Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Guest Post | The Walker of Worlds Guides Us Through the Work of Eric Brown

Methinks our next very important person needs no introduction.

Mark Chitty is a man among men, and a blogger – but of course – amongst bloggers. He established Walker of Worlds way back in 2007, and in my opinion the site's gone from strength to strength in the many years since. Of late, I dare say Mark’s been through the ringer a bit, so it says a lot about the gentleman that he still took the time to write up this unmissable introduction to the work of one Eric Brown... a personal favourite author of his, and mine.

Come to that, Mark Chitty is the whole
reason I read Eric Brown – if I recall correctly it was his inspiring review of Engineman which in turn inspired me to give the novel a shot, and I'm so glad I did – so it’s lovely, just lovely, to come full circle in this way.

And there’s much more to come! Mark went above and beyond when I asked him if he might be interested in contributing something to TSS while I was in the States... but I’m going to let him tell you all about what’s ahead of us.

For the very moment, over to you, good sir. :)


When Niall asked me if I'd like to contribute something to The Speculative Scotsman while he buggers off to the US (I'm not jealous, no way) I had to think for all of 5 seconds about what I could do. You see, Eric Brown is an author I've come to enjoy and admire for his stories. He writes science fiction, but not the sort you'd normally associate with the term. Yes, you've got spaceships, aliens, high technology, and all manner of other things you'd expect from a sci-fi novel, but he tells a human story that far outweighs and outshines the science side.

Starting with his first novel, Meridian Days (review), you see exactly what Eric Brown writes. It's a character focused novel set on another planet, very much on the lighter side of SF. While his second novel, Engineman, is more than that. It's very much a sci-fi novel with an intergalactic society and aliens, but again very character focused. Solaris re-issued this one a couple of years back with all but one of the Engineman short stories included (my review is here, while you can read Niall's here). We both liked it quite a lot, and I think it's a perfect starting place if you're new to Eric Brown's work, showing off his creativeness in both novel and short story form. Penumbra is another novel in the space opera vein and very much worth a read, again an ideal starting point.

Moving on to the Virex trilogy (New York Nights, New York Blues, and New York Dreams), and I'm afraid I can't say much here - I've not read them. Or at least, I've not read more than the first few chapters of New York Nights. So, check out the above links to the synopses. I can say that what I did read was interesting, though why I didn't progress is something I can't quite put my finger on. Anarchy Books have released the first and second as ebooks, and hopefully the third will follow shortly.

Before Eric moved to Solaris Books, Gollancz released a short story collection called The Fall of Tartarus. This is a collection of stories in a shared setting, the planet of Tartarus, whose sun is soon to go nova. It chronicles the last years of the planet through character focused short stories, each enjoyable, and is an interesting read - my full review is here.

It was when Eric moved to Solaris Books I really became aware of him. In fact, Helix was the first novel of his I read when it was released back in 2007. Admittedly I haven't read it again since (though I will do, what with the sequel, Helix Wars, due out later this year), and haven't actually reviewed it. I remember enjoying the combination of a crashed starship on a Big Dumb Object, the discoveries made on the Helix, and the alien races introduced - a space opera kind of novel. Others who have read it also enjoyed it, like Rob Bedford over at SFFWorld. That's a review worth reading!

Kéthani (review), much like The Fall of Tartarus, is a collection of short stories dealing with the peaceful coming of an alien race to Earth. However, the difference with this one is that includes some bridging scenes between stories that certainly help. I've actually just re-read Kéthani a couple of weeks back so it's fresh in my memory, and I still think it's one of the best things Eric has written. It does, however, depend on what you want out of the stories. It's not hard sci-fi, in fact it's barely sci-fi at all. Focusing on a small cast of characters, we see the arrival of the Kéthani through their eyes and the impact it has on their lives. While the idea behind the Kéthani is positive, not all the stories are, and the emotional effect their coming has is examined over a broad range of subjects.

