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Parallax View by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown

Illustrations by Dominic E Harman. Sarob Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2000, 175 p

Parallax View cover

This is a collection of short stories, one each written by the individual authors, the remaining six in collaboration. Most of them I have read before on their first appearance.

In his introduction Stephen Baxter says “Science Fiction is the literature of our age….. one way of dealing with [future] shock… the only modern literature which deals seriously with the universe… as a protagonist,” but “the best Science Fiction is, was and always will be about the impact of the universe on the human soul.” All the stories herein illustrate that last point admirably.

Appassionata by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
In a time of little musical innovation a famous but lonely young pianist is contracted to help a composer improve his work. Unknown to her the composer’s personality has been imprinted with a simulation of Beethoven’s.

Sugar and Spice by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
A very human tale of loss, revenge and betrayal via the connection between two works of art related to each other through the nursery rhyme suggested by the story’s title.

A Prayer for the Dead by Eric Brown
This is possibly the best of Brown’s stories set on Tartarus, a tale of young love, tragedy and loss, and an enigmatic alien.

The Flight of the Oh Carollian by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
Julius Frayn is an hereditary fluxmaster capable of guiding ships along the Songlines through time and space generated by the callers of Cynthera. His son Sylvian has not inherited the trait. This one has “had rode” for “had ridden.”

Jurassic and the Great Tree by Keith Brooke
Jurassic is a disposable body inhabited by three personalities hired by an entrepreneur to investigate the reclusive humans called Burul’Chasi whose land he wishes to exploit. The Great Tree is the huge interlocking organism which dominates the Burul’Chasi’s territory. Contains the phrase, “The only Terran life…. are….”

Mind’s Eye by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
In a setting reminiscent of Brown’s Bengal Station but apparently not offshore, a girl from the lower levels comes up to Sundeck where she is befriended by a telepath on a mission.

Under Antares by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
Mackendrick is a former Planetary Overseer on Shannon’s Break, second planet of Antares. Six and a half years after his wife’s death as result of an entanglement with the local aliens, the Shandikar, he is called in as blood-tied-speaker when his son trespasses on one of the Shandikar’s holy sites. Dealing with both enigmatic aliens and religious practices, this story bears Brown’s hallmarks.

The Denebian Cycle by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
An exploration group on Deneb 5 is forced to trek north when their lander and food are destroyed in a forest fire caused by a lightning storm. The local vegetation is all but inedible. Eventually they come upon a stash of food left by the semi-sentient natives and then the natives themselves. Those familiar with John Wyndham’s Survival will not be surprised by the ending. Here there were three instances of the seconds/minutes later formulation, a persona non gratis, (which should be grata,) lay instead of laid as a perfect tense, and the authors felt it necessary to qualify “flayed” with the words “- skinned alive.”

Overall, though, a very good, very readable collection.

alt.human by Keith Brooke

Solaris, 2012, 414 p. (Published in the US and Canada as Harmony.)

In the city called Laverne humans are marginalised, subjected to the rule of aliens and their various underlings – chlicks, watchers, headclouds (with their assorted commensals,) grunts and slaves. Movement is restricted by a series of pass controls which can only be negotiated by having identifiers called pids in the bloodstream recognised and verified. Over Laverne hangs a skystation, a kind of spaceport controlled by a starsinger. These beings can manipulate reality (creating by singing or destroying by unsinging) and act as protectors of their cities.

Dodge is a member of the human clan Virtue. He has expertise in fooling the pass system with fake pids and chances upon Hope, a young girl who has no pids, using his ability to help to avoid her being detained at a checkpoint. Hope becomes central to the story’s resolution (rendering the programmatic nature of her name a touch heavy-handed.)

The narration is mainly first person from Dodge’s viewpoint but there are sections where he narrates other characters’ experiences in the third person. One of these is Hope, who has come to Laverne after her city Angiere was destroyed. Other escapees from Angiere warn that competing factions among the aliens mean that Laverne is unsafe and urge travelling on to the semi-mythical city of Harmony. Life in Laverne is shown in detail and depicted very well, the characters and their motivations entirely believable.

