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Misspent Youth is the story of Jeff Baker, the man who gave the world the datasphere --a high-performance successor to the internet-- by donating the technology needed to make it possible to the world, and refusing to license it or profit from its adoption.
It is also the story of his son, Tim, a boy to whom the famous philanthropist is none of these things; to the boy, he is just 'dad'.
As the novel begins, Jeff Baker is an old man with a young wife and son living in a Europe in which unification is not only complete, but in which each of the old countries is merely a district under the Brussels government. The first part of the novel follows the son through his formative years, teenage angst and his first experiences with girls, delving deeply into the confusion that characterizes growing up.
As a recognition for his selfless service to humanity, Jeff is chosen to be the first person rejuvenated using a new treatment that the European government has developed and which costs trillions of Euros of taxpayer money. By reworking his cells, it turns his body into that of a twenty-year-old without noticeably affecting his mind. Thus given a second chance, Jeff sets out to relive his youth, and indulges in all of the excesses he has been missing: drinking, dancing and -- extremely central to the plot -- sex.
From the point in which a blinking and rejuvenated Jeff emerges from the German hospital in which he has undergone the treatment, the novel becomes a study of how the physically young Jeff interacts with his teenage son, wife (only in name, since the marriage was arranged for practical purposes) and the women he picks up along the way.
The setup -- rejuvenated scientist and European social structure -- should have made for a classic science fiction novel to be enjoyed by generations to come, but it truly falls short. The main characters seem to be cardboard cutouts, their motives a bit too linear to be believable, and none of them are truly likable. The women in the book are even worse, seeming to lack even a little depth. This would be forgivable in an action book, but Misspent Youth is essentially a character study -- which means you spend a lot of unpleasant time in these characters' heads.
Strangely, the novel picks up near the end, when the character study gives way to actual action. At the climax of the book, Mr. Hamilton shows us why he has sold books in the millions -- deftly weaving a tension-filled action scene that almost makes this one a worthwhile read. I regard this scene as the prize for having slogged through the rest of it! An interesting note is that the book was released in 2002 in Britain, but the hardcover I received (US edition) contained a note dated April 2008 saying that the text had been revised for this version. Evidently it could have done with some more revision.
As I said in the intro, I'd leave this one for Peter F. Hamilton's fans and people who want to complete the collection.
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