Solaris, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Good ideas should never be wasted; visions of grandeur should be shared. When an author creates an image of such potential as Eric Brown’s Helix, it would have been a shame to confine it to just one novel. Fortunately, he doesn’t do so.
The Helix is an immense artificial construct created by a technically advanced race known just as the Builders. Scattered along the length of the structure are ten thousand worlds, many of which are inhabited by sentient beings at different stages of technological evolution. The Builders had devised the structure to re-home various species when their own worlds, for one reason or another, became inviable. In the novel, Helix, a human colony ship crashes on one of the planets and the thrust of the novel is about the discovery of the nature of the place where they have found themselves. At the end, the colonists are given an uninhabited world with many features similar to the Earth they left, to make their home on. Humans were also given the role of Peacekeepers for all the planets on the Helix. The book itself is perfectly rounded and could stand as a one-off. The idea though, is too good to ignore.
Helix Wars is set two hundred years later so there is no overlap of characters, except as revered figures of the past. Now firmly settled into their new role, the human community is able to get on with developing their new planet. Not all races, though, have managed to leave behind the worst traits of their kind. Shuttle pilot Jeff Ellis is shot down by the Sporelli as they cross from their planet carving a swathe of destruction across Phandra on their way to conquer the mineral-rich planet that is the next in the chain. The Phandrans are innately peaceable and humane and are prepared to sacrifice themselves rather than give up Ellis to the Sporelli who are hunting him.
Kandra is a Mahkan, a race that changes sex at intervals and has a high sense of honour. Ellis once saved her life so she is honour-bound to try to rescue him. Calla is a diminutive Phandran healer who does save Ellis before she is rounded up to nurse the Sporelli injured. The fates of these three, Ellis, Kandra and Calla are tied together by their actions. At the same time, each has a very different mind-set
The pleasure of reading a book like this is not only the vast scale of the Helix itself but the way the reader and characters together explore the construct. As far as possible, from a human perspective, Brown has made a good attempt at trying to put across the alien-ness of the mores of the other races Ellis encounters. This is never easy as the truly alien would be incomprehensible. Helix Wars is an action novel packed with alien inventions and strange worlds. It is to be hoped that more novels will be set against this background.