uninspiring; they were kept one-dimensional by clunky dialogue, inexplicable ignorance and limited ambition. I cared not a whit when they were, predictably, killed off. The main characters are Lawrence, the tough intelligent sergeant with plans to escape (though the words traitor and deserter are never used) from the military life and return to the luxurious life he foolishly abandoned in huff, and Denise, the clever rebel enacting clever plans to overthrow the corrupt and cruel corporations permanently. They have a history!
Well, I did soldier on to the end of this novel. Hamilton writes well at times and the carefully plotted sabotages were very good. He could do with cutting out half of the operating manuals, a few worlds and spend some time on making his particpants more rounded than 1950’s cartoon characters.