Science Fiction Book Review

On Arcturus VII

by Eric Brown
Reviewed date: 2023 Jan 3
103 pages
cover art

I complain incessantly about stories being too long, so a novella is just the ticket. It wasn't too long, it was well-written, and it was an entertaining story. My only complaint is that the big secret—which is revealed about three-quarters of the way in—doesn't ring true to me. The second big reveal, which is more poignant, also didn't quite convince me.

Despite my complaints, if you are looking to read a science fiction story with Arcturus in the title, this is the best one.

The big reveals are spoiled below the quote, so you've been warned.

Former pilot and planetary pioneer Jonathan James is tempted out of retirement by an offer he can’t refuse. It means going back to the one place he vowed never to return to: Arcturus Seven. A Closed Planet; a hothouse world where every plant and animal is hell-bent on killing and consuming you; the place that cost him the life of the only woman he has ever truly loved.

Jonathan knows the wealthy tycoon seeking to recruit him cannot be trusted, but he has no choice. If he doesn’t do it, someone else will, and Arcturus Seven has a secret, one which must never be disclosed, so Jonathan accepts the mission even though it means facing memories he has spent years denying.

Interesting how it's Arcturus VII in the story title but Arcturus Seven on the back cover blurb.

First big reveal: the natives of Arcturus VII, the Pharan, are telepathic and peaceful, which makes them vulnerable to humans who will surely capture and dissect them to learn the secret of their mental powers. That's why Jonathan never revealed the true nature of the Pharans to anybody. I don't buy it. First, I don't buy that humans would want to dissect an alien race to learn the secrets of their mental powers. Mankind is content enough to leave the Pharans alone when Jonathan reports that they are a primitive race just developing sentience, so it seems mankind has a sort of Star Trek-like Prime Directive.

Second big reveal: Jonathan failed to save Solange's life because he chose first to rescue a Pharan child, and moments—seconds—later when he rescued Solange it was already too late. I'm not sure why this is a big reveal. It may be a big deal to Jonathan, but it's not so much for me as a reader. I think it would have been better to know this up-front. That would have allowed the reader to understand Jonathan's pain, which would have made his healing at the end more impactful.

Third big reveal: I guess there is a third reveal, which is that the main bad guy Vakhodia was actually hundreds of years old (he skipped time by going into coldsleep) and his purpose on Arcturus VII was to kill a lover who spurned him 200 years ago.

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