01 October 2011

Why the Hate for Misspent Youth?

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-hate-for-misspent-youth.html.

I'm a big fan of Peter F Hamilton's books. I thorough enjoyed his Night's Dawn trilogy (though the three books are so huge that they had to be split into two paperbacks each for the mass market edition), read through the Greg Mandel stories in no time, and grabbed up his stand-alone novel Fallen Dragon. Then he launched his Commonwealth Saga and Void trilogy, and I've enjoyed all of those five books tremendously.

But somewhere in there, I discovered that I had missed one. Misspent Youth is part of the Commonwealth Saga, but not part of either main plotline. It's based in the mid-21st century on Earth, and tells the story of the first person to receive the Rejuvenation treatment central to the culture of the Commonwealth during Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, and thus functions as a prequel of sorts.

I looked in the bookstores, but it couldn't be had, out of print. That's surprised me a bit. I went looking for it on Amazon, and they were out. What the hell? The book wasn't that old. Then I scrolled down to the reviews. Hooboy.

There was a lot of haterade spilled in the reviews. People who otherwise adored Hamilton's books were up in arms. Others swore they could never read his books again after giving up on Misspent Youth. It just all seemed a little extreme, so I dug deeper.

One of the themes of Misspent Youth is the repercussions of Rejuvenation, returning a person to full bloom of youthful health. Hamilton glosses over the societal implications, which I found a little disappointing after the depth to which he'd protrayed the society of the Commonwealth, as well as that of the Confederation in Night's Dawn. He focused more on the impact to the rejuvenated main character's immediate relationships of the return on youthful hormones to man of seventy-plus years.

That's right, Misspent Youth could be considered chick-lit. Mildly smutty chick-lit at that.

After reading the reviews, the "mildly" portion surprised me somewhat. Misspent Youth was originally published in the UK, and his publisher didn't think it would sell as is in the US. So they toned down the smut for the US release, and the reading public still hated it.

I was having none of that, so I ordered the original unabridged edition from Amazon UK. After the uproar, I half expected something more at home in the pages of Penthouse Variations, wondering whether I should plan to read the book one-handed, if you catch my meaning.

Can you say anti-climax? Misspent Youth is mildly racy sure, but it's got nothing on mainstream romance novels. This book is about the relationships between the characters, not about what gets done in the bedroom.

Like I said, chick-lit. And yet, not entirely chick-lit.

For one thing, it completely ignores the proven formulae for successful romance novels. That makes sense to an extent. Hamilton's not a romance author; he's a speculative fiction author, and he's exploring repercussions so he's confined to a logical chain of events.

The other thing about Misspent Youth that keeps it off the romance shelves is its dual purpose. The novel acts as a prequel to the Commonwealth Saga, portraying the European Union in a state of political upheaval and scattering about elements that fans will recognize as precursors to elements of Commonwealth society. That's not the usual backdrop for a relationship piece, and readers of that genre would likely be put off.

So Misspent Youth is nothing like what I expected, except for one thing. It's an excellent book. Hamilton's engaging style kept me interested through a storyline so focused on relationship conflict rather than violent conflict that it probably woudn't have kept my interest otherwise. I was prepared for some smutty trash, but nothing has prepared me for how "touchie feelie" Misspent Youth would be. Aside from two major scenes and one minor one, there's no real danger faced by the characters, only implied by reference.

If someone had told me that, I might have actually skipped the book. Well, no. It was the last book of his that I hadn't read, so I was doomed from the outset. That's OK. As I said, Hamilton's writing kept me turning the pages.

So I heartily recommend Misspent Youth unless you're an uptight member of a Kansas school board. In terms of reading order, I suggest reading Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained first, but once you have those digested, it's not important whether you read Misspent Youth before, during, or after the Void trilogy.

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