12 June 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Binary/System by Eric Brown

My rating: 4 out of 5

DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley.

If I imagine a 2017 version of a sci-fi magazine in the vein of golden-era publications such as Amazing Stories or If, then it would contain stories something like this one. I’ve referred to this pulp-fiction feel before in reviews of Brown’s work, and it’s a style that I find myself liking a lot. This is because there’s a big focus on the yarn for the sake of entertainment without too many words spent on character depth or excessive world-building. Much of Brown’s other work shows his prowess in those areas, but this one is about straight entertainment, pure and simple. It’s almost like Brown pours himself a stiff measure of his favorite liquor then sits down to write stories in his casual style that are meant to be fun, writing for his own entertainment as much as ours. This is a key reason why he’s one of my favorite authors and his books usually keep me firmly hooked because they’re so enjoyable. It’s an excellent reminder of why we read this sort of science fiction: it’s fun!

Somewhat confusingly, the first half of this book was released late last year simply titled Binary and now here is the complete novel which includes both that first half as well as a continuation from where it left off. The story follows Delia, a scientist from an ill-fated starship voyage who becomes marooned on an unknown planet in a binary star system over ten thousand light years from Earth. Her consequent adventures begin shortly after making planet-fall. The planet has a harsh and extreme protracted climate cycle and the alien inhabitants are in a continual state of inter-species conflict. She quickly becomes caught up in this conflict and forges friendships which introduce us to some likeable alien characters. These guys are interesting yet simplistic in their nature but this is certainly okay for the type of story which is probably more driven by events than characterization. None of the characters dominate or become a distraction to the overall plot which, again, lends itself nicely to the easy-reading style. The story concludes pleasantly yet leaves space for continuation which is a welcome thought.

The world building is likewise enjoyable, with excellent descriptions of things like alien cities and wondrous creatures featuring at various points in the story. This aspect is, in my view, this novel’s best feature and an aspect that makes this a fantastic escapist’s book. It’s what I think of as a great chill-out read that doesn’t tax your mind so much, yet keeps you involved with that sense of wonder that we all love in our science fiction stories, a facet that Eric Brown customarily does very well.

To be honest, the writing style seemed to me as if it was written with mostly a young adult audience in mind and, had it not been for the liberal use of lesser-known words (I consulted the dictionary multiple times) I would say that it would be most suitable for teenage readers. My nine-year old could probably read and enjoy this aside from the big words, but I suppose that’s a bit rich coming from me given that I needed the dictionary so often…

Overall the book works because of the effective use of some tried-and-true genre tropes blending together into a cohesive whole that makes a delightful read. It is equal parts adventure, drama and wonder, a combination that pulls the story along almost faster than you can keep up and provides a gratifying read. But keep up I did and discovered that Eric Brown has yet again failed to disappoint me with another entertaining story that was a real pleasure. If my descriptions match what you enjoy then I suggest that you’ll be as tickled as me by this uncomplicated and engaging novel. Give it a try.

Concept: 3/5
Delivery: 4/5
Entertainment: 5/5
= 4 out of 5

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