Weird Space is the shared universe Eric Brown created for Abaddon Books so they could add a Space Opera setting to their impressive collection of on-going series. While The Devil’s Nebula set the scene, introduced the Weird, and gave little tidbits of background information, Satan’s Reach takes many of these aspects and runs with them. Admittedly I was expecting something very different to what I read within the pages of Satan’s Reach, but I eventually understood my reaction and how I had subconsciously skewed my expectations.
Den Harper is a runaway telepath now trading outside of the human controlled Expansion in Satan’s Reach. It is here that he makes his living, taking jobs throughout that region of space and making ends meet. With only the ship – along with its AI Judi – he stole when he fled the Expansion, Harper lives a lonely life with much in his past that he has tried to leave behind. But when a trade goes wrong on the planet of Ajanta he ends up escaping with his life, and with a new companion, Zeela, that he rescues from the clutches of the planets inhabitants. As he tries to decide what to do with her, he discovers that the Expansion are once again on his trial and determined to track him down. With both the bounty hunters and the Ajantans after him he must decide where to go, and just how he can escape their seemingly obsessive need to catch him.
I mentioned earlier that Satan’s Reach was not the book I expected. Truth be told, I expected more of a sequel to The Devil’s Nebula, but that is not the case. The events depicted in The Devil’s Nebula with the discovery of the Weird play a large role in the bigger picture, but not quite in the story. Those that have read the Devil’s Nebula will know that the Weird are invading both human and Vetch space, and the seemingly empty ships discovered on planets by both species were host to parasites sent out by the Weird in an attempt to infiltrate the governments of both cultures. However, telepaths can spot these parasites in the minds of the infected, even when the infected don’t know it themselves. It is this dire need to dig out the infected that leads the Expansion to start tracking down missing telepaths, hence that mission that Janaker and Kreller are sent on to apprehend Den Harper.
Okay, there’s a little background for you to see the overall picture in the universe of Weird Space. Now, on to Satan’s Reach with some more detailed thoughts.
What I described above is known to the reader in Satan’s Reach, but, other than the plot thread following the bounty hunters, it is not an aspect touched on for most of the novel. What we have here is a stand-alone story that fits into this setting. Den Harper goes about his business none the wiser about the danger to humanity, dealing and running from dangerous aliens that will stop at nothing to get their hands on Zeela. The bounty hunters add the more wide-reaching aspect, but it doesn’t disrupt the story that Brown is telling about this runaway telepath.
Harper is an interesting character. He lives alone on his ship with the controlling AI, Judi. They have an easy relationship more like crew members than anything else, and it adds extra depth to his history. When Zeela joins him after the rescue on Ajanta things are shaken up a little. We slowly learn more about Harper and his past, the reason he is on the run, and the circumstances surrounding it all. There are additional aspects that play a larger role, but they were perhaps underplayed until they were really needed.
One of the other things I enjoyed most in Satan’s Reach was the bounty hunter team of Janaker, a human with clear issues, and Kreller, a Vetch. While the Vetch made a brief appearance in The Devil’s Nebula, nothing much else was explained about them, with just some comments here and there. In Satan’s Reach we have a Vetch as part of the story, and despite Kreller being the only member of his species to show his face, it was a joy to read his scenes. Not only did Brown create an interesting race and character, the pairing of Janaker and Kreller provided plenty of background and detail without obviously doing so. I’ll be looking forward to see what else can be done in the future with the Vetch.
As for the Weird, well… as I mentioned, they’re part of the bigger picture, yet the threat they pose only comes to the fore towards the end of the novel. When it happens it feels like Harper’s story finally slots into this big threat, and the revelations that take place certainly make for a gripping and exciting finale. I perhaps would have liked to have seen more of the Weird threat present in Satan’s Reach, but I’m holding out hope that a future novel will continue the story of the characters we’ve met here – it would be a shame not to.
And all this brings me back to my thoughts on Satan’s Reach as a whole. Firstly, let me say that I enjoyed it a great deal, but I’m not sure how successful it is in continuing the shared world setting. Without a doubt it uses the setting to its advantage, but it occasionally comes across as a novel that isn’t quite sure what it is. This is, perhaps, simply my view of the novel due to my relative lack of experience in shared world reading. It could also be that these are the sort of novels that need to be written early on to build a successful setting. Either way I’ll be tuning in for the next Weird Space instalment.