Monday, June 18, 2012

REVIEW: The Devil's Nebula (Weird Space) by Eric Brown

Title: The Devil's Nebula
Author: Eric Brown
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Abaddon Books (29 May 2012)
ISBN 10: 1781080232
ISBN 13: 978-1781080238
Copy: Sent by the publisher
Reviewer: Yagiz

Starship Captain Ed Carew leads a carefree life of smuggling, gun-running and other illicit pursuits in a far future ruled by the fascistic Expansion Authority. But when an Expansion judiciary ship captures Carew leaving the planet of Hesperides, an out-of-bounds world now governed by the fearsome Vetch extraterrestrials, Carew and his crew are sentenced to death...

Unless they agree to travel through Vetch territory in pursuit of a human vessel that set off for the Devil’s Nebula one hundred years ago. Why are the Expansion authorities so eager to track down the ship? Will Carew and co. survive the journey through Vetch territory? And what might they find when they arrive at the Devil’s Nebula?

The blend of science-fiction and horror/the unknown/the weird is one of my favourite subgenres in fiction books. Even in cinema, give me a movie like Ridley Scott's Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing and I would be glued to the screen. That's why I had been looking forward to Eric Brown's The Devil's Nebula. Not only because I love Eric Brown's work in general but also because The Devil's Nebula is the first book of a new series called Weird Space. This whole package offered a great promise.

The Devil's Nebula's setting is not revolutionary. You're definitely not going to need an advanced physics degree to grasp the concepts that Brown put in place. Two main parallel story threads tell us about The Paradoxical Poet's crew's adventures and the life on a distant planet focussed on a young girl called Maatja. I was glad that the author included various alien races in his book. There are also many points that are left underdeveloped. I'm hoping that those are extension points of Weird Space's shared world.

The main characters are the three-man crew of The Paradoxical Poet (with an emphasis on Captain Ed Carew and Pilot Lania Takiomar) and a young girl called Maatja. And not surprisingly, two main parallel story threads follow the trio and Maatja separately. To tell you the truth I was not fully satisfied with the character development. Definitely not to the extend to dislike the book but I expected that Brown would (and I know he could) develop some parts better.

Maybe my previous complaint is also related to the size of the book. The Devil's Nebula is a short book. I would have enjoyed more if the book were thicker. The reader is left with the impression that the setting allowed much more, which is a good thing for the series. However I admit that a book slightly less than 300 pages is also a good fit for someone looking for a quick and captivating read.

One of the special points of the story is the connection bdtween the pilot and her spaceship. The author makes allusions to (or at least I was reminded of) one of his earlier books called Engineman. I remember that, when I was reading Engineman, I was impressed with the connection Brown imagined between a human being and an intelligent ship. The connection was so overwhelming that it was the most important thing in a pilot's life. In The Devil's Nebula, a pilot's experience is not at the level of reaching Nirvana however I still loved the idea of a pilot's conscience becoming part of the ship. Furthermore I find it much more realistic than a pilot holding a joystick.

Another interesting point of this series is that Weird Space is a shared world created by Eric Brown. I am really curious to see who will be contributing to the series and where they will take us. We already know about the second instalment of the series. It is written by Eric Brown as well and it is called Satan's Reach. It is due for release in the summer of 2013. And it sounds like we are going to know more about the Vetch Empire. Here's what the author said about his upcoming book:

"I'm excited about doing the second book in the Weird Space series - a seat-of-the-pants adventure entitled Satan’s Reach about a telepath on the run from the Expansion authorities and the bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to get him - and what they find on a far-flung planet in the badlands of Satan's Reach. It's space opera with the emphasis on starships, aliens, exotic worlds - and the perennial threat from the Weird."

And here's some blurb:

Den Harper is a telepath on the run from the Expansion authorities, and Sharl Janaker the bounty hunter chasing him across badlands of Satan’s Reach.
On a far-flung planet in the reach they must set aside their mutual enmity and face a foe that threatens not only the colonists of the Reach, but the entirety of the Expansion beyond.

On the one hand, I'm a little disappointed that Ed and Lania won't have a place (at least not a central one) in Satan's Reach. On the other hand, it is important for the future of the series to create a setting that goes beyond the stories of a few people.

To tell you the truth, I had high expectations about Eric Brown's new book The Devil's Nebula, the first book of the Weird Space series. And starting a book with high expectations is something that I've been trying to avoid. But fortunately The Devil's Nebula lived up to my expectations. I really liked its story and the way it is delivered. I'm looking forward to Satan's Reach

Plot: ............. 8
Characters: ... 7
Style: ............ 8

Overall: ....... 8.5/10