Over the years, I’ve reviewed quite a few of Eric Brown’s novels for SFCrowsnest. He doesn’t just write novels though. In addition to lots of short stories, Brown has published a number of novellas, many through the specialist genre imprint, PS Publishing. The most recent of these forms a series called ‘The Telemass Quartet’. The first three volumes are currently out and I thought it might be interesting to review them one at a time over the coming months, to see what Brown’s writing is like at this intermediate length.
Before considering the text, I first have to pay tribute to PS Publishing for the quality of the book itself. It’s an object of beauty, partly because of the high production quality and partly due to the gorgeous wraparound cover image by Tomislav Tikulin, which features not only on the dust jacket but on the book’s front and back covers, too. I should note that an eBook version is also available for a much lower price. However, if you are a book collector, this novella is well worth a look.
Part One of ‘The Telemass Quartet’ is called ‘Famadihana On Fomalhaut IV’, which is a bit of a mouthful. It is set several centuries in humanity’s future, after the invention of the telemass, a long-range version of the transporter in ‘Star Trek’, has revolutionised mankind’s ability to expand outwards throughout the galaxy. The story follows the adventures of former cop, Matt Hendrick, as he tries to track down his ex-wife Maatje and her lover, a doctor called Emanuel Hovarth, in order to recover something very precious that they have stolen from him.
Following some information he’s received, Matt telemasses twenty-five light years from Earth to the fourth planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut. The planet is known by the human colonists as Avoeli, named after the dominant indigenous life-forms, human-sized intelligent and peaceful frogs. Luckily for Matt, one of the staff at the telemass station, a young woman called Tiana Tandra, takes a shine to him. When he sees her again in a bar that evening, she confirms that Maatje and Hovarth arrived on the planet a day ahead of him, then she seduces Matt. When he wakes up in the middle of the night to Tiana’s sobs, Matt finds out that, like him, she is searching for someone.
As he and Tiana travel deep into the planet’s less explored regions, it becomes clear that their quests are united by a common factor, the religion of the Avoeli, which includes rituals that can allegedly lead to the resurrection of the dead. Both fear that those they are seeking may have got involved with a human cult that is trying to turn the aliens’ religious practices to their own advantage. Can Matt and Tiana catch up with them before something awful happens?
If I had to find fault, I’d say that there’s a slight disconnect between how most of the characters view Matt Hendrick and how he, at times, behaves. Tiana repeatedly praises him as a good man and clearly falls in love with him on this basis. Although her assessment is broadly true, Matt can also occasionally be moody, vindictive and arrogant, particularly when dealing with his ex-wife or with anyone else who doesn’t share his belief system. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the fact that Matt is a three-dimensional, fully-realised character with weaknesses as well as strengths, I just wish that his faults were acknowledged a little more frequently, both by his admirers and by himself.
On the other hand, there’s a lot to enjoy here. In addition to an interesting cast of characters, I loved the planet of Formalhaut IV. It provides a fascinating backdrop to the story, offering up an intriguing alien species with a complex social and religious life and some awesome settings for the action. Brown uses all of this set-up to explore some of the largest issues that face any of us, namely life, death and the possibility of resurrection. The fact that he does so successfully in the context of a brief adventure story which can be read in a single sitting is a testament to his abilities as a storyteller.
‘Famadihana On Formalhaut IV’ provides an exciting introduction to ‘The Telemass Quartet’. Matt’s adventures on Avoeli are short but hugely enjoyable and the story’s conclusion sets us up nicely for a sequel in Part Two of the series, ‘Sacrifice On Spica III’. I’m looking forward to it.
(pub: PS Publishing. 84 page novella hardback. Price: £12.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-848637-61-0. Ebook: Price: £ 3.83 (UK))