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3.7 out of 5 stars
Engineman
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2010
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!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 6 April 2011
LOVED the artwork for this book!

I've only ever read one other novel by Eric Brown - Helix (see my Review for that title) and I must say; I do enjoy his style of writing. He somehow has the ability to make you feel you're actually 'there' beside the main characters - a quality I often fail to experience when reading much Sci-Fi lately.

I found 'Engineman' to be even better than 'Helix'! There's a death of what you might believe will be one of the main characters in the very first chapter. Sounds a bit odd and ironic I know, but early deaths in novels for some reason seem to bode for a good read in my experience - not sure why...

It's a great pity that though I love all the other qualities of 'Solaris' books; the size of print, clear type, binding, paper and so on, that their publications should always be so very full of errors... Countless spelling errors, and so many wrong words... Often, the word that should have read: 'through' was 'though' - and vice versa... A pretty good reflection on the standard of conscientiousness people give to their job of employment in this country these days - and they are severely overpaid in my opinion!

Eric Brown somehow makes the worlds and times he creates very 'real' and convincing. I just love it when I'm in the middle of reading a good book, pause, and when I stop to look up, feel I've just 'come back' from somewhere - as if I've been away to another world! I guess it's how it should be when having a really enjoyable read, but it isn't always the case - unfortunately. I would say the statement on the front of this book: 'Eric Brown is the name to watch in SF' to be certainly true and very accurate as far as I'm concerned, as I shall most definitely be reading more from 'Mr. Brown', and I don't usually 'follow' Authors.

The whole novel is riveting, but Chapter Twelve I thought particularly outstanding! All sorts of emotions (some you don't always expect to find between the pages of a Sci-Fi novel) and I felt that a complete novel could have been written concerning the wonderful alien race called the 'Lho'! If hesitating in a shop at buying this title, I would suggest you just read Chapter Twelve - you'll definitely come out with the book! It's the most beautiful, fascinating and totally transporting portion I have ever read in a book! I had to break off just after reading at that point, and as I did, I was quite disorientated - unsure where I was for a minute! No book has ever had that affect on me before! I also enjoyed the fact that we were reminded at regular intervals of 'Bobby's' curious affliction - I thought it was a fascinating concept.

There are several short stories at the back of this book, and I see a number of Reviewers have found cause to complain about this; they feel 'cheated' somehow, as one expects the thickness of any book to be that of the whole singular novel (unless otherwise stated) and I must say, I agree with them. I'm not a fan of short stories myself, and never buy them as a rule. I too did not realise that a good portion of the number of pages were in fact other stories, (for those interested, the main story is just 349 pages long) but in view of how good the main novel is, I personally am prepared to overlook it. I shall read them of course, but I don't feel in the mood having just finished such a good and full-sized novel right now. However; This being the second title I've so enjoyed by this Writer, I have no doubt that they will be very good indeed!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a novel and a collection of about 8 or so short stories all set in the same continuity. The short stories comprose about one third of the book.
The book serves to address and unite all the ideas that Eric explored in his 'Engineman' universe.

'Enginemen' are ex-spacers addicted to the Nada-continuum , but denied access since the closure of all space traffic in favor of more efficient portal technology. The fringe worlds are ruled by a brutal consortium controlling commerce and travel through access to the portals. Aliens are exterminated and humans supresssed. Enginemen will do anything to gain access to the nada continum. Something has to give.

My problem with the book is that it reads like 50's pulp. Ive read a fair bit of Eric brown this year and its all been very average stuff. The short stories are the best things Ive read that he has written. They are quick insightful social pieces that dont require any hard science and rely on characterisation rather than tight plotting. He is good at this. This book falls down in that it mixes mysticism , religion and SF and cant quite decide what it wants to be. Its certainly not the Hard SF that a lot of people promote it as.

For a multithreaded storyline its very badly put together. One of the main characters storylines is completely unneccessary to the plot. Apart from the two main characters and one supporting character there is no attempt to humanise any of the many others who appear in the book.

His style is better suited to social fiction like Necropath, rather than big concept pieces like this and Helix.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
There's no doubt that Eric Brown can spin a yarn in a similar way to a spider as they're spinning their web and as similarities go, it is pretty apt, as once within his arc, you're pretty much trapped until the end. With a prolific amount of titles to his name, I know that the Science element is always going to be intriguing, that I'm going to get great characterisation alongside superb dialogue and you know that it's a sure fire reader pleasing overload for your money.

