Deep Future

deepfuture-demoDeep Future, my collection first published by Cosmos/Wildside back in 2001, is now available from infinity plus books, Amazon UK, and Amazon US.

It contains ten stories, among which are a few of my favourites: “The Miracle at Kallithea”, an unabashedly romantic tale about an artist on a Greek island, his grief for his dead daughter, and the scientist who offers the hope of bringing her back to life – after a fashion… Also set on a Greek island is “The Kings of Eternity”, the short story, first published in SF Age in 2000, which inspired the novel of the same title. It’s about an immortal man, and how he became immortal, and much more. “Deep Future” is unusual in that I don’t write many far, far future tales: this one is about a time, one billion years from now, when crab-like creatures are the dominant life-form on Earth.

From Keith Brooke’s introduction:

I first became aware of Eric’s work in the late 1980s when a mutual friend, the novelist Mike Cobley, mentioned Eric Brown among a few writers to watch. I sought out his early stories and was hooked – by the plotting and craft but, more than anything, by the deep compassion in the writing.

Those familiar with Eric’s work know that he is a writer who revisits and explores certain themes and moods: longing, loss, redemption; the lingering effects of events long past; the power of art to give life meaning; the quest for love and the questioning of love. This exploration and re-exploration gives his work tremendous resonance, unifying apparently disparate stories into a fictional universe that is as distinctive as any operating in the field of science fiction today.

In this collection you will find stories that range from the Victorian past to the far, far future, varying in setting from Eric’s native Yorkshire to Greece, Asia and the far-flung planets of his imagination. You will find a colourful, atmospheric travel story, which also happens to feature first contact; a gentle and poignant love story that happens to be set in virtual reality; alien structures looming on the horizon of a wintery, near-future Yorkshire. You will find all the trappings of both modern and traditional science fiction, but always it is their effect and impact on the characters that is paramount, not the exploration of neat ideas for their own sake.

None of this should be taken to imply that the science-fictional elements are incidental in Eric’s work: they’re not; the stories twist and turn and burst with ideas as does the very best SF. The point I labour to make is that these are real and humane stories that contain far more than just aliens and telepaths and fancy rocketships.

 

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The Telemass Quartet

famadihana-on-fomalhaut-iv-signed-jhc-eric-brown-2075-pThe second volume of the Telemass Quartet, Sacrifice of Spica III, is due out soon from PS Publishing.

I’ve lived with the Telemass future for around thirty-five years.

I wrote my first Telemass novel when I was nineteen, a weak effort of forty thousand words; the only decent thing about it was the idea of interstellar expansion linked by vast Telemass Stations, able to beam things – people and products – from star to star. In the ’80s I wrote four novels set in this milieu; these were a little better than the first effort, but not much. I wrote a few stories set in the Telemass universe, and then some of them started selling. Meridian Days, my first novel published in 1992, used the idea – but set at the end of the days of Telemass Stations, when it was becoming no longer financially viable to maintain thousands of stations strung out through the Expansion.

Then, around 2005, I had an idea for a series of novellas set in the Telemass universe – these were inspired by a few stories I wrote about Dan Henderson and his life in the coastal town of Magenta Bay, Delta Pavonis. I kept the town for the novellas, changed the name of the planet and its star, and got rid of Henderson. The first novella, Starship Summer, came out in 2007 from PS Publishing, followed in turn by Starship Fall, Starship Winter and Starship Spring. They are what I call Quiet SF, following the lives of a group of friends on the backwater world of Chalcedony and the universe-changing events that sweep them up.

The series sold well, and last year Pete Crowther at PS Publishing asked if I had any ideas for a further quartet of novellas.

I wanted to write more stories set in the Telemass Universe, but before the time of the Starship novellas. These would follow the format of the Starship tales: each would be independent of the rest, but, taken as a whole, they’d read as a novel, following the same character through a series of events, each novella set on a different colony world.

The first volume, Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV, came out from PS this year. Matt Hendrick is a Dutch ex-cop attempting to track down his daughter and wife, who are on the run from world to world. The twist is that his daughter is dead, kept in a suspended animation pod against the day when the disease that killed her might be cured. His ex-wife has run away with a lover, and the novellas track Hendrick’s progress around the Expansion; he meets weird and wonderful people, aliens, and customs along the way, and find himself in various adventures.

In Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV, he becomes involved with a strange religious cult which seeks to raise the dead through a bizarre alien burial rite. (Famadihana is the Malagasy practise of digging up the bone of ancestors and parading with them around the streets every seven years.) His wife has became entangled with the cult, and Hendrick follows them deep into the alien jungle, and then underground, in a bid to save his daughter.

