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Literature / Fallen Dragon

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Fallen Dragon is a science-fiction novel by Peter F. Hamilton, published in 2001. Unlike most of his works, this is a standalone novel. In the 24th century, the age of interstellar travel is drawing to a close thanks to the hideous expense of travelling by starship. The remaining starships are repurposed by Earth-based mega corporations into the only venture that remains profitable: "asset realisation", or the pillaging of colony planets in debt to the aforementioned corporations for material to sell. The plot follows several different threads, all woven together in a non-linear fashion. These threads mostly revolve around the early and late life of Lawrence Newton, a colony-born boy who dreamed of piloting exploratory starships who eventually became a jaded soldier in the employ of the biggest megacorporation, Zantiu-Braun; Denise Ebourn, a resistance fighter on Thallspring, one of the planets Zantiu-Braun is intent on invading. Both have big plans for Z-B's next jaunt to Thallspring...

Fallen Dragon contains examples of:

  • Bizarre Human Biology: The Santa Chicans, who went a bit crazy in modifying their physiology.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted. Starflight is dying out as it's simply too expensive to justify. The remaining starships are used by the corporations only to keep in contact with existing colonies and to participate in asset realization missions, the one thing that can balance the costs. The sole exception to this is Zantiu-Braun, who continue to found colonies through one-shot interstellar portals. Interstellar trade is non-existent, as Earth could easily reverse-engineer anything invented elsewhere. Santa Chico was the one exception to this rule, as its biotech industries were far in advance of Earth's. They stopped exporting when they no longer needed to fund the research necessary to properly live as part of Santa Chico's biosphere, and Zantiu-Braun bought out the debt-laden founding company with the aim of exploiting those highly profitable biotech assets.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Simon Roderick looks to be one of these. Subverted when Z-B's true ideals are revealed. Turns out, the Rodericks wanted the same thing Lawrence did all along...well, sort of. The irony is that when Lawrence learns of Z-B's objectives, he's past caring about anything other than going home. There is a particular Simon Roderick who favors more violent means to achieve his vision, but he is stopped by another copy. The book also mentions that there was also a version of Simon Roderick that turned Ax-Crazy. Instead of giving him a position of power, the company institutionalized him and started an investigation into his upbringing.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Most human colonies seem to be slowly becoming bland copies of Earth, with a few exceptions. Life is pleasant, but corporate uniculture pervades nearly everything, and old problems haven't gone away.
  • Death World: Santa Chico. The air is 30% oxygen, having the dual effect of being poisonous to non-modified humans and acting as a nuclear reactor for the planet's life-forms (not to mention how dangerous fire becomes in such an environment). Its fauna is incredibly deadly, including pterodactyl-sized windshrikes that can tear through helicopters, tyrannosaur-sized macrorexes that are nearly invulnerable to small arms and tiny birds that fire toxin-coated darts that penetrate and infect Skin suits. It's implied that the Santa Chicans have established a close enough relationship with the indigenous fauna that they can control them, to lethal effect.
  • Electronic Eyes: Simon Roderick's DNI interface.
  • False Rape Accusation: La RĂ©sistance arranges for a soldier to have sex with the daughter of the mayor, who then claims the man raped her and forced a collatoral necklace onto her (which they actually have the technology to remove and put on someone else). The soldier is shot before a firing squad to prevent the city devolving into riots (which happen anyway due to further provocations). Lawrence and his fellow soldiers succeed in Faking the Dead, but not without him suffering brain damage.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Compression drive technology allows a starship to generate a continuous wormhole around it. Journeys typically take months to complete. The Ring Empire possessed a much faster and more efficient technology that allowed ships to travel though a "nullvoid"; they even constructed enormous ships designed to reach other galaxies.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Protein-cell refineries have eliminated the need to grow crops and raise livestock. As such, a prejudice has arisen amongst most people against eating "natural food", viewing it as both barbaric and wasteful, especially animal husbandry. This leads to the odd scenario in which Lawrence retches up a beef sandwich fed to him by a hippie girlfriend when he discovers it was made with "real" beef. Recursively, on Santa Chico and in Arnoon Province, people have again begun to grow food naturally because of biotechnological modification.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: No one emerges from this novel with their hands clean, and no-one in this novel is entirely unsympathetic.
  • La RĂ©sistance: Subverted. Unknown to most of the participants, it's just meant to provide a distraction so Denise can steal a spaceship.
  • Mega-Corp: Earth is essentially run by the megacorporations, and they have far more power than national governments. Zantiu-Braun is the largest, with one character commenting off-hand that Z-B own "half the bloody planet these days". Z-B is also the only corporation large enough — and willing enough — to still be able to fund exploratory missions, although new colonies are now founded through one-shot wormholes and left to fend for themselves rather than via starship. The remaining starships are repurposed by the corporations into the only interstellar venture that remains profitable: "asset realization", or the pillaging of colony planets in debt to the aforementioned corporations for material to sell. The corporations buy out struggling debt-laden founding companies in order to provide some kind of legal basis for their asset realization missions, and then send invasion fleets to subjugate and pillage the colony planets for valuable industrial assets to sell at a profit, thanks to the production costs being cut out. Essentially, it's piracy. Muddying the waters a little bit, Z-B's ultimate motive is to elevate the human race via corporate stakeholding, which essentially means corporate socialism, in order for humanity to truly reach for the stars. The Board — which consists entirely of different batches of the Roderick clones — is divided on the best approach to do this, and the discovery of the dragons and their patternform technology is likely to cause an unprecedented split.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Non-compatible biospheres mean that in most cases humans have to kill off native life with radiation before re-seeding it with terrestrial organisms. Whilst this is the most common way to settle a planet, two exceptions are prominently featured: Amethi, which was a dead planet locked into a permanent ice-age before humanity arrived, and Santa Chico, where the human colonists modified themselves to live in harmony with the native biosphere. In Arnoon Province, the discovery of alien technology allows the people there to do the same thing, although their modifications are far more subtle than the Chicans.