Compiled within this offering by Solaris is the original engineman tale and the whole host of short stories associated with the universe that was originally published in magazines such as Interzone, REM and the Lyre. It's definitely value for money, it's definitely quality writing and above all else it's the pace backed by the prose that will keep you coming back for more. A real gem.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 23 May 2000
I'll keep it short. If you can get hold of a copy of this book, do so and read it. Brown's vision of Earth and the colonisation of the galaxy is as frightening as it is compelling. The action is fast and the warnings about uncontrolled use of little understood technology and the potential power of huge corporations are timeless.
This is an excellent novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Like a lifelong alcoholic in a dry state, former engineman Ralph Mirren lives a life of desires deflected, an existence lamentably lacking the very thing he lusts after above all: the nada-continuum. But the bigships which used to power through the stars like "magnificent leviathans" are fit these days only for vast scrap graveyards; the faster than light craft he and an elite breed of interstellar trucker-types would "push" from galaxy to galaxy are simply not fast enough any longer. The Keilor-Vincicoff Organisation have implemented portals which have made instantaneous travel across unthinkable distances a reality. Ralph wants - no, needs - something he can never again have.

Or can he?

When a mysterious scar of a man approaches Ralph and what remains of his bigship crew of old with a mysterious proposition, the enginemen - for a moment - dare to dream. However, Hirst Hunter wants an oath of allegiance before he'll explicate upon his plans, and it's far likelier he's simply looking to sell Ralph time in a surviving nada-continuum tank than engineer, against all the odds, one last push.

Of course, Ralph can hardly resist. An addict to the bitter end, he joneses after the day on which "he would be able to renew his courtship with the infinite. Until then his conscious life would comprise a series of unfulfilled events; a succession of set-pieces featuring an actor whose thoughts were forever elsewhere. Occasionally he would be allowed intimation of rapture in his dreams, only to have them snatched away upon awakening."

Engineman is an elegy of addiction, at its core, a lyrical and indelibly persuasive fable of one man's hunger for something greater, something more. And it is that rare - not to mention precious - thing in science fiction: a cracking good story over and above an account of awesome future tech. As genre stalwart Eric Brown himself writes in his occasional review column for The Guardian, "One problem facing SF authors is how to balance the effective presentation of a future universe with the smaller-scale depiction of its dramatis personae: the former sometimes overwhelms the latter." In Engineman, he strikes just the right the balance.

A deeply flawed and not immediately likeable sort, a bottomless wallow of self-pity who's isolated himself from a supremely understanding wife and a daughter he's never even met, Ralph is nevertheless a character you can get behind. He's a good man with a haunted soul; a good man who's made some dodgy and decidedly selfish decisions, yes, but a good, determined man brought low by a bad habit. His drug of choice has given him a tantalising glimpse of forever, and having gazed upon the infinite, he has become obsessed by the inherent imperfection - not to speak of its insufficiency, its inconstancy - of the here and the now.

In their ways, many of the other individuals you'll come across in Engineman are similarly misbegotten. Hirst Hunter searches for redemption from the dark deeds he was once a part of; Ella Fernandez let someone down a long time ago, and she's still trying to make it up. These dramatis personae are lively, engaging and shoulder the narrative burden handily when they're required to. They - and Ralph - are as much to do with Engineman, and indeed its soaring success, as any technical writer's account of gadgets we all saw in Star Trek decades ago repurposed. There's a bit of that, no doubt, but this is science fiction after all; wouldn't be what it is without the science any less than the fiction, now would it?

Engineman is a stirring and surprisingly optimistic meditation on addiction and the purgatory of loss, and I'd heartily recommend it if it were that alone. It's not. In fact, it's not even Eric Brown's latest novel: Engineman is 16 years old if it's a day. Why, then, am I going on about it so? After all, reviewers only review new books, don't they? Well, perhaps more truth to that than I'd care to admit, but moving along, in actual fact this isn't an old book by any stretch: Solaris have proffered up a glorious new edition, replete with corrections, gorgeous new Dominic Harman cover art, a wealth of added and edited material... oh, and did I mention it comes complete with eight related short stories?

No?

They're not all knock-outs - point me in the direction of the last collection that didn't have a dud or two! - but by and large, the Engineman shorts both enrich the titular narrative and expand upon an assortment of its least developed themes and ideas. Nor as these mere curiosities: one, "The Time-Lapsed Man," took home an Interzone award, and there are others - namely "The Girl Who Died and Lived For Art" and "The Phoenix Experiment" - which stand as its equal.