SPICA-III-coverThe second novella, Sacrifice on Spica III , follows him from Fomalhaut IV to the world of Kallithea, Spica III, to which his ex-wife, lover and daughter have fled. He here becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving an old lover, and a suicidal cult founded by the messianic Cavendish Sagar.

Each novella, as well as taking Hendrick to an exotic world, will pitch him into a different adventure and delve, along the way, into his past and what made him the person he is. Each will be stand-alone, a complete story in itself but, taken as a whole when published by PS in a single volume, will read as a novel.

I’ve recently completed the second draft of the third novella, Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II, set on the world of Tourmaline. Here, as the title suggests, Hendrick is reunited at last with his daughter as he attempts to prevent her falling into the hands of an alien faith healer. Along the way Hendrick falls in with – and falls in love with – the telepath Mercury Velasquez, who will assist him on Tourmaline and his final destination.

The final novella is still the germ of an idea in my head; but it will be a story of redemption and triumph set on another exotic colony world… and, yes – it will have another suitably over-the-top, alliterative title.

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Recent Projects

I’ve been busy with various shorter projects this summer, fitting them around a holiday, my daughter’s being at home, and reviewing. In April/May I wrote a novella with Keith Brooke, a twenty thousand worder about clones, colonisation, parasitism and murder. Parasites is part of what I hope will be a bigger project, a series of linked novellas that will eventually form a novel – if we can find the time to write them. In late May, early June I wrote the first draft of the third Telemass novella, Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II, in which Matt Hendrick, searching for his ex-wife and their dead daughter, visits the world of Tourmaline and falls in with telepath Mercury Velasquez. I’ve recently completed the third draft.

In between these projects I wrote an eleven thousand word story entitled “Buying Time”. Years ago I came across the quote by Oscar Wilde: ‘No man is rich enough to buy back his past…’. The line intrigued me, and I knew that one day it would inspire a story. Then one morning in May I was working on something else when, in a flash, the story presented itself to me fully-formed: all I had to do was write it down, which I did over the course of the next three days. It doesn’t often happen like that, more’s the pity. Anyway, I completed a third draft of the tale earlier this week, and I’m delighted with it. All I have to do now is sell the thing.

I’ve also written three or four short-shorts – tales around a thousand words long –which I’ll try at Daily SF over the course of the next few months.

The next novel on the cards is the follow-up to Jani and the Greater Game: Jani and the Great Pursuit, which I hope to start in about a fortnight. With luck I should get a good second draft in the bag before Christmas.

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Serene Three

Aliens and Optimism

First contact with an alien race fascinates writers and readers alike. It’s a fundamental trope of SF, there at the very beginning of the modern incarnation of the genre with Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and still going strong today. It’s almost a given, with few exceptions, that first contact will engender conflict, often martial conflict. It’s a great engine for story-telling, after all – a metaphor for the fears of the time and a way of objectifying the other in non-specific terms: the alien invasion films of the ’fifties were little more than America’s fear of the Soviet Union writ large on the silver screen. We’re still at it more than fifty years later, only this time the perceived enemy – garbed in alien guise – is Islam.

Which is all well and good if you like that kind of thing. It generates story dynamic, after all. All stories are powered by conflict – but it’s only one aspect of the consequence of first contact. To begin with, the idea that aliens will be hostile is a convenient assumption arrived at for the sake of penning a gung-ho war story… But the idea is based, lazily, I think, on the anthropocentric idea that all races out there will be motivated by the same imperatives that impel the human race: greed, the need of material gain, resources, territory, etc. The likelihood is that when we do come across aliens they will be as unlike ourselves as it’s possible to be, creatures that have been shaped by the evolutionary dictates of an ecology and environment wholly unlike our own. They idea that they will want the same thing as we do is unlikely.

I prefer to think – optimistically – that aliens might not come to Earth in order to pillage and annihilate, subjugate us and strip the planet of its resources. Call me naïve, but I think that a race that has existed long enough to develop FTL technology might, just might, have outgrown the baser motives of materialistic gain and the desire to do violence. Call me a hopeless bleeding-heart liberal if you like, but maybe aliens might come to Earth with the idea of making it a better place, of making humanity a better race.

That was the starting point of the ideas that would coalesce into my seventeenth novel, The Serene Invasion.

