Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reading Eric Brown's "Weird Space: The Devil's Nebula"

Abaddon Books has begun a new series, created by Eric Brown, entitled Weird Space, with the first novel--The Devil's Nebula (Abaddon Books 2012)--written by Brown himself. It's a space opera with horror elements and I predict it will be one of Abaddon's most successful franchises for two reasons: (1) Eric Brown is at the wheel; his fertile imagination has already produced some interesting and unusual takes on a well-worn genre: Kéthani (Solaris 2008) and Kings of Eternity (Solaris 2011), as well as more straight forward space opera; and (2) because within this novel Brown has either employed or alluded to all of the major themes and tropes of both classic science fiction (space opera) and space horror through his mixture of Buck Rogers-like adventure and Lovecraftian terror.  

Nebula, unlike Kéthani and Kings of Eternity, falls into the Niven/Vance camp of science fiction and shares similarities and themes with Brown's Bengal Station Trilogy. Although the similarities with other science fiction franchises also seem apparent--Warhammer 40 K, Star Wars, and Star Trek--Abaddon's proclivity toward genre mash-ups, their brilliant editing, and Brown's deft touch make the Weird series feel unique.

The novel at first blush employs well-known tropes and situations: older man with a past commands a spaceship involved in various forms of illegal activity;  young  woman, athletic and lonely, has secret crush on older man; somewhat erratic and cowardly engineer makes up a third in the Trio; crashed space ships (several) with no sign of the inhabitants (mystery and horror); fascistic government; spies and hidden agendas; deserted worlds with evidence of lost civilizations; and, of course, monsters in space. Even the back story feels familiar: The Expansion, a megalithic authoritarian empire consisting of human colonists, continues to grow and colonize planets until it runs afoul of the Vetch; also a growing empire of warlike humanoids.Other worlds and other aliens are either colonized or destroyed by the emerging forces. While humans and Vetch vie for dominance in the same dimension, other dimensions populated by the horrific creatures, the Weird, monstrous creatures hungry for experience and knowledge, collide with human space and open portals.

Even though the tropes and the back story are familiar, the novel feels fresh. I think one reason for this is the deft way in which Brown handles his materials: his novels tend to unwind rather than follow some movie-like script and the characters act naturally in unnatural settings. Another reason is the fact that fusion (genre mash-up) invigorates well-worn tropes: space men sucked through a tentacle to a Tarzan-like habitat at the top of giant trees is fun and unique.

To provide maximum fusion (mash-up), I imagine Brown and Abaddon intended to provide a wide platform in which to both utilize and develop familiar tropes. In that respect, knowing this was the beginning of a series, I jotted down just a few possible ideas: Vetch verses Human in military-science fiction; Vetch verses Weird in a Predator-verses-Alien story; individuals battling Weird in Lovecraftian horror tales; humans infected with the Weird rebel against the Expansion; Vetch join Human against Weird; Humans use Weird against Vetch; Human crashes on Vetch world and must survive; spies and rebels carry on clandestine operations on worlds infected by the Weird. Permutations seem infinite. I even imagined a domestic horror like The Shining: one mate infected, the other not, both trapped in a secluded location.

Approaching the novel in this way--as a generative rhetoric--illustrates its game-like quality; however, for the series to succeed and grow, novels with well-developed characters and interesting stories must enflesh it. The Devil's Nebula begins that process and I believe succeeds as both an entertaining space opera/horror (romance) and as a precursor to a larger series.

No comments:

Post a Comment