Engineman is a treasure trove of stories, big and little alike, of science and - crucially - of fiction. On the basis of this loving reissue alone, Eric Brown well deserves a place alongside the genre's brightest stars.
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on 18 October 2011
This Kindle edition of Eric Brown's interesting offering caught my eye as I enjoyed Brown's Bengal Station trilogy. The most professionally produced ebook I've read so far, I didn't notice any typos or mistakes and the formatting was flawless. When I finished the novel, there was an additional collection of short stories, all set in the same world.

This isn't full-on, action-stuffed adventure that whisks you up on page one and doesn't let you catch your breath until the closing sentence. This is an adventure, alright and it steadily gains momentum as the book progresses, but this particular world is an intrinsic part of the story and as such, Brown is at pains to set the scene. Paris is vividly described as a fading city, overrun in parts with alien vegetation as the population continues to move away to more thriving places, both on and off Earth. The previously bustling port and centre of the bigship industry is sliding into inexorable decline - I felt there was a strong comparison to the Port of London after cargo containerisation became the norm. And just as parts of Paris are no longer vital, neither are the Enginemen - those once elite corps of men and women whose brainwaves `pushed' the bigships into the nada-continuum while in a trance-like state called the flux, allowing the ships to travel thousands of light-years in a matter of weeks and months. However, once interfaces were invented so that people could actually walk or drive through to colony planets, the Enginemen were obsolete and unwanted...

The book explores the plight which echoes that of generations of men and women through the ages who have found their skills are suddenly redundant. This is science fiction at its best - looking at contemporary issues through a futuristic lens...

Brown's world is so engrossing, the story running through it was almost a distraction and, given the way the book started, I wasn't wholly convinced by the ending. However as it got going, it drew me in and I particularly became involved in Ellie's plotline. I think that Brown's female protagonists work better than his men - a tendency that is emphasised in the short stories. That said, the characters were all suitably complex and held my interest throughout.

Any grizzles? Well... it might be a picky point - but as the world is so carefully constructed, it did somewhat jar that as all this alien vegetation engulfed chunks of Paris, at no point did anyone mention any attempts to control or monitor what was growing. Even in a rundown area, I still think there would be - at sporadic intervals - fully overalled, masked teams stomping through, spraying various noxious substances around the place, probably with a glorious disregard for human health, this being a Brown novel. Even if it wasn't effective, humanity's hang-ups about the `other' would not tolerate such a laissez-faire attitude to rampant creepers punching through buildings...

In the scheme of things, though, this is a relatively minor point and overall, I think Engineman is an excellent read, raising some pertinent questions about how technology is constantly stranding groups of people who strained to train to acquire a skill - only to find themselves on the scrapheap a few years further down the line.

Which brings me onto the short stories. As they were set in the same world, often addressing the same themes and echoing some of the plotpoints in the novel, I got the impression that a number of them were written alongside the book, helping Brown write his way into the storyline. As a result, I found a number of them were so similar in tone and plot to aspects of the novel, I don't think they offered very much in the way of extra insights into the world. This is particularly applicable to The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived and the award-winning The Time-Elapsed Man. Both were excellent stories, but I do question whether they should have been at the end of this particular book. However, a couple did break away from this tendency and I found Big Trouble Upstairs and The Pineal-Zen Equation really enjoyable reads.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend this ambitious book, which will leave me pondering some of the ideas it raises for a long time to come.
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on 11 October 2011
The collection of Engineman (composed of one novel and eight short stories) carries with it a tradition of sorts. There is much about facing death and process of dying, like in his collection The Fall of Tartarus. There are points of painful nostalgia like John Updike's Afterlife. There are lines of texture-oriented fixations and Asiatic cast inclusions, like William Gibson's Burning Chrome. And finally, perhaps the largest influence in Engineman, would be J.G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands, which highlights unique medians of art, the longing for a love lost and the fixation on a single location when writing short stories (Ballard's oasis of Vermilions Sands versus Brown's future slum-ridden Paris).

Pulling together these influences has created a melodramatic collection of an earth in decline while the outer planets grow from the influx of colonists. The one-time great invention of the flux-ship through the nada-continuum expanded man's realm to tens of thousands of light-years. Each ship cruised through the continuum by pilots called enginemen, who drove the craft with their minds when connected with the vast nothingness. It's this flux that they perform which they consider to be a glimpse of the afterlife, or a taste of nirvana. The new religion of the Disciples stems from this discovery and most enginemen are followers and even some of those who have not experienced flux are followers, too.

The fluxing comes to end when Interfaces are invented, allowing planets to link-up with no use of ships. Planet-to-planet connections become to norm and all the enginemen are put out of work and also put out of the high they seek: the flux. It's this flux which drives enginemen mad and willing to experience it again at any cost. It also underpins the fate of one planet, one alien race and one expanse of humanity.