I’d done something similar – though not so ambitious – in the series of linked stories that I fixed-up into the novel Kéthani. Aliens come to Earth, though they remain in the background throughout the book, and grant human beings the chance to become immortal. The choice is ours. We can forego the gift, if we like, and live ‘normal’ lives, dying and remaining dead. Or we can take up the offer of the Kéthani and become immortal – dying and being reborn – with the proviso that we work for them as ambassadors to the stars, bringing the message of the Kéthani to other races out there. There is much argument in the book about whether the gift of the aliens is beneficial, or not – a question that is never resolved.

I wanted to be more definite in The Serene Invasion, and come down on the side of the aliens.

In the novel, as in Kéthani, we never see the aliens. We see their representatives, beings called self-aware entities, biological androids if you like, that have been on Earth for more than a hundred years, smoothing the way for the ultimate ‘invasion’. The entities can take on human form, and do, melding into the fabric of society and working their subtle magic. They are the closest we get to seeing the actual S’rene. Now the reason I didn’t want to show the aliens – the same reason I didn’t show them in Kéthani – is that I wanted to retain reader credibility, and I judged there would be a great danger of losing this if I described the aliens physically. One way of portraying the S’rene, and retaining some credibility, would be to show them as in some way humanoid. But I thought it better to maintain the mystery and mystique of these all-powerful beings if I refrained from showing them at all.

And the gift that the S’rene – or the Serene as they soon become known – bring to Earth?

They come to Earth and stop us committing violence upon ourselves and upon all life.

To the majority of the human race, this is a welcome boon – but of course there will be those out there who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, the old ways of violence and conflict. Arms manufacturers and the gun lobby and hunters, and the multi-nationals whose profit depends on people killing each other.

The novel is about how the world will change, thanks to the Serene.

It’s SF – it’s also, I admit, a wish-fulfilment fantasy written from a standpoint of increasing frustration and desperation with the human race, and our political systems. But it’s also optimistic, in that it shows that, with the right impetus and input, normal everyday people – the disempowered, if you like – can and do embrace the ways of peace.

I am, if nothing else, a fundamentally optimistic writer. Looking back over all my novels and short stories, I realise that they present an overall positive view of the future, and of humanity. Okay, so in the New York books (the Virex trilogy) the world is almost ruined, but there is hope, and the characters portrayed are fundamentally good people, with dreams and aspirations, who win through in the end. The same with Helix; planet Earth might be dying, but there is hope thanks to the alien Builders and the refuge of the ten thousand worlds on the Helix. In the Bengal Station trilogy – Necropath, Xenopath and Cosmopath – I wanted to take a character who at the start of the books is a nihilist but who, through experiencing the events portrayed in the three books, comes to some understanding of himself and achieves eventual happiness. I wanted to show that nihilism is too easy a response to the human condition. We live short lives, riven by pain and suffering, physical and psychological, and then we die, face an eternity of oblivion, and we know this. But we are after all creatures with sensibilities limited by the dictates of our environment. We see only what we want to see, what we have been conditioned to see, and therefore – I like to think – we apprehend only a partial truth of the wonder of the universe.

I can’t prove that, of course: all I can do is write my small, hopeful tales of the future.

Because there is always hope, I like to think, and in The Serene Invasion I’ve tried to show that for some people – lucky enough to exist on the partial universe of my imagination, and of my readers’ imaginations – hope has become a reality.

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Murder at the Chase

Murder at the Chase 2Murder at the Chase, out today, is the second book in the Langham and Dupré mystery series which began with Murder by the Book. The novels chart the relationship between the central character, the thriller writer Donald Langham, and his literary agent Maria Dupré. It’s also about the murders they solve along the way. In the first book, Langham and Dupré were embroiled in a series of killings committed by a disgruntled hack who was wreaking havoc in the literary world of London in 1955. The second volume takes the pair to a sleepy Suffolk village in the same year, to investigate the disappearance of a fellow writer, Edward Endicott.

One of the things I wanted to do in this novel, other than develop Langham’s relationship with Maria, and tell a rattling good murder mystery, was to write a story that debunks mysticism and the occult. Donald Langham is a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist and, like me, a rationalist: not for him a woolly belief in ghosties and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. There’s a scientific explanation for everything, even if first glance a rational explanation might not be that obvious.

In Murder at the Chase, Edward Endicott has vanished from a locked room, and his son Alasdair thinks that the evil Satanist Vivian Stafford might have had a hand in the affair. Alasdair firmly believes that Stafford – a cohort of Aleister Crowley and his fellow diabolists – is the possessor of occult powers, in league with the Devil, and that he’s behind Edward Endicott’s disappearance. Endicott senior is writing a book about the Satanist, and Alasdair believes that his father might have uncovered facts that Stafford would rather not come to light.