After the area of Laverne where Dodge lived has been unsung a small group of humans decides to move out of Laverne before the whole city is destroyed. They set off to try to find Harmony. The travelogue in this second section of the novel has moments which are reminiscent of a Wyndhamesque disaster story but in the end alt.human is not like that at all. For one thing it has a resolution.

The first part of the novel, set mostly in Laverne, the bulk of the book, feels as if Brooke had invested his heart and soul in it, it has characters who seem real and a just about believable setting. The two subsequent sections felt less convincing, but characterisation and its development wasn’t lacking.

Flesh & Blood by Nick Gifford

Puffin, 2004. 211p.

Nick Gifford is the name under which Keith Brooke writes fiction for young adults.

Matt Guilder finds out shortly after his grandmother dies that he is descended on his mother’s side from a long line of guardians of an interface between the normal world and Alternity, a place where dark forces lurk, eager to breach the gates and flood into the mundane world. His immersion into this long-standing struggle is precipitated by his parents’ break up and the subsequent move to live with his cousins near to the ancestral home, seat of the local transition point.

Even though the treatment is necessarily sketchy – the target audience doesn’t want to be bored, I suspect, and things move along swiftly – the author depicts his characters with skilful economy. We are given more than enough knowledge to understand their motivations despite there being nothing spare in the narrative. Nor is Matt free from doubts and fears.

This is young adult reading from which adults can also gain enjoyment.

The Accord by Keith Brooke

Solaris, 2009


Disclaimer:- Keith Brooke is another of my SF acquaintances and I’ve known him for years now. He even got me to review books for his SF site, Infinity Plus.

In this novel people can undergo periodic brain dumps which are then warehoused until the “owner” dies, when they are transferred into the Accord – a virtual heaven, a consensus reality, overwhelmingly real, almost indistinguishable from the true world, assembled from the minds of those who have died and been uploaded into it. Its creator, Noah Barakh, in the run up to the Accord achieving a kind of critical mass where it will become more or less fixed, can negotiate its protocols, run and rerun different realities. In the real world from which the dead came there is increasing chaos making the Accord a more and more attractive proposition to the living.

The book’s chapters are not numbered conventionally but rather as 0.01, 1.08 and 2.06 etc depending on which version of the Accord is being written about; its beginnings, its full consensus, and its final shift into quantum space where there are no Malthusian limits on its growth. This software type numbering is either amusing or irritating depending on your point of view.

As to the bare bones of the plot, Barakh has an affair with Priscilla, the wife of leading politician Jack Burnham, who finds out and kills Priscilla but Barakh gets the blame. Priscilla is reborn in the Accord from a brain dump taken before the affair happened. Barakh sets up offshoots of the Accord where he tries to rekindle the affair.

Very early on both Barakh and Burnham die in the real world. The rest of the novel – nearly all its 442 pages – is concerned with Burnham’s quest (with the help of other protocol adjustors) to track down Barakh in the Accord and eliminate his presence there completely, to prevent his affair with Priscilla.

I wasn’t entirely clear about just how the Accord “knew” when inhabitants of the real world had died and so were allowed to join but that is a minor quibble.

More philosophically, in fiction there is a problem with virtual heavens, with virtual environments of any sort. Their inhabitants are merely strings of ones and zeroes. Why should we care about what happens to them? This problem is greater with the Accord as when people “die” there they are reborn from their final brain dump – though with the memories they have gained in the Accord since their first uploading. In effect they are immortal.

This might have been an opportunity for Brooke to speculate about whether we in what we think of as the real world are ourselves merely numbers whirring around in a mainframe somewhere; but that is not his concern. Instead, he focuses on what such a form of immortality means for human behaviour. What is the nature of love and jealousy and revenge in these circumstances? The cleverness of his Accord idea is that it to its inhabitants it is so real that to all intents and purposes it feels like the actual world and hence the characters in it are also made real for us.

This is a complex, thought provoking book, with multiple narrators and shifts of tense. Literature tends to concern itself with love, sex and death. The Accord is about the possible consequences for “human” behaviour of removing one of that trinity.

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