Not the War I was Hoping For

Week 5: HELIX WARS by Eric Brown

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a book on the list that I thoroughly did not enjoy. I’m going to discuss this book in full, per usual, but I’d like to make two notes that might help assuage both Eric Brown and any of his fans that might stumble across this. The first is that I was recommended this book by a friend, and was not initially going to read it. That’s not to say I would not have, but I had a pseudo check list of books in various genres that I was going to investigate and this was not one of them. I plan to read fifty-two books this year and so there is definite room for me to add new books of various literary genres. The second point is that this book is a sequel to Eric Brown’s Helix, and thus entertains some plot points that were built upon in his first book. Why a friend of mine recommended me a book instead of first recommending me it’s predecessor is a question in which I do not have the answer.

Now, to the book!

Helix Wars is built in a fantastical science fiction world, and I don’t think I’d be spoiling anything by laying it out for you here. The ‘helix’ in the book is truly a helix, an immense construct of hundreds, if not thousands of planets that are seemingly locked into an immense helix structure. These planets vary in biome, geography and flora and fauna, as well as what species inhabits them. Noted several times throughout the book very succinctly is the idea that all the species that inhabit the helix, — including humanity — were relocated there for various reasons. I suppose this was further expanded upon in Brown’s first work Helix.

The story begins on the eve of war, an invasion from one planet on the Helix to the others. This is where my first problem with the book arises. There isn’t any war, neither during the course of the book nor in it’s aftermath. A vicious, oppressive species invades another world on the helix seeking new resources, and the people that inhabit that planet are peaceful, if not entirely pacifistic in nature.

The fact that the title of this book is Helix Wars had me ready to see some combat, some kind of battle, if not a war entirely. No, not at all. Nothing of the sort. The invaders, named the Sporelli, invade their neighboring world and occupy it and systemically torture and oppress it’s citizen. The plot point that explains why neither the humans (who are given the label as peacekeepers in the novel) or the Mahkan (the engineers, but apparently much better suited for war than humans) is that their regimes are marred in bureaucracy. Bleh.

There are three principle characters of three different races in the novel. The main character, a human, is so consistent in his philosophy of beliefs that it’s impossible to accept him as plausible. At one point he acknowledges his decision to risk the lives of millions, if not billions of lives in the stead of killing a soldier of the totalitarian Sporelli regime. I’m not sure what message Eric Brown was attempting to send, but the plot luckily manages on the shoulders of the two other characters.

The second character is a member of the Mahkan species, which I made the assumption to realize the Predator creature from the film of the same name. I’ll make a note here and say I was disappointed with the lack of detail given to the various species Brown introduces in his novels. He explains very briefly certain anatomical aspects, but never gives the reader an image of what to expect. The species’ that he designs however are well put together on a philosophical and even physiological level. The Mahkans, for example, seem to change from male to female after a set period of time, and their behavior and thought processes change accordingly.

The third character named Calla, is a diminutive healer from the planet world of Phandra, which is being invaded by the Sporelli. Calla was my favorite character, and I’m a die hard military sci-fi fanatic. She was the voice of her people, but also grew and changed throughout the novel — something which I felt neither Jeff (the main human character) nor the Mahkan Kranda, who seemed to have the same ideological perspective from the beginning to the end.

The technological aspect of the Helix is interesting and never explained. The characters are told that it’s “technology advanced beyond our comprehension,” and I hate that. Hate it. I won’t go into the details of things that are missed or overlooked, but I’ll say that as a biochemistry major in college and a student of science, these cop outs show either how lazy or unprepared Eric Brown was in explaining his ideas. We can do better, Mr. Brown.

The writing of this novel wasn’t bad, the prose and grammar flowed nicely. The writing however cannot make up where the story fell apart however.

I understand that I’m woefully behind on these updates and will be posting two or three more this week until I’m caught up. I have since finished Chuck Wendig’s ATLANTA BURNS and am nearly through Kameron Hurley’s MIRROR EMPIRE, both of which will be looked at in kind. I’ll also try and get a post up on my own novel GUNSLINGER and how it’s been coming along.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

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