I won't make any excuses about how much I enjoy Eric Brown's novels. I'm pretty sure I've read more from him this year than any other author and every book I pick up is a joy to read. They may have some faults, but the journey I'm taken on more than makes up for them. When I heard that Solaris were reissuing Engineman, and as I hadn't got around to picking up a copy of the original release, I was rather excited and very much looking forward to it. The whole book is a thing of beauty - the cover makes it stand out from the crowd and the fact that it includes all the Engineman stories (well, except one - Pithecanthropus Blues) was a great bonus. A 350 page novel AND 150 pages of short stories in one book is not something to ignore.
The story follows Ralph Mirren, an ex-Engineman whose job was made redundant after the discovery and creation of the interfaces - wormholes that mean people can cross lightyears in a single step. Enginemen and women piloted ships through the nada continuum with the power of their minds, each time experiencing the joys of the flux, a state of near-euphoria that was a side product of the travel method. They miss this and even a religion has risen up because of it. While Ralph is not a believer, he still joins all other ex-Enginemen and women in wanting to experience flux again. When he gets that opportunity it's something he can't ignore, but someone wants to stop the trip no matter the cost.
Mirren is the main character and, as I've come to expect from Eric Brown's stories, he's one that is very easy to connect with. He's got an interesting past, one that is explored throughout the story, and his current situation is clearly not one he enjoys. His personality is clear from the start, but it's the exploration of events he has no memories of that proves to be the interesting point. He's not the only protagonist, we also follow much of Ella Fernandez, an artist residing in Paris who has connections to an ex-engineman called Eddie. She also has a big role in the story due to her heritage and origins, and this is also an aspect that is explored in further detail as the story progresses.
The story itself is fairly straightforward, although it does kick up some surprises along the way. The way that the colonised planet of Hennessy's Reach, a world that holds both secrets and trouble, plays a huge part in the story is great - it's always nice to read about an alien planet and what its past is about. Of course, much of this relates to the big reveal and resolution of the story so I won't go into any further detail. Suffice to say that all strands of the story are dealt with convincingly and very satisfyingly.
As for the extra short stories included, they are: The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived, The Phoenix Experiment, Big Trouble Upstairs, The Star of Epsilon, The Time-Lapsed Man, The Pineal Zen Equation, The Art of Acceptance and Elegy Perpetuum. While not all of these deal directly with Enginemen and women, they are clearly related to the subject of the novel and the tech that is present. I had two particular favourite: The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived, a story that melds art and technology together to give a really good character focused story; and The Time-Lapsed Man, an excellent story that looks at Black's syndrome where the patients senses start lapsing, so he doesn't see, hear or taste anything until a period of time after it's happened - a very interesting concept!
All in all I would highly recommend Engineman - it's got great characters, great tech and a wonderful story that is nicely wrapped up at the end. It's also the sort of sci-fi that doesn't throw the science in your face and uses it as a background detail to tell the story rather than depending on it. Another favourite of mine!