01/06/2010. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Solaris/Rebellion. 414 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-84416-742-5.
check out websites: www.solarisbooks.com and www.ericbrown.co.uk
'Xenopath' is the second volume in Eric Brown's Science Fiction trilogy set on the Bengal Station spaceport, just above the Bay of Bengal. I reviewed the first volume, 'Necropath', last month.
The events in 'Xenopath' take place two years after the close of the previous book. During that time, Jeff Vaughan, the hard-bitten hero of the earlier story, has married Sukara, the teen-age former working girl who saved his life. He no longer works as a telepath but has a low-paid job refuelling space freighters. He is poor but happy.
However, when an old colleague gets back in touch, offering him a huge pay increase if he'll come and work for her as a telepathic private eye on contract to the police force, his desire to give his pregnant wife a better life overcomes his hatred of his previous career and signs up.
Vaughan's first case is a gruesome murder. The victim, an academic called Robert Kormier who specialised in the biology of alien species, has been chopped into four pieces by a hand-held laser. When Vaughan questions the man's widow, she reports that her husband had been a changed man since returning from a field trip to the colony planet Mallory. Vaughan's suspicions focus on the multi-national Scheering-Lassiter corporation, who own Mallory, paid for Kormier's field trip and refuse to answer any questions.
When a colleague of Kormier's is murdered in the same way, Vaughan knows he's on to something. Then the alleged murderer turns up, suicide note in hand and the police, backed up by a Scheering-Lassiter telepath, insist that the case is now closed. Vaughan, however, knows that the telepath was lying, as the body was too old to be able to read. He smells a rat, refuses to be paid off and travels to Mallory, on a voidship, so he can find out what it is about the alien species on Mallory that the corporation is trying to hide.
However, while Vaughan is seventy light-years away, Kormier's murderer is still on the loose back on Bengal Station, intent on clearing up loose ends. One such loose end is Vaughan and if he's not available, his pregnant wife will have to do...
'Xenopath' is a very enjoyable sequel to 'Necropath'. It develops the characters we met previously in interesting directions. The plot explores new areas of the world Brown has built, in particular the power of large corporations, while the setting of Bengal Station and several of the supporting cast provide valuable continuity.
There were three particular highlights for me. The first was Jeff Vaughan, whose character here develops radically from the cynical nihilist we met in 'Necropath'. His new-found optimism is a convincingly drawn testament to the transformative power of love and makes this a fundamentally uplifting book to read. At the same time, Brown doesn't pull his punches in showing the seamier side of life. Second, the murders and the murderer are portrayed with great realism, creating a deep feeling of dread at several points in the narrative. Third, Vaughan's encounter on Mallory with the aliens and with the human who is trying to protect them, displays once again Brown's impressive ability to show us life from a completely different perspective.
I did find one element of the story problematic, though. Without giving the entire game away, an important climax occurs late in the book when the murderer kills a key supporting character. I found this deeply affecting and looked forward to seeing how Brown would deal with the practical and emotional consequences of this event. I was therefore disappointed when he collapsed the tension he'd created, choosing instead to have the character miraculously resurrected by one of the aliens. This ability to cheat death had not been displayed by the aliens on any of the several previous occasions when it could have been very useful, so it did not ring true here.
However, in the final judgement the several high points in this well-written SF novel outweighed its one big flaw. 'Xenopath' is a great read and a worthy follow-on to 'Necropath'. It makes me eager to see how Eric Brown will bring the series to a conclusion in 'Cosmopath', which I will review here shortly.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA