Space Ramblings

Helix by Eric Brown book review

If you take Ringworld, twist it into a Helix and attempt turn it into a eco-moralistic tale, the result might well be something like Eric Helix Eric BrownBrown’s Helix. Like Ringworld, Helix involves a large number of races settled in a strange and vast structure comprising different ecologies and landmasses, unlike Ringworld it’s shaped like a helix instead of a ring, resulting in the book’s title.

With its fairly generic book cover and blurbs, Eric Brown’s Helix is easily mistaken for another generic Science Fiction novel. Yet the wonderful first few chapters actually lead you to believe that the blurbs, mostly from fellow writers are correct, and Eric Brown has indeed produced a book worth reading. The first few chapters which take place on an earth which subject to aggressive global warming faces a complete global collapse focus on the perspective of Joe Hendry, a widower maintaining his lonely plot of land in an Australian starship graveyard. Unfortunately once Brown takes Hendry off the graveyard and to Helix, the novel implodes into a generic muddled narrative that is as tedious as it is predictable.

In one paragraph Brown destroys the Lovelock, the starship, which nevertheless manages to land on one of the Helix worlds. At this point the novel follows the misadventures of the cast of the Lovelock survivors, who include Hendry, his eskimo girlfriend, a medic with implants which implausibly allows her to speak any alien language within seconds of hearing it, the completely non-stereotypical macho angry African who may also be a warlord and a rapist and a number of aliens.

While Eric Brown did well enough in sketching Hendry and a decaying earth, he flounders when actually forced to create aliens and deal with the science of it. I’m no hard science purist but for a novel, one of whose subplots involves the triumph of science over superstition, Helix is all but empty of not only science but scientific plausibility. When Brown finds himself needing to create aliens, he simply has them think, talk and act like Renaissance Europeans in one case and Tibetan Buddhists in another. There’s even an alien Church complete with Bishops and crosses.

All this would be bad enough but Brown spools out a plot that requires most of the characters to behave like idiots. The Lovelock team wake none of the colonists and go fully leaving behind a ship of helpless frozen colonists behind. From there they do one foolish thing after another. The alien characters are little better, baiting the token religious fanatic figure even after being well aware that the Church can have them tortured and executed for heresy. The novel focuses on a quest for the Builders, who appear godlike and omnipotent and yet cannot even defend their own sanctuary without human help. Helix is filled with deus ex machinas that has lacks in logic and science and is choked with sentimentality and yet is meant to be some sort of paean to science and ecology.

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