My life in outer space

Brooke – Keith

The Accord – Keith Brooke (2009)

The Accord

“The Accord, a virtual utopia where the soul lives on after death and your perceptions are bound only by your imagination. This is the setting for a tale of love, murder and revenge that crosses the boundaries between the real world and this virtual reality”—

Blurb from the 2009 Solaris edition

One of the blurbs for this novel is a line from a review that says ‘one of the best novels of virtual reality ever written’ which actually pays this a disservice since it is far far more than that.
Noah Barakh is the architect of a worldwide project called The Accord. The Accord is a virtual representation of the Earth into which the consciousnesses of those who have been scanned are uploaded when the individuals die.
Noah is heading toward the point at which the Accord, guided by the consensus of those who have already begun living within it, will coalesce conflating various realities into one.
Barakh lives in a future UK where MPs have evolved into Electees. Electee Jack Burnham is fully behind the Accord project unaware that Noah (a rather too apt name for the builder of an ark of human souls) is in love with Electee Priscilla Burnham, Jack’s wife. Noah has been experimenting with his own Accord mini-realities where he and Priscilla are lovers.
In the real world Priscilla, it appears, does feel an attraction to Noah and invites him to her home while Jack is away. Jack is not away, however, and wrongly suspects that Noah and his wife have been having an affair for some time. He shoots Priscilla and later Noah, who – now dead – are reborn in The Accord.
This is only the prelude to where things start to get very interesting.
Brooke cleverly leaves the morality of some aspects to the reader. Noah’s initial creations of his and Priscilla’s relationship, for instance, would no doubt be considered to be a violation of her ‘digital self’ for want of a better phrase. Added to that, the versions of Priscilla that were in love with Noah were no doubt uploaded into the Accord to become part of the consensus.
This leads us further into Brooke’s exploration of the concept of editing personalities. It appears that the scanning technology allows one to not merely edit a personality but combine aspects of various personalities to create a new one.
It is this aspect of the novel that ultimately becomes the most fascinating since in such a reality (if one can term it so) one is not restricted to simply altering one’s surroundings.
Jack Burnham, for instance, who on the original Earth was prepared to kill anyway, embarks on a process whereby he becomes an amalgam of several people in order to turn himself into a remorseless destroyer.
In the Accord itself, if one is killed, one is reborn again shortly after, although it appears that the Accord itself changes one slightly in the process.
Thus, the characters that are pursuing their earthly passions and revenge are ultimately far from the original consciousnesses that existed on the dying earth that they left.
Brooke makes a marvellous job of creating an Earth on the brink of apocalypse where Britain is having to make choices about turning away armadas of boat people, as well as the world of the Accord where Noah’s uploaded scientists managed to export the Accord itself into quantum space.
As I have said however, the most fascinating and thought-provoking aspect of all this is the Post-Dickian examination of consciousness, questioning its very nature and the idea that it can be easily modified by oneself or others.
Despite the deceptively upbeat ending, one is left long after the book has ended, pondering the ethical and moral issues.
It’s a tour-de-force by Brooke, one of our best contemporary SF writers.


Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology – Nick Gevers (Ed) (2008)

Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology

An excellent anthology of the Steampunk subgenre from Gevers and the good people of Solaris, with not a bad story in the whole bunch. Of particular note are the stories by Marly Youmans and Margo Lanagan.

Steampunch – James Lovegrove (2008)
Static – Marly Youmans (2008)
Speed, Speed the Cable – Kage Baker (2008)
Elementals – Ian R Macleod (2008)
Machine Maid – Margo Lanagan (2008)
Lady Witherspoon’s Solution – James Morrow (2008)
Hannah – Keith Brooke (2008)
Petrolpunk – Adam Roberts (2008)
American Cheetah – Robert Reed (2008)
Fixing Hanover – Jeff VanderMeer (2008)
The Lollygang Save the World on Accident – Jay Lake (2008)
The Dream of Reason – Jeffrey Ford (2008)

Steampunch – James Lovegrove

A deportee narrates a tale of Steampunch, the strongest and best mechanical pugilist.

Static – Marly Youmans

A beautiful and descriptive tale of a world in which physical laws are far different to those of our own and where static is a powerful and possibly deadly force.

Speed, Speed the Cable – Kage Baker

The battle is on to save the laying of the transatlantic cable from being sabotaged, and secret agent Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax is on hand to save the day. This story is set within Kage Baker’s complex ‘Company’ Universe

Elementals – Ian R Macleod

A Victorian scientist attempts to trap an ‘elemental’ in an electric cage, with disastrous consequences for himself.

