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Bengal Station
Eric Brown
Five Star, 277 pages

Bengal Station
Eric Brown
Eric Brown lives in Haworth in West Yorkshire. 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 Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New York Blues
SF Site Review: Parallax View
SF Site Review: New York Nights

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Bengal Station is a hard-boiled detective novel with aliens, telepaths, religious cults, and the kind of port city where anything can be found for a price. As befits a detective story, the plot revolves around the uncovering of secrets, the secrets of Jeff Vaughan's past, Sukara's present, and the hidden rituals of The Church of the Adoration of the Chosen Ones. Vaughan's the investigator, and what he finds will start and end with the deaths of friends.

While Bengal Station is, in the end, a satisfying read, it suffers from a clumsy first chapter. The dialogue in particular feels stilted, like the characters themselves are trying to fit into the conventions of this kind of story but just can't quite pull it off. That changes quickly with the second chapter, when we meet Sukarna, and suddenly this world and its characters come to life, the prose smooths out and the story gains a real intensity. It's especially important to the novel that this happens because Sukarna could easily have been a cliché (the prostitute with a heart of gold). While there are other times in the novel, mostly involving Vaughan, where the dialogue feels stilted, Sukarna's presence continually makes up for it.

The story follows two paths, Vaughan's as he follows a trail that leads him to another planet and then back to Bengal station, and Sukarna's journey which takes her from her village to the city and to the station in the company of a secretive, wealthy benefactor. As the reader would expect, their two paths finally meet, and the result is typically dangerous and enlightening for all concerned. It's in the resolution of a couple sub-plots that the story takes a couple of unexpected twists. Those twists are just enough outside the clichés of the genre to give Bengal Station a life of its own.

And that's something that's necessary for this kind of story to work. The settings and the future exposition here are fairly stock, Eric Brown's interest is more in creating the mood and atmosphere of a film noir private eye than he is in creating a unique and believable future for his characters to live in. Vaughan's past is fittingly complicated, and serves as a foundation for his moodiness and distrust of others. Again, this is part of the usual territory, and the requirement is not that it all be original, but that it be done well. Brown's success comes in the characters of Vaughan and Sukarna, the problems in Bengal Station lie in execution; mainly the problems in dialogue and the rather generic (for SF) settings. It comes down to this, if you're someone who can't get enough of the mixing of the hard-boiled investigator and science fiction, Bengal Station should work fine. If, on the other hand, you're reaction to this kind of thing is "I've read it all before," you won't find much in Bengal Station to change your mind.

Copyright © 2004 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson reads and lives to write about it in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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