Necropath is Eric Brown's new SF novel from Solaris Books, billed as his triumphant return to hard SF. I'm not sure how to take that, but regardless of the sub-genre of his last book (Kethani), Necropath is certainly triumphant and well worth investing your time in!
Jeff Vaughan is a telepath working for a security company in Bengal Station, an interstellar port based near India and Thailand. A man with a dark and disturbing past, he thinks very little of his fellow humans due to his ability to read minds.
His work on the station has lead him to suspect his boss, Weiss, of importing something that he wants nobody to know of. Being transferred when certain ships land have raised his suspicions about this, and with the help of a contact in the station police force, Chandra, he puts an investigation into action that will reveal some terrible things.
Tiger, one of Vaughan's only friends - if you could even call her that - has overdosed on a new and mysterious drug: Rhapsody. Looking further into the source of this he stumbles upon a larger, more sinister plan by the Church of the Adoration of the Chosen One, a cult originating from another world and slowly planning their conversion of Earth with promises of paradise and euphoria.
With connections deepening and time running out, Vaughan and Chandra travel off planet in the hope of solving the increasing questions that are coming up wherever they turn. But this is not the only problem facing Vaughan - a figure from the past he tries to ignore is tracking him and won't be giving up easily. With all the events coming to a head, will Vaughan discover the secrets that are being kept from him? And will we discover his?
As I said earlier on, Necropath is a magnificent novel, one that keeps you turning pages and guessing right until the last page. Eric Brown has certainly delivered a thrilling ride in a very realistic and interesting setting. With the station set where it is there is a strong flavour of both Thai and Indian cultures coming through which adds another layer of depth to the novel, giving that extra sense of realism and an environment that I don't often find myself reading about.
As far as the characters go, I found Vaughan to be a particularly intriguing and very interesting. His life has centred on his telepathic ability, and although we only find out his whole story towards the end the insights we get in the meantime are very realistic. His ability to see the innermost details of a persons mind have turned him sour to humanity, a position that I can sympathise with throughout. Even the attempts by Chandra, a close colleague, to get closer are mostly met with a stone wall. Necropath may have many other elements, but it is Vaughan's story and path that are the highlight.
I also enjoyed the sections where we follow Sukura, Tiger's sister, as she struggles through her life as a working girl in the hope that she will one day be able to be reunited with Tiger. We follow her life as a working girl in Thailand where she can only get custom from aliens because of a horrific scar running down her face. It's through these encounters that we meet some of the aliens that populate the Necropath universe and discover more about them. I'd particularly like to see some more on the aliens, after all, Bengal station does receive craft from all over explored space.
Overall the story flowed at a nice pace and there wasn't any unnecessary diversions which helped keep the story all the more interesting. It was clear from the first couple of chapters that it was going to be an enjoyable read and all the plot thread were tied up quite nicely at the end (which didn't feel rushed at all). I'll be looking forward to the upcoming sequels due over the next couple of years and can't wait to get back with some of these characters and see where the story takes them next.
Very highly recommended.