‘Sacrifice On Spica III’ is the second novella in Eric Brown’s ‘Telemass Quartet’, following on from ‘Famadihana On Fomalhaut IV’, which I reviewed here in August. Like its predecessor, the hardback is a gorgeous collectible. It is beautifully bound and features an arresting wraparound cover image by Tomislav Tikulin of a train thundering away from a futuristic city, while sculpted mountains of ice sit threateningly in the background. However, if you’re not a book collector, the story is also available at lower cost as an eBook.
The story picks up immediately after the conclusion of the previous volume, with Matt Hendrick sitting in the Telemass Station in Paris, waiting to be translated instantaneously across 260 light years to Kallithea, the third planet orbiting the twin stars known on Earth as Spica. He is headed there in hot pursuit of his ex-wife, Maatje; her lover Dr Hovarth and the body of his dead daughter, Samantha, kept in a cryostasis pod in the hope of finding a cure for the virus that killed her. Maatje stole Samantha’s body from Matt and appears to be taking it to any planet where there is a rumour of something that might bring Samantha back from the dead.
Matt thinks he’s got Maatje squarely in his sights. Kallithea has a very elongated orbit around the two stars at the centre of its system, leading to the planet having an intensely hot summer for six months, followed by a five year winter, where the surface gets so cold that the indigenous primitive humanoids, called the Marl, move to underground caves for the duration. The winter is just about to start and there will only be two more telemass transmissions leaving Kallithea before everything on the surface shuts down for five years. Matt is convinced that his ex-wife is not intending to over-winter there, so he plans to stake out the Telemass Station and catch Maatje on whichever of those two occasions she tries to leave the planet.
As he’s waiting to start his journey, Matt is surprised by the arrival of an old colleague and friend of his. Ed Miller and he worked together in the Dutch Police’s missing persons bureau twenty years ago. However, Ed later transferred to homicide and was nearly killed by a terrorist bomb some years later. Matt was aware of his friend’s fate, but hasn’t seen him since. Ed tells Matt that he’s travelling to Kallithea in pursuit of a murder suspect. When Matt hears the details of the case, once they’ve arrived at their destination, it rakes up painful memories of his past. Given that he’s got nothing to do until the next telemass transmission back to Earth in six days time, he becomes Ed’s unofficial deputy on the murder case.
As if all that wasn’t enough to keep Matt and Ed busy, the nihilistic activities of a local religious cult attract their attention as soon as they arrive, making them wonder what kind of madhouse they’ve arrived at. Is the cult relevant to either Matt or Ed’s quests? Regardless of that, will they be able to find the people they’re looking for before winter arrives?
I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced adventure. One small thing bothered me and that was the number of rather unlikely coincidences involved in the plot. It’s not unusual for a story to rely on an initial coincidence to get things going. However, this novella includes four such oddities. I won’t outline them all as it would spoil the plot for would-be readers. Perhaps it’s best to simply see them as necessities for the evolution of the story and not worry too much about the likelihood of them all happening to the same person.
That minor gripe aside though, the second book in ‘The Telemass Quartet’ combines several elements into a satisfying whole. The ice planet of Kallithea is depicted in stunning detail, while the activities of the local religious cult bring some difficult ethical issues to the forefront of the story. Both Matt and Ed come across as decent people trying to do the right thing, which makes you want to side with them from the start and the story is sufficiently filled with incident to keep any reader entertained throughout.
‘Sacrifice On Spica III’ may only be an eighty page novella but Eric Brown manages to pack an awful lot of action into that short span. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to seeing where he takes the series in its third outing.
(pub: PS Publishing, 80 page hardback novella. Price: £12.00 (UK) ISBN: 978-1-848637-89-4)