This is primarily a marketing device for one of Hamilton’s other books, Mindstar Rising, an excerpt from which constitutes about 2/3 of the book.
If at First is also included in some editions of The Evolutionary Void
If at First
Gene Wolfe introduces one of his stories (in The Best of Gene Wolfe) by suggesting that aspiring authors rewrite it in their own words. I haven’t read the The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction that this Hamilton story is drawn from, but I hope that rewriting stories by SF masters is its theme. The story is decent, but it is very reminiscent of a George Martin story (“Unsound Variations”, I think – Nebula nominee 1983), if not as well done. The concept is so very close that I couldn’t get Martin’s story out of my mind the whole way through, and Martin’s is simply better. I’m afraid I have to recommend reading that instead.
Since the novel excerpt was such a big part of this book, I felt I should say something about that as well. It’s a mildly interesting look at a future Earth that’s gone through upheaval in the form of rising oceans, cults, and socialist revolutions. In Britain, religious people (of all religions) live on kibbutzim. Some people have ESP. It’s a sort of post-not-quite-apocalyptic time. Unfortunately, I found the characters to be neither believable nor interesting.
All in all, I recommend letting this one go, even though it’s free. Hamilton has written some good stuff, but little of it is in here.