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Penumbra
Eric Brown
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Penumbra
Eric Brown
Eric Brown was born in 1960 and grew up in Australia. He now lives in Haworth, England. His novels include The Virex Trilogy (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's Website
ISFDB Bibliography
>SF Site Review: Approaching Omega
SF Site Review: Xenopath
SF Site Review: Necropath
SF Site Review: Threshold Shift
SF Site Review: Approaching Omega
SF Site Review: New York Dreams
SF Site Review: Bengal Station
SF Site Review: New York Nights
SF Site Review: New York Blues
SF Site Review: Parellax View
SF Site Review: Bengal Station

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Maddox

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In the future, humanity has scattered amongst the stars to colonize new worlds, and spread their influence across the galaxy. Back home, to accommodate all this transport, everyday folks are required to pilot shuttles, transport cargo, and maintain the multitude of orbital platforms that circle the earth. That's what Josh Bennett does, the hero of Eric Brown's Penumbra, and he really doesn't wish for too much more in life.

Bennett is in a failing relationship, has no contact with his dying father, and can't seem to let go of his decades dead little sister, whom he keeps alive through a memorial hologram he visits from time to time. However, it would be a rather dull novel if the story followed Bennett along this path till he died.

Instead, we begin when Bennett meets Buddhist copilot Ten Lee Theneka (who is so named because she was the tenth child of very uncreative parents) and, in a malfunction of their vessel, almost crashing into an outbound ship. This leads to both of them being fired, but almost immediately being hired by eccentric billionaire Charles Mackendrick, head of the global Mackendrick Foundation.

The two are offered a chance to fly to the newly discovered planet of Penumbra, where satellite pictures show the possibility of life. See, although humans have been exploring much of the galaxy, they've discovered very little life beyond a Cro-Magnon species, a race far advanced of our own and some giant sea creatures, which may or may not be sentient.

While this is happening, the novel switches to the story of Rana Rao, a police officer in Calcutta who is on the trail of the crucifix killer, a strange murderer who seems to be killing only drug dealers and other leeches upon society. At first this switch between such blatantly different settings is a little jarring and disjointed, but Rana, a woman who ran away from home at a young age, soon proves to be pivotal to the plot and holds the key to Penumbra's secret.

However, it does fall apart near the end. The grand revelation, the Ancients, creatures who believe the Buddhist philosophy of enlightenment and transcendence, mixed in with a French colonization ship that crash landed on the planet, AND the two factions of devout believers and rebels from this colonization get things a little muddled.

Rana is revealed to be Mackendrick's long lost daughter (not a spoiler) and the overall idea of "everyone should seek enlightenment" becomes a tad heavy-handed. It's also incredibly unclear just what the French colonists have against the Ancients or why the rebels fractured away from them. The crucifix killer, Klein, is devout in his belief of cleansing the universe of evil, but there are no "whys" to make him a three dimensional character.

Overall, the novel is a fun read, with some thrilling moments. It actually flows like a decent SyFy Channel feature (possibly staring Casper van Dien and Dina Meyer). The overall idea is better than the sum of its parts and does make Penumbra a good story.

Copyright © 2012 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been Star Trek characters, the Riddler in a Batman stunt show and holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. He has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider and the Star Trek Communicator. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories while acting on stage, screen and television. He can sometimes be seen giving tours at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing Norman Bates.


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