The Fall of Tartarus
(Gollancz, £6.99, 312 pages, paperback, published 14 April 2005.)
eight stories making up this collection are set mainly or wholly on
the world of Tartarus in the final years before a predicted supernova
obliterates the planet. This doom-laden climate saturates the stories
with a unified sense of tension.
One of Eric Brown's strengths is his simple plotting which relies much
on his characters' actions and feelings. His other main strength is
the innovative visualisation of his worlds which will appeal to fans
of sci fi.
His themes are powerful. Many of his characters are searching for long
lost members of their family or trying to escape from or come to terms
with a recent bereavement. The stories take the form of quests and the
impending supernova lends them a sense of urgency and makes Brown's
writing flow in a filmic way. In the first story, one of the best, a
young man visits Tartarus to search for evidence of his father who he
believes died there. He is drawn into a dangerous and thrilling maritime
chase and finally uncovers the evidence he is seeking in a surprising
and emotional twist.
Eric Brown's tendency to reveal major plot developments in sudden,
unexpected ways, puts great demands on his characters who often seem
overburdened with emotional dilemmas and I have a feeling that some
of these revelations would be better developed in the space of a novel.
Such might be the case with 'Vulpheous' a story in which a scientist
voyages to Tartarus in the last days before its destruction to obtain
the liver of a creature (the last in existence) which could be used
to cure a terminal disease only to discover that a girl he meets and
enters into a relationship with, is hoping to receive a cure from the
same creature in its living state. The tug-of-love situation has to
be resolved in the space of about three pages and I'm not sure Brown's
writing is best suited to this kind of abrupt conclusion.
In other stories, however, Brown's characters take charge of the stories
to create compelling entities. His varied cast includes scientists,
an artist, a naturalist and, my favourite, a black female journalist--an
orphan who has made good and sets out to trace a long-lost brother who
she finds has been taken in by an extreme religious sect. This story
manages to combine a sense of a child's day-to-day struggles in a familiar
setting on planet Earth with a fantasy space odyssey leading to a moving
Eric Brown is capable of transporting his reader with some fantastic
inventions: a train pulled by giant pterodactyl-like creatures and a
plant that produces growths that humans can sleep and make love in,
soothed by a narcotic balm. It's a bit of a shame, then, that some of
his creations fail to convince me: such as the rather leaden amphibious
'vulpheous' and the 'slarque', a race of devolved humans, which never
quite live up to their dreadful reputation. On the other hand, the winged
'messengers' are wonderfully evoked and make some of the most charming
Overall this is a very engaging and imaginative collection of stories
with some occasionally surprising moments of revelation for its characters.
As someone who is relatively new to science fiction, I have found this
an encouraging introduction to the genre and to this author's work.
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