Binary System by Eric Brown

Solaris, 2017, 334 p. (Binary © 2016; System © 2017.)

 Binary System cover

After the Pride of Amsterdam explodes on entering the Lunar quantum lattice wormhole Cordelia Kemp finds herself shunted ten thousand light years from Earth, with only an escape pod and her implant technology (Imp) for company. Much against the odds there is a solar system nearby with a planet capable of supporting life. While descending its atmosphere the pod is shot down and Delia is soon confronted by intelligent life-forms. The locust-like Skelt turn out to be inimical, having invaded from space centuries before and conquered most of the lands of the indigenous intelligent species on what Delia learns is named Lavinda, a planet with an elongated orbit now arcing into its short summer near one of the binary system’s stars. The Vo appear like giant spider crabs and are used as beasts of burden and mounts, while the Fahran are blue-furred simian analogues allotted menial tasks. The Skelt, though lightning fast in movement, have degenerated since their conquest and no longer have space-faring capability, being now armed with only swords and crossbows. They are however in quest of technology to restore them to their former glories. Delia’s Imp is able to analyse and decipher the alien languages and so provide translation services.

With the help of Mahn, a Fahran slave, Delia escapes the Skelt and learns a little about the Fahran religion. Unusually in a Brown story this has not originated in deep time but is a recent development. Their God, Chalto, is due to rise again at the height of summer. They set out for the site of the ceremony. Along the way they travel in a gallia pod through the hundreds of kilometre long digestive system of a summer worm, and on emergence save, from a carnivorous creature known as a ghorn, a Vo called Var and are joined by it in their trek, are borne aloft by Yarm, a kind of airborne jellyfish attracted by music, and encounter Skelt patrols, while a con-trail in the sky suggests another escape craft avoided the destruction of The Pride of Amsterdam, necessitating a detour to that craft’s landing site.

Plenty of plot and incident to be going on with then, with Brown’s inventiveness and descriptive powers well to the fore alongside his facility for delving into human nature.

The unrolling of all this, the foreshadowing of the nature of the Fahran God, the suspicion that Delia’s arrival on Lavinda was not entirely coincidental are prompts to keep reading on. Brown knows how to tell a story. If I have quibbles about Binary System they encompass the rather retro feel of the ending and that the action sequences, the conflict with the Skelt, are somewhat at odds with other aspects of the narrative. But that last is the nature of the space adventure game.

Pedant’s corner:- las (last: this was on the first page, the author pointed it out to me himself and swears it was correct in the proofs so it must have been introduced between then and the print stage. Ah well, that’s publishing for you. It looks to me like they’ve cut the “t” to preserve the line’s length.) Otherwise; “do the math” (I prefer maths,) “that shrunk to fit her” (shrank,) “going on what I have observed” (going by,) “with what he have observed” (what we have,) an upside down apostrophe, ʻ, (for a normal one, ’,) griped (gripped,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth, several instances,) under the yolk (yoke.) “The air on the pod” (in the pod,) “with a multitude rivers” (multitude of rivers,) “around the witness the festivities” (around to witness,) “No other species on Valinda possess the technology” (possesses,) miniscule (minuscule,) discoloration, (I prefer disclouration.) “‘where the line of pharl trees grow’” (where the line grows,) “connecting the highland to the plain” (high land?) “The South Africa” (South African,) “…sporting occasional multi-coloured blooms. The Skelt rattled its jaws and again” (no “and”,) “‘there were so may of the damned things’” (many,) “having drank their fill” (drunk,) “lay them end to end” (laid,) exaltedness (exaltation,) “gave of a heady scent” (off,) jerry-rig (jury-rig,) “the only sound her breathing and the skitter of Var’s claws” (that’ll be sounds, then,) “there were even a line of” (there was a line.)
“Time interval” later; 22: “in/for/within/after x seconds/minutes”; 7: minutes ago 2: ¨x seconds elapsed” 1.


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