The mystery deepens when copious blood is discovered in the copse behind Endicott Chase, and all concerned assume that it is Edward who was the victim.

When the body of the Satanist Vivian Stafford is discovered, however, the chase is on to find his killer. Suspects include the Endicotts themselves, the local vicar, the mad artist Haverford Dent, and the retired American actress Caroline Dequincy.

Murder by the Book Vis-1a.jpg

The novel is in many respects a routine ‘cosy’ – though I don’t like that word – whodunit, set in rural England and featuring many of the standard tropes of the genre: vicars and tea parties, eccentric characters, thud and blunder, and the gradual unravelling of the mystery until the murderer is unmasked. But it’s also a character study of Donald and Maria as their love for each other deepens – with one or two hiccups along the way – and a vindication of Langham’s rationalist world view, as the shenanigans of the so-called Satanist Vivian Stafford are revealed to be nothing more than artifice, sham and ‘hand-waving’.

As with the first book, I had great fun writing this one. The characters took off, I loved the English setting, and it was a relief to be writing about a world familiar to readers. There was none of the world-building obligatory in most SF, no explication of futuristic science and technology – I could get on with telling the story.

I have a few ideas for further titles in the series: Murder at the BBC and Murder at the Castle being the next two, each following Langham and Dupré as they stumble into murder and mayhem, avoid the cudgels of those out for their blood, and look forward to their forthcoming marriage.

This piece first appeared on Upcoming4me.

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Serene Two

I wrote The Serene Invasion out of a sense of despair. I was sick and tired, and insulted, by the swathes of right wing militaristic SF pouring from the presses – giving SF a bad name and perpetuating the stereotype that SF is only about conflict and violence.

I was also sick, and still am, or hearing about conflict, whether that be the global conflict engendered by super-powers in whose self-interest wars are fought, or the more small scale conflict of a crazed gunman going into schools and shopping plazas, mainly in the US, and killing people. The vast majority of the human race is peace abiding, and serious violence is not the norm – but the news media work on the dubious premise that bad news – ie: violence – sells newspapers. It’s hard to get away from new of wars and terrorism and violence.

Is conflict, the desire to do violence, hard-wired into the human psyche? What might happen, I wondered, if suddenly the human race was unable to commit acts of violence?

I was also sick of alien invasion tales portraying aliens – ie, the other – as ravaging predators out to enslave humans, take our resources, destroy our world. Okay, so it makes for exciting gung-ho adventure stories, but the cliché is getting a bit tired now. It’s the reason I wrote the Kéthani sequence of stories, years ago. I wanted to present aliens in a positive light. I wanted to show that not all aliens coming to Earth would be motivated by the same short-term, material-gains ethos that propels and motivates most human political machinations. Might aliens come here intent not on exploiting us but on bringing enlightenment to our race?

And so the seeds of an idea were sown… a few years ahead of the actual writing of The Serene Invasion.

It’s the year 2025 and the Earth is invaded by the S’rene. They’ve been here for years, working undercover to set the groundwork for their benign invasion. But now they arrive on the planet in vast starships, and drop domes on every habitable area on the face of the Earth, and go about changing us and recruiting personnel from among the human race to do their bidding. Geoff Allen is one such person, a photo-journalist whose humanitarian work has brought images of stark violence into homes across the world. Ana Devi is another, a penniless street-kid from Kolkata who looks after a gang of similar penurious urchins and is dragooned by the aliens because of her compassion and humanity. Together with ten thousand like souls, they work to bring the word of the S’rene to the not-always receptive ears of the population.

I wanted in the novel to show a world without violence, and how it would benefit us – and show also those with self-interest, arms dealers, bigoted capitalists, and hordes of others, who oppose the bringing of peace to the Earth. I wanted to write a novel that rails against the shibboleths of the right-wingers, the multinational corporations, religious fanatics of all stripes, the Tea Party nutters, the American gun lobby, political hypocrites like Blair and Cameron and Clegg…

I was aiming at many sacred cows: a world without violence would be a vastly different place to the world as it is today. Capitalism would collapse, gross materialism would wither, societies would change out of all recognition. But I chose to show these changes by focusing on the lives of a few individuals, people for the most part without power; I wanted to show their stories, their travails and hardships, their hopes and dreams… and I set myself the challenge of writing the novel without the usual tool that powers fictive narrative: namely, conflict… except, of course, there is conflict in the novel, though not martial conflict, rather the small-scale conflict of desires and dreams and aspirations.

