01/08/2011. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 319 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907519-71-0.
check out websites: www.solarisbooks.com and www.ericbrown.co.uk
I’m a big fan of Eric Brown’s character-driven Science Fiction stories. ‘The Kings Of Eternity’ is the sixth of his novels that I have reviewed for SFCrowsnest. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the previous five. However, Brown has set the bar very high on this one. He says on his website that it has been a decade in the writing and that he thinks it’s his best novel yet. Is such an ambitious claim justified?
The book switches between two related stories. One is set in 1999 and concerns reclusive writer Daniel Langham. An author of respectable literary novels, he has tucked himself away on the Greek island of Kallithea to avoid the attention of journalists, fans and other people in general. When British artist Caroline Platt moves in nearby, his customary reluctance to get involved is soon overcome by the combination of her warm personality and extraordinary paintings. Could she be the person to bring him out of his self-imposed isolation? Just as Daniel considers lowering his emotional barriers, though, he is approached by a pushy journalist who accuses him of plagiarising his grandfather’s novels. Then Caroline falls seriously ill. As Daniel’s world starts to fall apart, he has to decide whether to run away from his problems as he’s done before or to confront them.
The other storyline starts sixty-four years earlier in 1935 and follows the fortunes of Jonathon Langham, Daniel’s grandfather, who is also a novelist. His world is turned upside down when he and Edward Vaughan, an author friend, spend a weekend at the country mansion of Jasper Carnegie, an editor they both work with. Jasper is keen to show them something and takes them into the woods, where an extraterrestrial portal appears. When a squat, rather ugly alien comes through the portal, closely pursued by two even uglier alien bounty hunters, Jonathon, Edward and Jasper are sucked into a galactic conflict which will have life-changing consequences for them all.
‘The Kings Of Eternity’ deals with several of Eric Brown’s signature issues. These include the interaction between writing and visual art, issues of life, death, love and betrayal and the impact on the human psyche of finding out that we are not the only intelligent beings in the universe. However, these ideas are woven into the story organically and never look like contrived additions. The decade that this story gestated in Brown’s imagination gets its pay-off right here.
For those who prefer their Science Fiction softer rather than harder, this is a novel to treasure. The plot may ultimately revolve around first contact with intelligent aliens but Brown uses this plotline to show us what it means to be truly human. If you’ve ever wanted to persuade a reluctant friend or relative that Science Fiction is not just for nerds, this could be the book to give them.
I enjoyed ‘The Kings Of Eternity’ enormously. The writing is confident and assured, driving the story forwards at a leisurely pace which allows Brown to explore his characters and their motivations. He uses telling details to bring the settings and time periods to life. Yet, throughout it all, his key focus is on the emotional lives of Jonathon, Daniel and the others. Several tragedies take place during the story. On each occasion, I found myself genuinely caught up in the emotions of the moment. I’m not sure I can ask any writer to do more than that.
There was only one part of the storyline that didn’t ring true for me. It concerns Daniel’s meeting, two-thirds of the way into the book, with his grandfather’s first love, Carla. The idea of this ninety-five year-old woman being lured out of retirement to make one final film, which just happens to shoot some scenes on Daniel’s island, allowing her to visit him at home, seemed a little on the far-fetched side. However, this is a minor element of the story and a minor gripe.
In conclusion, I think Eric Brown is justified in claiming that ‘The Kings Of Eternity’ is his greatest achievement to date. The novel is exciting, engaging and enjoyable. It is a wonderful homage to an earlier age of scientific romances and confirms Brown as one of British Science Fiction’s most natural and underrated storytellers.
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