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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Discussion of Three 2011 SF Releases by UK Authors: Eric Brown, Neal Asher and Ian Whates (By Liviu Suciu)

Since I am trying to showcase as many 2011 interesting books of various kinds as I can, but the number of full reviews I can do is limited, it is inevitable that some books won't receive as complete coverage as I wish. I keep the continually updated post with 2011 books read HERE, and from time to time I will have shorter discussions of various books.

Here I will talk about three 2011 releases from UK authors, all sf adventures with some space opera component.


The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown is a novel that had a very tempting blurb I will present below. However my experience with Eric Brown's work has been mixed at best - years ago I liked Penumbra a lot, while more recently I mostly liked Helix, but was meh on Necropath and sequels and I thought that the recent release of Engineman was badly dated and parochial to boot - so I did not pay close attention to it until several very enthusiastic reviews decided me to get it.

1999, on the threshold of a new millennium, the novelist Daniel Langham lives a reclusive life on an idyllic Greek island, hiding away from humanity and the events of the past. All that changes, however, when he meets artist Caroline Platt and finds himself falling in love. But what is his secret, and what are the horrors that haunt him? 1935. Writer Jonathon Langham and Edward Vaughan are summoned from London by their editor friend Jasper Carnegie to help investigate strange goings on in Hopton Wood. What they discover there – no less than a strange creature from another world – will change their lives for ever. What they become, and their link to the novelist of the future, is the subject of Eric Brown’s most ambitious novel to date. Almost ten years in the writing, The Kings of Eternity is a novel of vast scope and depth, full of the staple tropes of the genre and yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love.

The Kings of Eternity is the kind of book that needed a different publisher since with the right marketing - release at least as a tpb if not a hc, easy availability in stores and placement in the fiction shelves rather than sf the way I saw Map of Time which is not as good as this one but made a lot of splash - this is a book that could have The Time Traveller's Wife appeal and success. Reclusive writers, tragic romances, artists, Greece, a great premise for the sf newbie and excellent writing make the right combination for that.

Sadly The Kings of Eternity seems to have been very little promoted and here in the US it has not been easily available in stores, so I suspect it will be quickly forgotten, while books like the ones mentioned above will still be out there and people won't know what they miss...

This being said, as a sf novel there are some drawbacks - the story is one I read for the 100th time so I could predict it in general lines very early, the sf content is pure 30's pulp - ray guns and all - and the book verges on solipsism on occasion. The biggest failing though was the complete seriousness the sfnal part is taken: inserting enough ambiguity to make one wonder if the aliens and all are real or everything comes from the delusions of the narrator would have raised the novel to a masterpiece of sf.

All in all The Kings of Eternity (A+) is a very good book, highly recommended and one that should appeal a lot to sf newbies and show them why the genre is so well loved by its fans.


The Departure by Neal Asher has been a highly awaited novel since I am a huge fan of the author and usually his books make my top 25 list like last year's superb The Technician. Not only that but it was billed as the start of his Owner series from which several earlier novellas promised so much.

Visible in the night sky the Argus Station, its twin smelting plants like glowing eyes, looks down on nightmare Earth. From Argus the Committee keep an oppressive control: citizens are watched by cams systems and political officers, it's a world inhabited by shepherds, reader guns, razor birds and the brutal Inspectorate with its white tiled cells and pain inducers.

Soon the Committee will have the power to edit human minds, but not yet, twelve billion human being need to die before Earth can be stabilized, but by turning large portions of Earth into concentration camps this is achievable, especially when the Argus satellite laser network comes fully online . . .

This is the world Alan Saul wakes to in his crate on the conveyor to the Calais incinerator. How he got there he does not know, but he does remember the pain and the face of his interrogator. Informed by Janus, through the hardware implanted in his skull, about the world as it is now Saul is determined to destroy it, just as soon as he has found out who he was, and killed his interrogator . . .

The Departure is a book of two halves; a very good first half and an unimaginative and mostly boring second half where only Neal Asher's explosive style and his take-no-prisoners attitude towards modern liberal pieties kept me entertained and interested.

On the other hand as a series debut it is also a setup novel to some extent, but still the second half could have been compressed a lot imho to read as a sf novel not as a standard thriller with cool toys.

I wanted to do a longer review of The Departure (B) but I realized that there is not much more to be said since outside the non-stop action that starts to verge on farce in the second half there is little else; some called this book Neal Asher's take on James Bond and while there is some truth to it, I expected so much more from the Owner series based on those novellas and I hope the author will deliver in the next installment.

I also think that starting the series with that second book while presenting the events here in maybe 100 pages would have led to a strong beginning...


The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates is the sequel to the surprisingly good The Noise Within, and I had quite high expectations. However the early reviews were mixed at best so it took me a while to get the novel since based on those, the book moved lower on my priority list; sadly those reviews turned out to be accurate...

A time of flux, a time of change… While mankind is adjusting to its first ever encounter with an alien civilisation – the Byrzaens – black ops specialist Jim Leyton reluctantly allies himself with the mysterious habitat in order to rescue the woman he loves. This brings him into direct conflict with his former employers: the United League of Allied Worlds government. Scientist and businessman Philip Kaufman is fast discovering there is more to the virtual world than he ever realised. Yet it soon becomes clear that all is not well within the realm of Virtuality. Truth is hidden beneath lies and there are games being played, deadly games with far reaching consequences. Both men begin to suspect that the much heralded ‘First Contact’ is anything but first contact, and that a sinister con is being perpetrated with the whole of humankind as the victim. Now all they have to do is prove it.

After the surprisingly good The Noise Within, the duology ending The Noise Revealed was disappointing; there were few if any surprises, the good guys were penciled in and the bad guys started wearing "villain hats" and essentially all the intriguing and mysterious things in the debut turned out to go nowhere or just be standard genre stuff I've seen countless times.

The Noise Revealed (C) flows well and the pages turn easily so I finished it quick but more from a sense of duty - to dot the i's and cross the t's so to speak - than from interest or entertainment value. This novel is another example of how easy is to set up interesting things and how tricky is to keep them so.


Jamie Gibbs said...

I've Neal Asher's Departure on my shelf but I have no desire to read it at all. It takes a look to get me to pick up a sci-fi novel. I'm not that much more inclined to read it from your review :P

Liviu said...

If you are a big fan of Neal Asher or you like the James Bond kind of book, mindless non-stop action, I would recommend the book, but otherwise I agree it was not what was promised


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