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Necropath by Eric Brown
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Jan 05, 2010

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Book Review: ‘Necropath’ by Eric Brown
Solaris, 2008
ISBN-13: 978 1 84416 602 2
414 pages

Have you ever wondered what it would really be like if we had telepathy? Unfortunately I can now recall neither the author nor the title, but a short story I read long ago dealt with that question. The lone telepath loathed all the human sewers he was forced to drink from. All the minds he met seemed nasty and dirty. He longed for another of his kind, a fellow telepath who might understand his pain and loneliness.
Then he met her. And they couldn’t stand each other. They, too, were human sewers. When they saw each other in mutual reflections, they hated even more. And the persons they hated the most were themselves.
I guess it all depends on where you start from. If you’re a person who hates yourself, you’ll hate everyone else, too. The first person you have to love is you. It takes self-contempt to really sink to the bottom. If you’re struggling in the muck of your own guilt and shame, the universe takes on the blackest hues of all.
Jeff Vaughan is a telepath earning a living as an investigative agent at the Bengal Spaceport. When the story opens, he’s so deep in the muck of self-hate he’s not seeing any glimmers of light. He’s stopped pretending to be part of humanity. When people talk social niceties to him, he doesn’t bother to answer. He hates any cheery or optimistic soul. He sneers at everything and everyone. He’s a bitter cynic who doses himself with drugs to ease his pain. When a young beggar tries to get close to him, he bites like a wounded dog─not her, but himself.
Isolation from humanity is his secondary goal. He wants to get away from himself first. But we all know that’s not so easy.
Two events drag Vaughan out of his self-imposed exile in loneliness, self-hate and drugs. First, the young beggar dies. Now Vaughan has a new lash for his back. Then he finds a terrified young stowaway aboard a ship from the colony Verkerk’s World. He can’t help a sympathetic vibe. The girl disappears. But Vaughan can’t forget.
There’s contraband of some kind aboard the ship too, something deliberately shielded from a telepath like Vaughan. Which means it’s alive: but what could it be?
Vaughan’s attempts to solve the mystery, assisted by Chandra, a police officer whose good-soul vibes grate Vaughan’s bitter heart, lead to a trail of death. All the clues end in assassinations or, even more puzzling, suicides. Not even a telepath can read dead minds… not without paying a price Vaughan’s too familiar with.
Vaughan’s slow upward journey is the draw of this grim book. I won’t say much about the mystery itself, except that there’s a famous science fiction short story about those who answer the call of a hungry alien religion and make the pilgrimage to mountain. That same chilling short story more or less summarizes this same plot, much more succinctly. Do these acolytes find the ultimate redemption, or are they just victims of a superior Venus flytrap?
Some stories decline the corruption and fall of their protagonists (no, stop thinking of Tom Jones in that lusty BBC film!). While the downward arc can be either comic or tragic, Eric Brown’s story goes the other direction. Jeff Vaughan doesn’t have much direction left to him but up. We wish him well!

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