Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Helix by Eric Brown

The Earth is dying. Desertification, climate shifts, plagues, civil unrest, and war have wiped out most of humanity, and with less and less of the planet available for use in agriculture, humanity heads towards a crash. As a last ditch effort, the human race builds an ark staffed with the leading minds in all the fields needed to make a colony on a new world work. Sounds pretty standard, right? Guess again.

The colony ship crash lands on a constructed world that makes Niven's Ringworld look like a kid's toy, and the crew has to find a hospitable place for the 'cargo' to live while trying to survive the depredations of hostile environments, aliens, and technology that is beyond comprehension. Add to that the internal strife amongst the multi-national crewmembers, and you have the kind of pressure-cooker situation that can only lead to great drama. Wait a moment, though, because that is only one half of the story.

Meanwhile, on one of the levels of the Helix, one of the native races, which exists in a sort of perpetual Victorian level of technology, is undergoing some social disruptions. A powerful dirigible manufacturer is bucking against the constraints of the restrictive and dogmatic church that rules his homeland, and longs to explore the world. When they encounter another alien species, it throws their entire religious conceptualization of the universe into chaos and disorder, forcing the dirigible magnate to side with the aliens against his own people.

Now the story is as old as Rendezvou with Rama or Ringworld, but this is a great and powerful form for the classic story. Helix combines both concepts with a superb sense of character and story that are hallmarks of the Eric Brown style of science fiction. The characters, whether human or alien, are real and honest: just plain folks who do not seem forced, archetypical, or unrealistic. Much like Kethani, Helix explores more than just the normal tropes of science fiction, it turns the genre on and kicks it up a few notches. At once a bold human interest story and an action adventure story, Helix has something for every reader.

THAC0: 5
Unlike Kethan, which is more of a philosophical study in vignettes, Helix is a science fiction story in the grand traditions of the genre. Love, hate, life, death, morality, and survival are all on the board of fare, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0 from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The idea is that the lower the number, the lower you need to roll to score a hit. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I believe, on a scale of 1-20, that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

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