On Arcturus VII by Eric Brown

NewCon Press, 2021, 101 p.

This novella is set in Brown’s “Telemass” universe, of which I have read the four original novellas but not yet Telemass Coda, though it’s on my shelves

Here, former spaceship pilot Jon James is approached by shady businessman Santor Vakhodia to return to Arcturus VII (aka Pharantara,) the planet on which James’s lover Solange Delacroix had died. That expedition’s finding of sentient life on Pharantara had since led to it being interdicted but Vakhodia tells James that the Persephone, one of the pre-Telemass technology and so superseded suspended animation ships, has crashed on Arcturus VII with his great-great-great grandfather on it, a man whom Vakhodia wishes to thank for setting up the family business. Vakhodia offers James various incentives to join him but Jon’s acceptance is to prevent Vakhodia hiring anybody else for the job since there is a secret about Pharantara that he would like kept. His only condition is that he be accompanied by Octavia Carrera, one of his companions on the previous mission.

On the trip Vakhodia takes along his assistant Šarović and a Voronian bodyguard named Stent. Voronians have immense strength but unfortunate body odours. Carrera and James wonder if Vakhodia’s ostensible reason to visit Arcturus VII is true or merely a cover and if in fact he has permission to land, suspicions strengthened by their smallship landing well away from the Persephone crash site, necessitating an arduous land journey by tracked crawler to the downed ship.

This does though give Brown the opportunity to describe the profusion and fecundity of life on the planet and an incident which illuminates James’s sense of guilt at Solange Delacroix’s death as well as to reveal the special nature of Pharantara’s sentient inhabitants.

This is the author doing what he does best. It’s a solid tale with a good man at its heart, a baddy with hidden motives, action sequences in an exotic location and enigmatic aliens.

Pedant’s corner:- “Time interval later” (or equivalent) count; 10. Otherwise; “the full story what happened there” (story of what happened there,) “‘I’m taking the Telemass relay from here to Néos Kyrenia is here hours’” (in three hours?) “a ivory giant” (an ivory giant,) “the arrival’s lounge” (arrivals lounge,) “the planet had been a little further way from its primary” (away from.) “Was he privy the confidential report” (privy to the confidential report,) “‘the effect of hid pheromones. When a Voronian senses danger, they can instantaneously increase its production, and its potency’” (pheromones is plural; therefore ‘their production, and their potency’,) “lashing out at his erstwhile binds” (bonds; or, bindings,) “I just hope that” (the rest of the sentence is in past tense; so, ‘I just hoped that’,) “Vegetable life proliferated here” (plant life, surely,) “twice as tall as man” (as a man,) “trying to asses me” (assess,) “cagey” (usually ‘cagy’,) “observer would have put then at” (put them at,) “richochetted” (I prefer richoceted but apparently ricochetted is an acceptable alternative.)

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