I've thought long and hard about what my favourite book by Eric Brown is, and I couldn't narrow it down to just one, so I choose three - the Bengal Station trilogy (Necropath, Xenopath, and Cosmopath). A cop out? Maybe, but if you take nothing else away from this post, make sure you read these books. The character progression over the three books of the main protagonist, Jeff Vaughan, is one of the best pieces of characterisation I've read. The fact that the stories themselves are gripping, interesting, and very much SFnal, are simply a bonus. I'll direct you to my reviews of the books (here, here, and here), otherwise I'll just talk for hours about the awesomeness of the trilogy. READ THEM!! Oh, and you may come across a novel called Bengal Station – ignore it! It’s effectively Necropath, but an early version, and from Eric has told me in the past, Necropath is an expanded and improved version of Bengal Station.

Aside from the Virex trilogy, Guardians of the Phoenix is the only novel I haven’t read. I know the reason – I read the short story in the Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF that it was based on, and didn’t really enjoy it – but it sits on my shelf taunting me. I keep on meaning to get to it, but, unfortunately, Niall’s review hasn’t helped me getting around to picking it up.

And then to The Kings of Eternity. Well, if you want to try Eric Brown and don’t want to commit to more than one book, this is the one to choose. I’ve seen so many positive reviews of it around the net that I know my opinion, and Niall’s, aren’t just one-offs. It’s probably the best single work Eric has written and is completely engrossing. It’s a story with multiple levels told in different time periods, again very character focused, and it just works. And if you’re not usually an SF fan, this may change your mind, the sci-fi side is so light that you sometimes wonder whether it’s actually science fiction.

Other than novels, Eric Brown has written a fair amount of novellas and short stories. Approaching Omega (review) is a sci-fi/horror story, and while it was written before the film Pandorum, I can’t help but think of it every time I read the story. One of those things I suppose, but it’s still a good one. The others of his that I’ve read are the first two parts of his Starship series, Starship Summer (review) and Starship Fall. Both of these follow the same group of friends, and each is thoroughly enjoyable. They’re only the first two part of a quartet, with Starship Winter due out soon and the finale, Starship Spring, due next year. These are released through PS Publishing (well, Starship Fall was through NewCon Press), so not all that easy to get hold of due to the limited release, but it looks like they’re coming out in ebook form now, with a hardback collection of all four due next year. You can be sure I’ll have them on order ASAP! Some others he’s released, though I’ve yet to get hold of and read, are The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne, Gilbert and Edgar on Mars, and A Writer’s Life.

As for short stories, well, I doubt I’ll ever read all 114 Eric has listed on his website. But fortunately he’s released many collections, from the previously mentioned Kéthani and The Fall of Tartarus, through to others like The Time-Lapsed Man and Other Stories, Blue Shifting, Parallax View (with Keith Brooke), Deep Future, Threshold Shift, and The Angels of Life and Death. I’d expect to see more in the future, and I’d recommend any of these without hesitation. Eric Brown can write a damned good short story!

Eric has also ventured into children’s stories quite regularly, but these are ones I just haven’t got to. Maybe one day…

So, what else is there to say? Eric Brown is easily one of my favourite authors writing today, and not just in SF. His stories are so accessible to anyone afraid to try sci-fi, and so very readable. I think he’s one of the most underrated writers in the genre, and if you’ve yet to read anything by him I urge you to pick at least one of his novels up, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

And if you think that’s all, you’re wrong! Stay tuned as tomorrow there’ll be an interview with the man himself, with some tasty information about his upcoming novels…


And much more besides!

Thank you, Mark, for that excellent introduction to the work of Eric Brown. Dude's written a lot of books, so this post should be a huge help to anyone wondering where to start, or else which of his novels to pick up next.

I'll leave it at that for today, but do come on back to The Speculative Scotsman tommorrow, everyone, for a fascinating Q&A with the man - indeed the men - of the hour.

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