Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, June 15, 2012

1994: Engineman (Brown, Eric)

Inspired by renowned collections of short stories (4/5)
From June 21, 2011

The collection of Engineman (composed of one novel and eight shorter stories) carries with it a tradition of sorts. There is much about facing death and process of dying, like in his collection The Fall of Tartarus. There are points of painful nostalgia like John Updike's Afterlife. There are lines of texture-oriented fixations and Asiatic cast inclusions, like William Gibson's Burning Chrome. And finally, perhaps the largest influence in Engineman, would be J.G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands, which highlights unique medians of art, the longing for a love lost and the fixation on a single location when writing short stories (Ballard's oasis of Vermilions Sands versus Brown's future slum-ridden Paris).

Pulling together these influences has created a melodramatic collection of an earth in decline while the outer planets grow from the influx of colonists. The one-time great invention of the flux-ship through the nada-continuum expanded man's realm to tens of thousands of light-years. Each ship cruised through the continuum by pilots called enginemen, who drove the craft with their minds when connected with the vast nothingness. It's this flux that they perform which they consider to be a glimpse of the afterlife, or a taste of nirvana. The new religion of the Disciples stems from this discovery and most enginemen are followers and even some of those who have not experienced flux are followers, too.

The fluxing comes to end when Interfaces are invented, allowing planets to link-up with no use of ships. Planet-to-planet connections become to norm and all the enginemen are put out of work and also put out of the high they seek: the flux. It's this flux which drives enginemen mad and willing to experience it again at any cost. It also underpins the fate of one planet, one alien race and one expanse of humanity.


Engineman (1994, novel) - 3/5 - One-time engineman is connected by a mysterious man who says he can flux again after a ten-year absence to the addiction. The engineman connects his long-lost shipmen in order to fulfill the contract, but they begin to accidentally die one-by-one. His brother at home is time-lapsed due to a mistake while fluxing and may provide the last berth to the clandestinely dangerous mission... but to able to flux will be worth any cost, even death...

...Meanwhile, a slum-living artist is shacking up with an ex-engineman. When her contact with her agent disintegrates and her partner commits a spectacular suicide, she decides to visit her home planet. Upon arrive, it's obvious many things have changed and even though she's accepted onto the planet, it's made clear she's welcome. Being a follower of Disciples like her dead partner, she's ensconced in the revolt against the planet's dictatorship. 428 pages

The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived (1987, short story) - 4/5 - Lone survivor of a nova explosion, the engineman cum artist permanently imprints his tragedy into a holographic crystal sculpture (alá J.G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands). Upon meeting a likeness of his partner who died in the nova, the engineman reveals his wish for death as she, too, reveals her artistic side and her wish for death, too. 26 pages

The Phoenix Experiment (1991, short story) - 5/5 - Seeking convalescence on the English seaside, Fuller meets a group of recovering Enginemen at a rehabilitation center. There he meets a mysterious gold-veined woman who the others shun. When, fact by fact, he reveals his recent loss and she reveals her tragic past, Fuller becomes emotionally attached to the oddly expressionless lady. 17 pages

Big Trouble Upstairs (1988, short story) - 5/5 - A mega-telepathic woman is called to Disney in orbit to telepathically bring down an assailant bent on sniping the humans but ignoring the robotic characters. The discovery of a telepathically unreadable android raises her suspicions and the finding of an underground laboratory brings about a wickedly funny and dramatic conclusion. 21 pages

Star of Epsilon (1991, short story) - 3/5 - Ninety year-old man relives engineman experiences through his occipital consol for a crowd and on alternate nights a fifteen year-old cerebrally transmits horror and the sense of death to patron of the bar. When the young girl entices the old man into grand heist, the truth will be known and greater truth will be made brilliantly clear. 18 pages

The Time-Lapsed Man (1988, short story) - 3/5 - Experienced engineman awakes from fluxing without his hearing. Later, after reliving his aural past, he calls his ex-partner and also doctor who tells him to come to the hospital. There he learns he has Black's Syndrome and will continue to lose his sense one-by-one, exactly like the man named Black who is suffering wit two days further advance. 23 pages

The Pineal Zen Equation (1987, novelette) - 3/5 - A second-rate telepath is employed to find the body of a man's kidnapped daughter. She also witnesses three conniving men in a bar aiming ill thoughts at an Engineman in the corner, who the telepath finds to be pure of mind and attracted to. She saves him from the men and they begin a naïve relationship before his ill-fated trip to and from the stars. 34 pages

The Art of Acceptance (1989, novelette) - 4/5 - Ex-engineman hires a burn-scarred girl in his detective agency but the level of attraction is nil when one other learn the each others' secret. A 70-year old starlet arrives at the agency looking 20 years old and wants the ex-engineman to do to an expensive job. The girl is curious and investigates the starlet and reveals a bizarre love triangle. 28 pages

Elegy Perpetuum (1991, novelette) - 3/5 - Artists argue over realism versus romanticism and call it a night after one artist hypes his totally unique art work. The next day the piece is tried out and wows one artist and is thence put up for display. Then a tragedy occurs and the realist must confront reality for all its worth while his fellow artists and romantics stand around and observe his behavior. 33 pages

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