Machine Maid – Margo Lanagan

One of the most powerful stories on this collection is this unashamedly feminist piece from Lanagan, set in a Victorian Australian outback where automata can be programmed to do almost anything

Lady Witherspoon’s Solution – James Morrow

Morrow’s satirical piece follows a young lady’s initiation into the charitable work of Lady Witherspoon, whose main aim is to deal with the worst excesses of male behaviour with a unique Darwinian solution.

Hannah – Keith Brooke

An investigation into a child’s death leads a Victorian forensic scientist to investigate the identification of blood, which leads to the culturing of the victim’s blood cells, and the cloning of the dead girl

Petrolpunk – Adam Roberts

A rollercoaster of a story from Roberts which features parallel worlds, an immortal Queen Victoria and the fight for petroleum across the dimensions

American Cheetah – Robert Reed

A robotic Abraham Lincoln attempts to dissuade robotic representations of the infamous James gang from their criminal pursuits.

Fixing Hanover – Jeff VanderMeer

Borderline cyberpunk in which an android is washed ashore in a post-apocalyptic world and found by a primitive Viking like people, one of whom is a refugee from a more advanced culture, and wants to rebuild the android.

The Lollygang Save the World on Accident – Jay Lake

Complex steampunk goings on in what seems to be a generation ship launched by a Victorian society.

The Dream of Reason – Jeffrey Ford

Fantastical story about a scientist who believes that matter is light slowed down and that the stars are diamonds. He hatches a complex plan for an experiment which involves slowing down light and firing it into the eye of an expendable volunteer.

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction – George Mann (Ed) – (2007)

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas
Bioship – Neal Asher
C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout
The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove
Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo
If at First… – Peter F Hamilton
A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts
Last Contact – Stephen Baxter
Cages – Ian Watson
Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold
Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo
Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss
The Accord – Keith Brooke
The Wedding Party – Simon Ings
Third Person – Tony Ballantyne
The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

Solaris is a new SF imprint, making an enterprising splash with an anthology of newly commissioned material from the great and good of the SF world.

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas starts us off with a story from Punktown featuring a character who also features in a novel shortly to be published by Solaris. Bearing this in mind, I was setting myself up to be disappointed, but was genuinely impressed by this story of a shapeshifter war veteran whose face has frozen as one of his victims from his time in the war (with blue-skinned people from an alternate reality).
Very dark. Quite Gothic. China Mieville likes it.

Bioship – Neal Asher

A rather weak tale from Asher about sexual rivalry on board a sentient ship (a sea-vessel not a spaceship).
It features the genetically modified lip-tentacled humans (I presume) that we met in the novel ‘Brass Man.’

C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout

One of the crew of a trading vessel docks at a city composed of three linked asteroids where he has a regular date with a security guard. However, the man is also on a pilgrimage to find his mother; one of the blind slaves who built the station for The Proctor.
Very moving. Well-paced. Atmospheric.

The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove

An excellent tale from Lovegrove about an escaped logovirus which alters the speech centres of the brain. This particular virus, the Bowdler strain, makes it impossible for people to swear. It comes out as gibberish. It is up to the scientist in charge and the military to get the situation resolved.
See also ‘The Isolinguals’

Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo

Set in a world where on can have one’s own personal Jesus, rather like an i-pod, giving one advice in one’s ear. Is it all just too good to be true?
The voice of God was discovered when the first quantum computers went online and now everyone has their own godPod through which they can talk to Jesus whenever they wish. The world is a peaceful and contented place.
Our hero, however, has his doubts as to how happy he actually is.

If at First… – Peter F Hamilton

Hamilton’s story, in contrast to the previous two, is a fairly simple idea, but told ingeniously. Narrated by the policeman who investigated the original case, it slowly becomes clear to us that his history is a different one to our own.
It turns out that a man has been stalking a multi-millionaire businessman because he suspects that he has a time-machine and has been passing information to his younger self.
Things, however, are not quite as simple as that.

A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts

A religious cult (Roberts seems keen on his religious fanatics) settles on a world 2700 light years from Earth and, following the teachings of Shad, are composed of two thousand and forty-eight people, half male, half female, who will pair off and produce one child per couple in every generation until the birth of the final child; The Unique, and thus install Grace into the Universe.
Grace, the cult believes, travels backwards through time and will therefore reach Earth at the time of Christ’s birth.
It’s no more bonkers than any other religious theories, and Roberts writes so damn well that the characters’ convictions come across startlingly powerfully.

Last Contact – Stephen Baxter

What does one do when one knows that the world will end on a specific date, and ironically, just when SETI is beginning to receive messages from the stars?
A mother and her daughter come to terms with the discovery of the Big Rip, which is destroying the universe by degrees and will deal with the earth on October 14. Perversely, SETI – with which the mother is involved – has begun receiving messages from super-civilisations across the cosmos. The mother has her own ideas as to what these messages may be.

