Guardians Of The Phoenix
Solaris paperback �7.99
review by Erik Reed
Let's summarise. The story is set in an end of 21st century Earth which, as a result of environmental delinquency and nuclear lunacy, has been
reduced to a planet-encompassing desert, barely able to support life. Mankind teeters on the brink of extinction, small groups hanging on to life
by eating lizards and drilling for ever-more-difficult-to-find sources of water. Into this bleak world-scape Eric Brown brings a potpourri of
protagonists, divided into two bands of survivors. The first is under the titular leadership of Samara, a woman with a hugely over-wrought sex
drive, who has, amongst others, Hans in tow, Hans being a ruthless psychopath with a taste for human flesh, whether it is cooked or on the hoof.
The second is a pretty predictable collection of good guys and gals who take Paul, a young ing�nue they find eking out an existence in a ruined,
desolate Paris, under their wing. Both groups are rivals for possession of a cache of goodies supposedly hidden somewhere near Bilboa. The story
is essentially a road race - or it would be, if there were any roads left, that is - to see who gets to this crock of gold first. Reading this
book it's pretty obvious that Eric Brown is a talented writer. He uses some terrific imagery:
'..the chiffon arm of the Milky Way...'
'..and arrived in the weary capital with an hour to spare...'
And his conjuring up of a sun and sand blasted Paris is very evocative (these early scenes are easily the best in the book). I also liked his
description of the journey over the desiccated sea-beds of long-gone oceans, the flat plains carpeted with the bones of fish: Brown does great
smells. But - and it's a really big 'but' - style alone does not a good book make; there has to be an emotional connection too. And the impression
I was left with was that Brown was simply going through the motions. The characters, though interesting, don't surprise.
The sex scenes - and there are several - are over-played and, at times, borderline gratuitous. And then there's the denouement: not only was it
signalled in ten foot high neon by the book's title, but it was so lacking in tension that I had a suspicion that Brown became bored and decided
to shut up shop early. Where was the edge-of-seat, final-scene drama the book had so clearly been building up to?
Having said all that, most fans of SF will like Guardians Of The Phoenix. It does, after all, check any number of SF boxes - post-apocalyptic
world; rivals racing for possession of a humanity-saving mcguffin; na�ve and innocent character gradually coming to self-awareness; confused and
(very) wanton heroine; a bad, bad villain - but I don't think Eric Brown's heart was really in it. It was as though Picasso had decided to try his
hand at painting by numbers: very efficient but not terribly inspiring. Yeah, that's the word which sums up this book: efficient.