  • Organic Technology: And lots of it. In the case of Santa Chico, biotech has supplanted nearly every mechanical system.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played pretty straight. Religion is rather rare in the colonies, and atheism seems to be the norm amongst most of the characters, with a couple of exceptions. "Fate" seems to take the place of God when it comes to cursing (i.e. "Sweet bloody Fate!").
  • Powered Armor: The Skin suits are a biomechanical form of powered armor that interfaces with the user's own circulatory system.
  • Precursors: The Ring Empire. All that's left of it is the memories of the dragons.
  • Privately Owned Society: A Discussed Trope. Governments still exist on Earth, but they're implied to have been almost completely supplanted by the megacorporations, of which Zantiu-Braun is the largest. Ordinary people can gain influence by buying a stake in the companies, which will enable them to gain voting influence in accordance with the size of their stake. Zantiu-Braun is the only human organization left large enough — and willing enough — to still be able to fund exploratory missions, although new colonies are now founded through one-shot wormholes and left to fend for themselves. The McArthur corporation — which the Newton family owns majority shares in — is one such, and Amethi's sole political entity. This is both defended and condemned by the protagonist; it's the best way to ensure competence and investment in government, but it also has no checks and balances whatsoever; majority shareholders answer to nothing save their own self-interest. Case-in-point, the McArthur corporation has secured all information on interstellar travel behind firewalls only they themselves can bypass, meaning they've effectively isolated their population from the rest of the human race.
    Lawrence Newton: You can't have the poor voting themselves more welfare money. That's economic suicide.
    Vinnie: Lawrence, I'm not arguing with you. I chose to come and live here, remember. Amethi is quiet and prosperous, a condition that it buys for itself with a heavy load of social hypocrisy. For all that, it has a lot going for it. All I'm saying is, if the Board wants to guide our development steadily along the don't-rock-the-boat course they've mapped out, then there are some policy areas and activities best avoided. I'm taking a guess that they don't want anyone to consider the option of leaving. They would hardly be the first government to have that opinion. And the more new planets that are discovered and opened to colonists, the more options there are for people to leave and pressure to facilitate it. If there's nowhere to go, then you have to stay here and work for the Greater Good of the community.
  • Pull the Thread: Lawrence sees a child on Thallspring pluck a fruit from a tree and eat it. His response at the time is disdain for these colonists because Future Food Is Artificial... until he starts to question how someone would be able to eat the fruit on another planet in the first place.
  • The Singularity: Z-B's ultimate motive is to elevate the human race by eliminating the underclass through species-wide genetic modification — their belief is that providing welfare and education for people who lack the health and intelligence to make proper use of it is why starflight has become too expensive to maintain. The Board — which consists entirely of different batches of the Roderick clones — is divided on the best approach to do this; forcibly administering it akin to vaccination, or providing the treatments free of charge as per each individual's desires. The final conflict of the book is the pursuit of the dragons and their patternform technology to achieve one of those mutually exclusive goals.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Both Lawrence and Denise are idealists who become jaded by the realities of their situations in a harsh universe... only to have their idealism ultimately vindicated. Well, Denise anyway. Lawrence just wants to go home. Still, he gets a starship and a fresh chance out of it.
  • Stable Time Loop: "Vinnie" is actually the future Lawrence, who travelled back in time through the Mordiff terminus to reunite himself with Roselyn. "Vinnie" gives past-Lawrence a copy of Prime, which he uses to get off-world to join Z-B in pursuit of his starship-flying dreams, before morphing back into a teenage Lawrence.
  • Space Pirates: "Asset Realization". The various megacorporations based on Earth (which is still by far the richest, most industrious and populated planet) buy out struggling debt-laden founding companies in order to provide some kind of legal basis for dropping in, sterilizing an uninhabited area with gamma rays, then "offering" to exchange local resources for Earth technological data. It's outright piracy as invasion fleets subjugate and pillage the colony planets for valuable industrial assets to sell at a profit thanks to the production costs being cut out, in exchange for information on how the colonies can produce more resources for them to pillage the next time. They even cow the populace — particularly administrators and their families — with "collateral necklaces".
  • Super-Soldier: A man in a Skin suit is an incredibly deadly weapon. While most missions usually just require them to use nonlethal and less-than-lethal force on angry mobs, when presented with a more dangerous opponent such as a Santa Chican or armed rebels the amount of firepower, they're truly equipped with becomes very evident very quickly.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Both the SK2 Roderick and Denise come across as this. Both are essentially willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their objectives.