Cages – Ian Watson

Watson has made a name for himself by taking absurd premises and carving exquisite short pieces from them, like beautifully wrought ivory figures.
Here, earth has been invaded by Hoops, which hang in the air and disgorge giant bee-like aliens (The Harrow) who attach irremovable cages to various parts of people’s bodies. An intelligence agent is sent to a festival where some musical reactionaries are planning to transmit some of the bees’ remixed sounds back through the hoops in order to provoke them into some kind of dialogue.
As with all Watson’s work, it’s a brilliantly dense piece of writing, full of complex ‘stuff’ and surely deserves a larger format to explore more global and personal ramifications.
The concept of ‘cages’ of course, works on different levels in this story, some obvious, some more subtle.

Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold

In this post-modern parody, Resnick and Gerrold show us the life of a writer based on an amalgam I suspect, of PK Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs. A tale full of SF devices, clichés and in-jokes and featuring an attack on a whole plethora of SF writers, thinly disguised, including the two authors themselves. They even manage to sneak in AE van Vogt’s famous Sevagram.

Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo

A brilliant bit of character-driven drama in which an African couple and their young son, working on mars, have to temporarily take in some Land Ethic Nomads. They believe that Man should live nowhere but Earth and are trying to persuade Mars settlers to return.
When they leave, it appears that one of them, Valkini, has sabotaged their nuclear plant since their radiation monitors are showing high levels.

Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss

A prose-poem-ish piece from Aldiss in which four ladies (and a fifth) visit a dictator. The horsemen are, it appears, too exhausted by their labours to appear at this juncture.

The Accord – Keith Brooke

Tish and her husband run a bar on a strange and beautiful world. They are happy until a mysterious stranger turns up, pursued by three other mysterious strangers, intent on his capture. She becomes infatuated with the stranger and is determined to discover who or what he is.

The Wedding Party – Simon Ings

Simon Ings often reads like Ian Watson a serious acid downer.
In a future Europe, a man goes to extraordinary and somewhat surgical lengths to smuggle his African lovers into the UK.
Beautifully written. Very poetic. Very dark.

Third Person – Tony Ballantyne

The British Army are in Spain, fighting the S.E.A., and have to pillage what they need to get back to Britain. It’s a tale about military ethics and who or what one might sacrifice for the greater good.

The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

A surprise story, which starts in the real world where a group of friends who meet at a village pub are curious about a new arrival, a writer. Then we are hammered by the news that first contact has already been made, and that the aliens, the Kethani, can resurrect humans who have been implanted with one of their chips.
The narrator has already been resurrected but his recollections of the Kethani world are vague. The writer’s latest book is about a group of friends who commit joint suicide in order to be resurrected and travel the Universe together.
So who or what is the writer, and should the group be tempted by the idea?
It’s one of the most intriguing stories in this volume since its theme is Faith and conviction, and although the fact of resurrection has been proven here, the details of the ‘afterlife’ are unclear, perhaps necessarily so, or perhaps there is a more sinister purpose in the Kethani’s plans.

Keepers of The Peace – Keith Brooke (2001)

Keepers of the Peace

Brooke’s portrait of a future soldier is, in a sense, a bleak reflection of Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ although here, there is no alien enemy, just humans. Ironically, ‘aliens’ is what the people of Earth call the Peacekeeping Forces’; military forces recruited from off-world colonies and sent to Earth at the behest of the American Union, half of a USA which is now split following devastating climatic changes.
Jed Brindle is a black farmworker living and working with his family on an orbital settlement, Lejeune, although we first meet him on Earth where he is on an undercover military mission.
From this point on, we follow the fate of the mission while delving back in time to discover how he got to be the agent he is now.
Brooke sets the scenes perfectly and there is a touch of the ‘Starship Troopers’ in that we are treated to excerpts of propagandist news items and recruitment campaigns.
There is also a sense of enormous irony in the fact that what is presumably a colony settled by Americans is providing troops to carry out covert operations and deal with insurgencies in what was the USA.
In terms of plot, there isn’t a lot for the reader to be concerned with. This is a novel about one man and the people he affects from the time he gets drafted to the culmination of his mission. There are excerpts from reports from his commanding officer, and some notes from a female reporter who is doing a story on the call-up, which give objective views of of him as a contrast to his own diary notes and the narrative itself.
That is not to say that the novel lacks action. It doesn’t. There is plenty going on, and the pace is often quite intense, but these are events which are very much character led and add a far greater depth to the narrative.
Brookes’ great success with this is that we see one character throughout, a man who sometimes does terrible things, and yet one who is charming, loveable and capable of great tenderness, with facets of personality that all fit together into one human.