Eric Brown on Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden; Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence; Ian Sales’s All That Outer Space Allows; SL Grey’s Under Ground; Alex Lamb’s Roboteer
by Eric Brown
Chris Beckett won the 2013 Arthur C Clarke award for his novel Dark Eden, about the survival and adaptation of human colonists on a world without light. The sequel, Mother of Eden (Corvus, £17.99), begins generations later, charting the growth and political divisions between the colonists. It follows the rise of Starlight Brooking, a humble fishergirl, and her quest to bring equality and revolution to Edenheart, a settlement ruled by a conservative patriarchy. Beckett doesn’t do traditional heroes and villains: Starlight Brooking is contradictory and flawed, at once brave and vulnerable, and likewise his villains are portrayed with sympathy and understanding. He also eschews easy answers and formulaic plotting; where a hundred other writers would have Starlight triumph over her enemies, her victories are on a more profound and personal level, and not without tragedy. Mother of Eden is a masterpiece.
When the captain of the Wayfarer starship is offered a job travelling to a faraway planet that could make him and his crew financially secure, he agrees despite the dangers involved.Such a precis might suggest that Becky Chambers’s first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99), originally self‑published and shortlisted for the Kitschies awards, is an action-adventure space opera. But this is a slow, discursive novel of character as the motivations of the diverse and likable crew, comprising humans and aliens, are laid bare for the reader’s delight. It is a quietly profound, humane tour de force that tackles politics and gender issues with refreshing optimism.
Stephen Palmer’s marvellous ninth novel, Beautiful Intelligence (Infinity Plus, £8.99), posits a beleaguered 22nd century in which oil has run out, water is scarce, and in a neat inversion of the contemporary world order, Europe is an economic ruin and Africa the promised land. Two techno wizards abscond from a Japanese laboratory, each attempting to develop artificial intelligence according to their own philosophies – one based on the social intelligence theory of consciousness, the other on a linguistic approach – but billionaire tech-mogul Aritomo Ichikawa will stop at nothing to get them back. What follows is a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.