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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Eric Brown


Earlier this year I reread, for perhaps the tenth time, “Hello Summer Goodbye” by the unjustly neglected
Michael G. Coney. First published in 1975, it tells the story of Drove and Pallahaxi-Browneyes on a distant alien world. They are not human, but stilk, a humanoid race. In a short prefatory note to the novel, Coney says: “I have assumed my aliens to be humanoid and, being humanoid, to be subject to human emotions and frailties. I have assumed their civilisation to be at the stage of development approximate to our year 1875…” The planet undergoes long periods of summer and a winter lasting some forty years, and is made real by some brilliant world-building: the tidal effect of the grume, at which time the sea water thickens; ice-devils which inhabit tidal pools and have the ability to freeze the water when prey enters the pool; and the lorin, the pacific, furry co-habitees of the planet, with whom the destiny of the stilk is inextricably linked. To quote Coney's introduction again: “This is a love story, and a war story, and a science-fiction story, and more besides.” It is also Coney's finest intermeshing of character, incident and event; a sensitive account of growing up and the experience of first love, with one of the finest endings in modern SF.

An excellent collection I read last month is: “The Turing Test” by
Chris Beckett. He's not as well known or as recognized as he should be; he's one of the best SF short story writers in the business. He's preoccupied with questions of identity and self-perception. His characters are forever questioning notions of themselves and their place in reality. His strength is delineating the psychology of the outsider, and depicting artificial intelligence and humanity's relation to it. The collection's high point is in the stunning “Karel's Prayer”, a Dickian homage about self-perception, the notion of reality and religious belief. Al Reynolds states in his insightful introduction that Beckett should “be on the radar of anyone who professes concern for science fiction as a literary form.”

Another good one was “Stealing Light” by
Gary Gibson. It features Dakota Merrick who, framed for destroying a populated asteroid belonging to a murderous criminal, is forced to take the only escape route available, working as a pilot for the Freehold as they attempt to raise a derelict faster-than-light vessel. The problem is that the alien Shoal control the secret of 'transluminal flight', and proscribe humanity from using it. Gibson takes us through a series of conceptual breakthroughs, each revealed scenario raising the stakes and expanding the sense of wonder, as feisty Dakota is by turns shown as a puppet used by malign forces and as the mistress of her own destiny. It's a satisfying wide-screen epic in the tradition of (Peter F.) Hamilton and (Stephen) Baxter, from an up and coming Scottish writer.


Seeds of Earth” by
Michael Cobley. UK Release Date: March 5, 2009. Published by Orbit Books.
The Accord” by
Keith Brooke. Release Date: February 24, 2009. Published by Solaris.
Ark” by
Stephen Baxter. UK Release Date: September 17, 2009. Published by Gollancz.
Marcher” by
Chris Beckett. UK Release Date: January 1, 2009. Published by Dorchester.


Eric Brown has been a published writer since 1987 with an extensive bibliography that features several novels, five novellas, and seven children’s books as well as over eighty short stories which have won the author two British Science Fiction Awards. His latest works include “Starship Summer” (
PS Publishing), “Helix” (Solaris Books) and “Necropath”, Book One of The Bengal Station Trilogy. Eric also writes a monthly SF review column for The Guardian. Upcoming releases include the second Bengal Station novel, “Xenopath” (June 2009). For more information, please visit the author’s Official Website.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index HERE.



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