PS Publishing, 2007
As a standard to aspire to this is aiming high. Coney is (or was; he died in 2005) one of my personal favourites among writers of SF. While never being too obvious about it Coney’s emphasis on characters has been followed by Brown throughout the latter’s career. In Starship Summer, explicit echoes of Coney abound. The story is clearly Brown’s, though, and not in any way a pastiche.
David Conway has moved to the planet Chalcedony to get over the death of his daughter for which he feels to blame. He buys a starship (which the man who sells it describes as being more like an atmospheric craft) from a scrapyard to use as a dwelling and is quickly drawn into the vendor’s social circle. The ship turns out to be “haunted” by a holographic projection of one of the Yall (aliens who originally built and operated the craft and who also erected the striking feature of Chalcedony, an enigmatic, towering Golden Column which has become the focus for pilgrims of various stripe.)
As this last implies Brown’s theme of religion is again to the fore, as is his fondness for characters with a past they are trying to escape, or an affliction that distances them from others, and (another Brown trope from his early career) we also have an artist with fading powers.
The book (a limited edition of 500) is sumptuously produced with its cover painting embedded into the (hard) binding. The spaceships depicted thereon do more resemble downed World War 2 bombers than the typical representation of interstellar voyagers. All is revealed, however, when Conway’s new home finally flies.
The spaceship scrapyard is an almost Ballardian touch – starships have been replaced for interstellar travel by Telemass, a technology akin to the SHIFT mechanism I deployed for the same purpose in A Son Of The Rock. (I merely make a comparison here. This sort of thing has become part of the tool kit SF writers can use to move characters across galaxies; I’m not suggesting Brown filched it from me. He has used a similar concept before.)
As is Brown’s wont, the focus is on the characters – the SF stuff is background, but background which heightens, and in one case alleviates, their dilemmas and problems. Yet there is still a large quantity of plot in the 120 pages.
I’m sure Brown won’t mind me saying he does not manage quite to achieve Coney’s sublime heights but Starship Summer is nevertheless a worthy effort.