It was the hardest novel I’ve ever written, with a few false starts and wrong turnings – but I’m happy with the result (with a few reservations, of course: I should have been more politically outspoken, perhaps, with more criticism of the smug, dangerous complacency of capitalism and Western materialism. And there are one or two other issues I should have addressed in order to make the picture complete.)

But whether it is the best novel I’ve ever written… A writer is at the mercy of the critics like – to borrow a phrase from Brian Aldiss – a stag at bay awaiting the shot of the hunter.

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Serene One

This is the first of three posts about my novel The Serene Invasion which will be appearing over the course of the next few days.

I had the germ of the idea for The Serene Invasion about five years ago: aliens come to Earth and, in a bid to save the human race, inhibit our ability to commit violence upon one another – indeed, stop us committing any form of violence at all, upon anything: we can’t harm each other or animals. Wars are a thing of the past. So is eating meat.

The idea bubbled away on the back-burner for a while, and grew to the point where it had to be written. I outlined the novel and submitted it to the powers-that-be at Solaris, and my editor Jonathan Oliver liked it.

The need to write the novel came about from being deluged, as we all are, by the surfeit of news about wars, atrocities, killings and general violence issued by the news media – out of all proportion to the actual quantative reality of violence in the world. I wondered what kind of world we might live in if we were rendered physically unable to commit violence – and that led me to consider the fact that there would be a hard-core minority who would oppose the change, for various reasons of vested interest: arms manufacturers, the US gun lobby, high-ups in the army, business-men and -woman who make a profit from human beings killing each other…

From the novel:

The newsfeeds and internet had been rife with doom-mongers in the first couple of years after the Serene intervention in human affairs. They forecast that such a radical alteration in the mechanism of the human psyche – the total abnegation of an individual’s ability to carry through acts of violence – would have dire psychological consequences. So-called experts stated that violence was a safety-valve which, if not allowed to blow from time to time, would store up untold mental pressure which would in time burst with catastrophic results.

Nina said, “I always thought they were wrong, Geoff. Okay, so if everyone on the planet committed acts of violence every day, day in day out, then they might have had a case. But think about it – how many acts of violence did you perpetrate before the coming of the Serene?”

He shrugged. “Not many. In fact… I can remember defending myself against a bully when I was twelve, and once or twice wanting to hit someone, but never carrying out the urge.”

“There you are then. I am the same, along with the majority of the people in this square, I think. The nay-sayers, as you call them, were wrong. Violence is not a pre-requisite of being human, just a nasty side-effect of social conditions. And violence is certainly not a right, as some would claim it is.”

I wanted to write a novel that show that the propensity to commit violence isn’t hardwired into the psyche of humankind: that, in the right environment, we can be steered away from violence. Social engineering on a grand scale, a project to make human beings better – ironically carried out by an alien race.

The novel is set over a period of four decades, showing the change in the world from the point of view of four main characters. Two work for the Serene (our mysterious benefactors who are never seen), and one viewpoint character, a businessman, trenchantly opposes what the Serene have done to humanity.

It was the hardest novel I’ve ever written in that it was an ideas-based book, and I usually write character-oriented (or action-adventure) SF; that said, the characters soon took over and dictated the flow of events, which I find always happens when a book is going well. The hardest character to write was James Morwell, the businessman opposed to non-violence: I abhorred his mind-set, disagreed with his view that violence was necessary – but I had to include him in the narrative for the obvious reasons that I had to show a dissenting voice (as there would be dissenting voices if the Serene invasion were to happen); I also had to write about Morwell for a less apparent reason: in a novel which is about non-violence, in which the ability to commit harm is taken from human beings, how does one go about dramatising conflict? So I included Morwell and, later, a race of aliens opposed to what the Serene were doing on Earth and elsewhere.

Of course I enjoyed (as I always do) writing about the good people: Ana Devi, the Indian street kid who looks after her urchin charges and who, thanks to the Serene, transcends her lowly origins; Geoff Allen the photo-journalist who thinks, perhaps naively, that by bringing the fact of war atrocities to the awareness of the world he might in some small way alleviate suffering, and who goes on to work for the Serene and brings about peace; and ex-Marxist doctor Sally Walsh, who loves Geoff for his naivety, and through whose eyes we see much of the gradual change to human society over the decades.

It was a difficult novel to write, and one that presented numerous challenges. As to whether I’ve got it right, I’ll leave for readers to decide. For my part, I know that it’s the best possible novel I could have written on the subject, and sits alongside The Kings of Eternity, Kéthani and the Starship novellas as one of my own personal favourites.

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