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Parallax View
Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
Sarob Press, 175 pages

Parallax View
Keith Brooke
Keith Brooke went to the University of East Anglia and studied environmental sciences. He started writing at 17 and, some time later, sold his first story to a small press magazine, Dream. Now he runs the University of Essex website and lives in Brightlingsea, Essex, with his wife and children.

Parallax View can be ordered from:
Sarob Press,
"Brynderwen",
41 Forest View,
Glenboi, Mountain Ash, CF45 3DU,
Wales, UK

Keith Brooke
ISFDB Bibliography: Keith Brooke
Sarob Press

Eric Brown
Eric Brown lives in Haworth in West Yorkshire. His books include the novels Penumbra, Meridian Days, Engineman, Untouchable, and Walkabout (the latter two for young adults), and the collections The Time-Lapsed Man and Blue Shifting. He is a regular and popular contributor to Interzone magazine.

Eric Brown Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New York Nights

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nick Gevers

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Parallax View is that very rare phenomenon, a collaborative story collection. This -- the doubly dubious marketability of a book that is not a novel and that is not of single authorship -- may be what has consigned it to the status of a limited edition hardcover (250 copies), published by a Welsh small press, best known for issuing slim volumes of supernatural tales, and thus available only through specialist channels; but Parallax View is not of narrow interest. Its authors, Eric Brown and Keith Brooke, are both significant members of the "Britpack" group, the generation of writers -- also including Iain M. Banks, Paul J. McAuley, Ian McDonald, and Stephen Baxter -- who, in the late 80s and early 90s, hauled British SF out of its long post-New Wave slump. In their previous works -- ten or so novels between them, and numerous short stories -- Brooke and Brown have demonstrated an ample mastery of their craft. That mastery, with some qualification, is on display in Parallax View.

But that qualification: collaboration, complete literary harmony, can be difficult to perfect -- and the authorial tones of Brooke and Brown are not easily reconcilable. Brown is a romantic after the school of Thomas Hardy; he evokes artistic and erotic obsessions which, displaced to intensely realized alien locations, become exaggerated and often fatal, to moody effect at times overwrought. Brooke, on the other hand, is an often dour practitioner of hard SF with strong, even harsh, left wing political subtexts. And while this contrast certainly permits a marriage of strengths, it can also result in a dampening sort of feedback: simply put, dour romanticism, passion without poetry. The stories in Parallax View are deeply felt, and frequently contain a genuine emotional power; but a lighter, more lyrical touch would invigorate and attune them.

That said, there is a good deal to praise here. Two solo pieces exemplify the authors' separate aptitudes: Brown's "A Prayer for the Dead," a first-person account of a carefree yet turbulent youth spent on a world whose sun is soon to go nova, evolves into a moving meditation on many kinds of loss, the loss of youth, love, opportunity, and home prominent among them; and Brooke's "Jurassic and the Great Tree" is an effective take on environmental conservation in which the (alien) environment itself takes charge, in a memorably grotesque manner. The six collaborations vary in quality. At their best, they combine the wondrous exotic inventiveness of Cordwainer Smith (as in the deployment of peculiar modes of psychically convoluted space travel) with the dire existential insights of James Tiptree, Jr. (reflected particularly in a recurring sense of how primordial biological imperatives can sunder "higher" human aspirations). Three tales in this vein stand out as the finest entries in Parallax View: "The Flight of the Oh Carollian," whose protagonist must sacrifice the wonders of the firmament for the sake of his mundanely alienated son; "Under Antares," which intensifies that paternal dilemma to the extremity of death, and a nasty alien-inflicted agony of a death at that; and "The Denebian Cycle," a novella which out-Tiptrees Tiptree in its feminist gallows humour at the expense of arrogant masculine sentience...

"Sugar and Spice," which leans heavily toward the Brownian side of the creative equation here represented, is also quite impressive, in its (admittedly a little contrived) summary of one of the fundamental dilemmas of Art: how justified are religious moralists who judge an artist to be a sinner, simply because her work has provoked unholy murderous passions in one unstable person? Ambiguity attends this interstellar clash of world-views, quite fittingly. But two other pieces are distinctly less satisfactory: "Appassionata," a near-future description of love between two musical geniuses, only one of whom is real, is mawkish and facile, and oddly ill-considered (why choose "Beethoven" as a protagonist, rather than some more spontaneously romantic figure, one less cerebral, less deaf?); and "Mind's Eye" is dull hurried cyberpunk, a moral parable without credibility or force. But overall...

Overall, two turkeys are easily outweighed by six solid and accomplished ventures into dangerous future terrain. Keith Brooke and Eric Brown are not powerful stylists, and dour romanticism can be a turn-off; but their vision is clear, their imaginative reach is profound, and their stories, as Stephen Baxter asserts in his Foreword, are exemplary of Science Fiction's capacity to interrogate the universe itself in the service of humanity and humane understanding. Parallax View is indeed a showcase of serious mature SF, and well deserves to be read.

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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