I reviewed the first two novellas in Eric Brown’s ‘Telemass Quartet’ for SFCrowsnest a few months ago. ‘Reunion On Alpha Reticuli II’ is the third instalment in what has so far been a highly enjoyable SF romp. Can it keep up the momentum?
As with the earlier volumes, my copy of the novella came in the form of a collectible hardback which is beautifully bound and features another stunning wraparound cover image by artist Tomislav Tikulin. This time, the picture shows a succession of the kilometre high sky hotels that feature in the early chapters of the story.
Once again, the tale picks straight up from where we left our hero, Matt Hendrick, at the end of the previous volume. Matt arrives by telemass at the luxury resort world of Tourmaline, the second planet orbiting the double star system of Alpha Reticuli A and B. He is still trying to catch up with his ex-wife Maatje, her lover Dr. Hovarth and the cryo-pod they stole from him, which contains the perfectly preserved body of his and Maatje’s ten year-old daughter Samantha, who died from an alien virus several years earlier. Hendrick is a scientific rationalist, who thinks his daughter’s best chance lies with the medical profession back on Earth as and when they discover a cure for the alien virus. Maatje, on the other hand, is not prepared to wait, so is taking their daughter’s frozen body to any planet where there are rumours of aliens who can allegedly turn back time and cheat death.
Matt is approached by a freelance telepath called Vizzek who read his thoughts as he left the telemass station and felt sympathy for his plight. He tells Hendrick that he also read Maatje when she passed through the station the previous day and, for a fee, he will help Matt to find her. At a loss for any other firm leads, Hendrick doesn’t think twice but takes this stranger up on his offer immediately. A little later on, he also receives assistance from an attractive local woman called Mercury, whose interest in him seems to go beyond the merely professional.
In due course, Hendrick finds out that Maatje is trying to contact an insectoid alien species that can supposedly raise the dead. Can he catch up with her before she does anything precipitate with Samantha’s body?
Like a lot of Brown’s stories, ‘Reunion On Reticuli II’ explores the issues of death, redemption and resurrection. Here, he makes some interesting observations about the damage that can be done to those left behind when death intervenes suddenly, particularly if the grieving party or parties refuse to let go of the past. In addition, Brown sets up an entertaining verbal equivalent of a no-holds-barred fist fight between rigid scientific rationalism and a more spiritual view of the universe’s potential to surprise us.
Another thing I like about Brown’s books is that he never seems to get tired of inventing aliens. Even in this short novella, we get two new species: the Krinthians, who look like sea-elephants with far too many arms and legs and the Zuterainians, human-sized stick insects that wear suits. Each species is distinctly different from humanity or each other and they provide a great deal of the novelty and entertainment to be found in this book.
As with the first book in the series, my main gripe about this story concerns Matt Hendrick’s alleged ‘goodness’. We aren’t far into the book before yet another woman throws herself at him, sleeping with Matt at the first available opportunity because he’s such a ‘good’ man. However, readers see very little evidence of Hendrick’s moral rectitude because he is so single-mindedly fixated on getting his daughter’s body back from his ex-wife. It is, of course, entirely understandable that someone in that dreadful situation might well react in this way. Even so, I would have welcomed any incident, no matter how trivial, which showed Matt thinking about someone else’s interests for once. Without that, it’s difficult to understand why so many of the female characters seem to find him irresistible.
Overall, I thought this third outing for Matt Hendrick was both enjoyable and thought-provoking, putting him through the wringer once again and setting us up nicely for the series finale. I understand from a recent post on the author’s website that he will be writing the fourth novella fairly soon. I’ll be waiting.
27 January 2017
(pub: PS Publishing. 84 page novella hardback. Price: £15.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-848639-76-8)