Eric Brown: The Timelapsed Man

This is Eric Brown's first collection of short stories. Indeed, it includes his first ever published tale "Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal-Zen Equation" which is remarkable for just how good a debut it is.

"Krash-Bangg Joe" opens with the line "I'm dropping acid shorts in the Supernova slouch bar when the call comes through." It's one of the most attention gathering first lines the I have ever read. it has the same sort of "cyberpunk meets Chandler" grip as the opening to William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic. It introduces a story of telepaths, cheap investigation agencies, love and revenge that really makes the reader pay attention. Alone, this story is worth the price of the whole book and the time to read it all. The same is also true of the title tale in which a spacer's senses become detached from current time. Those are the highlights here but the other stories are all worth reading too.

There are eight stories in all, six of which first appeared in magazines between 1987 and 1989 the other two are original to this collection. Most of the tales are set in a medium future Sol System in which star travel has become possible through a form of mental projection through the void. It's a little like the idea in Robert Sheckley's tale "Specialist" though much expanded.

Eric Brown is a better at short stories than novels and this is a very fine collection. All of the stories are well paced and, despite the limits of the genre, he introduces real characters that the reader can understand. It is a perfect introduction to the author's work.

The SF here is hard and the material bridges the gap between mainstream and cyberpunk. That means that it will have a wide appeal and I recommend it to any SF enthusiast.

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My rating

Nine out of ten. Some of the eighties' best SF shorts.

Detailed Contents

The Timelapsed Man
Thorn, a spacer returned from a long voyage wakes from his period of other consciousness in which he uses his mind to push his ship through the flux of the Nada continuum. He wakes to a problem, his sense of hearing is delayed by an hour. He is not deaf as he first suspects, he just hears all sounds one hour late. Contacting an old girlfriend who happens also to be a doctor, he finds out that his problem is far worse than he suspects. I'm happy to use the word "brilliant" to describe this story. The author creates a situation for his characters and the way that they relate within it is truly gripping. 10/10

The Karma-Kid Transcends
A young telepath, working as a starship navigator is infatuated with her much older captain. He carries a deadly secret which he hides by wearing a permanent mind shield. The young navigator wants to help and finally she discovers that the secret is even worse than her captain thought. Not at all an easy read but a great story. 9/10

Big Trouble Upstairs
A super telepath is sent on an emergency mission to a satellite housing an orbiting version of Disneyland. An android has gone berserk and is killing the staff and visitors. 6/10

Star-Crystals and Karmel
A man settles on a distant planet and meets his crippled neighbour and her daughter. How was the woman crippled, why does she hold such an antipathy to the natives and why is her daughter strangely attracted to the star crystals that the natives hold in such high esteem? Not the best tale here but OK. 6/10

Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal-Zen Equation
What a fine story. A detective tale laced with love and revenge. A telepath working for a detective agency is upset when a rich businessman targets her lover's brain. After she gets mad, she gets even. Brown's first published SF story and it's great. 9/10

Pithecanthropus Blues
Another side effect of being an Engineman is revealed here as a retired fluxer has flashbacks in which he keeps exchanging places with an early human. He is offered a way to escape but something goes gruesomely wrong. 8/10

The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived
A spaceman invents a new art form that allows an artist to capture emotion, feeling and experience. Another artist wants to use the technique to record the experience of her own death for posterity. One of the less convincing tales here, it reminded me of Richard Kadrey's tale: "Goodbye Houston Street Goodbye" also from Interzone. 5/10

The Inheritors of Earth
Definitely a Wellsian story. Taken to the point of featuring H.G. as a character in a tale about a time traveller who rescues the last of the Neanderthals from slaughter by modern man and transports them into the far future when Earth is recovering from a nuclear holocaust. 7/10