Plot/Idea: For a violent sci-fi novel teeming with alien species and philosophies, E.M. Hamill’s Peacemaker is notably, refreshingly humane, concerned with diplomacy and empathy, considerations of the morality of war, and questions about what it means to consider any group – even engineered mercenaries-- “abominations.” Hamill’s plotting is dense and twisty, but adult readers willing to bone up on the proper nouns and invest in a milieu of tense intergalactic diplomacy will be rewarded with tense, surprising science fiction that’s thematically rich, sexually frank, and highly inventive in its cultures, technology, and dilemmas. In the opening chapters, Hamill demonstrates a talent for vividly rendered violence, which creates a tension that hangs over the rest of the narrative, as the protagonist, Dali, strives to prevent more. Readers craving action may be disappointed at the hero’s brainy, empathetic efforts to thwart it – but that’s the risk an author takes when daring to write a challenging genre piece.
Prose: Hamill’s prose is generally crisp, clever, and genre appropriate. Tech, cultures, and action all are described with clarity and vigor. In most scenes, Hamill emphasizes with style and wit, what matters most or is most interesting. Those are rare qualities. Sometimes, a throwaway line is less than artful (“A sense of foreboding sketched lines against my forehead”), but overall Peacemaker demonstrates a high degree of polish and precision.
Originality: Intergalactic alliances on the brink of war are science fiction mainstays, and increasingly non-binary gender presentations are as well. Hamill invests the novel with great inventive brio, finding new spins on familiar conflicts and technologies while not over-complicating matters. Some received ideas prevail, as is common in space operas (FTL travel, for example), and readers might find it curious that these advanced societies and the protagonist, a “third-gender human” have not come up with a clearer, more effective non-gender-specific singular third-person pronoun than “they."
Character/Execution: Hamill executes a strong character twist in the opening chapters. Dali kicks off the book by demonstrating Jack Reacher-like skills for violence against a band of chumps, then has wild sex that leaves their partner, a stranger, thrilled and satisfied, and soon is upbraided by a superior office for insubordination--all familiar story beats for a genre fiction hero. The twist: Dali quickly realizes pheromones, a drug called Vape, and a zeal to complete a mission had interfered with their thinking and actions, and then sincerely apologizes to their commanding officer.
From that point on, Dali strives to achieve diplomatic solutions to problems, actively working to prevent the kind of violence that two-fisted genre heroes usually relish. This is an extraordinary inversion – perhaps even critique – of reader expectations in space operas, and a strong indication that readers should be on their toes. The characterization of Dali and the diplomats, family members, planetary royalty, and the many other incidental characters is continually unpredictable but persuasive.
Date Submitted: April 17, 2020