Engineman - 3/5 - One-time engineman is connected by a mysterious man who says he can flux again after a ten-year absence to the addiction. The engineman connects his long-lost shipmen in order to fulfill the contract, but they begin to `accidentally' die one-by-one. His brother at home is time-lapsed due to a mistake while fluxing and may provide the last berth to the clandestinely dangerous mission... but to able to flux will be worth any cost, even death...

...Meanwhile, a slum-living artist is shacking up with an ex-engineman. When her contact with her agent disintegrates and her partner commits a spectacular suicide, she decides to visit her home planet. Upon arrive, it's obvious many things have changed and even though she's accepted onto the planet, it's made clear she's welcome. Being a follower of Disciples like her dead partner, she's ensconced in the revolt against the planet's dictatorship. 428 pages

The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived - 4/5 - Lone survivor of a nova explosion, the engineman cum artist permanently imprints his tragedy into a holographic crystal sculpture (alá J.G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands). Upon meeting a likeness of his partner who died in the nova, the engineman reveals his wish for death as she, too, reveals her artistic side and her wish for death, too. 26 pages

The Phoenix Experiment - 5/5 - Seeking convalescence on the English seaside, Fuller meets a group of recovering Enginemen at a rehabilitation center. There he meets a mysterious gold-veined woman who the others shun. When, fact by fact, he reveals his recent loss and she reveals her tragic past, Fuller becomes emotionally attached to the oddly expressionless lady. 17 pages

Big Trouble Upstairs - 5/5 - A `mega-telepathic' woman is called to Disney in orbit to telepathically bring down an assailant bent on sniping the humans but ignoring the robotic characters. The discovery of a telepathically unreadable android raises her suspicions and the finding of an underground laboratory brings about a wickedly funny and dramatic conclusion. 21 pages

Star of Epsilon - 3/5 - Ninety year-old man relives engineman experiences through his occipital consol for a crowd and on alternate nights a fifteen year-old cerebrally transmits horror and the sense of death to patron of the bar. When the young girl entices the old man into grand heist, the truth will be known and greater truth will be made brilliantly clear. 18 pages

The Time-Lapsed Man - 3/5 - Experienced engineman awakes from fluxing without his hearing. Later, after reliving his aural past, he calls his ex-partner and also doctor who tells him to come to the hospital. There he learns he has Black's Syndrome and will continue to lose his sense one-by-one, exactly like the man named Black who is suffering wit two days further advance. 23 pages

The Pineal Zen Equation - 3/5 - A second-rate telepath is employed to find the body of a man's kidnapped daughter. She also witnesses three conniving men in a bar aiming ill thoughts at an Engineman in the corner, who the telepath finds to be pure of mind and attracted to. She saves him from the men and they begin a naïve relationship before his ill-fated trip to and from the stars. 34 pages

The Art of Acceptance - 4/5 - Ex-engineman hires a burn-scarred girl in his detective agency but the level of attraction is nil when one other learn the each others' secret. A 70-year old starlet arrives at the agency looking 20 years old and wants the ex-engineman to do to an expensive job. The girl is curious and investigates the starlet and reveals a bizarre love triangle. 28 pages

Elegy Perpetuum - 3/5 - Artists argue over realism versus romanticism and call it a night after one artist hypes his totally unique art work. The next day the piece is tried out and wows one artist and is thence put up for display. Then a tragedy occurs and the realist must confront reality for all its worth while his fellow artists and romantics stand around and observe his behavior. 33 pages
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on 12 January 2012
I love good Sci-Fi, I've been reading it for almost 50 years. Unfortunately I found this book to be a real drag to read - like climbing uphill carrying a rucksack loaded with stones. At best it is a short novella that has been padded out to a ridiculous degree with a flood of stultifying wordage.
The premise is reasonable and, if the story had been a third of the length that I was presented with it might have been a decent read, not great, just decent.

Even with all the padding the book still had to have several short stories put in do make a decent-sized book, and several of these short stories also suffered from the much wordage/little content/adding nothing to the story content.

Will I buy another Eric Brown book ? well, I'll have to think about it, but I'll probably take a gamble at some point and buy one more in the hope that "Engineman" was his bad-hair-day book. If it turns out to be another stultifying stinker then Brown will be dead and buried forever as far as my reading lists go.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2011
I loved this book when I first read it. But beware, although it says it was first published in 2010, it wasn't, it's the same book that was first published in 1994. Guess I should have looked more closely but as it appeared to be a new Eric Brown book, I ordered it.

Other than that, it's a fine read.
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