In 1991, Rebellion Developments was started in England. The company focused on video games and comic books. In 2006, it acquired a publishing group: Abaddon Books. In 2009, Rebellion also published the imprint of Solaris Books. The Devil’s Nebula is published under the Abaddon Books imprint title. Abaddon books has, at least, six “shared worlds” in its library. A shared world is a pretty neat concept – similar to the Warhammer 40k franchise. Authors work together to develop and also create novels that all take place within the shared universe. The Devil’s Nebula is the first novel in the “Weird Space” shared universe that was largely developed by Eric Brown. Brown is also the author of the second novel in the Weird Space shared universe.
The Devil’s Nebula was published in 2012 with cover art done by Adam Tredowski. Overall, the universe Brown creates is similar to most of the “standard-fare” science fiction universes. The human civilization, spanning thousands of worlds, is referred to as the Expansion. Although, beyond that, is the Void and Vetch space – alien to humans and outside of the Expansion. I think that Brown did a good job drawing the baseline for the shared universe – he presents a decent structure and leaves a lot open for future authors to grab onto and run with. That being said, because it’s the first novel in a shared universe, I think Brown was not able to reach the depth of writing that he normally would.
The novel begins by introducing us to a handful of characters who are outlaws from the Expansion – not because they are vicious criminals, but because they disagree with the Expansion authority. Basically, the crew of The Paradoxical Poet interprets Expanisionist authority as fascist, militaristic, and rigid in method and procedures. The crew has traveled together for a long time under the owner of the ship, Ed Carew. The characters here are stereotypical, basic, and expected. They react and interact just as one expects them to – and just as they would in every standard science fiction story. This is good and bad. It’s good because the reader knows what to expect and is familiar with these archtypes. It’s bad because we have all read about these characters (just with different names in different settings) before.
The crew gets “drafted” by the Expansion for a special mission out into Weird Space. There, the group (under the watchful eye of Expansion militia) discovers a world inhabited by human colonists, living in a primitive culture. The planet is called World and the people there are divided into two opposing groups. One groups is in the thrall of the Weird – hive-mind nasty aliens. We are also introduced to several characters native to World who are interesting. The storyline revolves around how these human colonists react to the Weird as either servants or enemies. This ties into the overall plot of how the Weird intend to advance and encroach upon Expansion space. The story involves jungle combat, telepathy, and lasers.
Some of the things in Weird Space are definitely “weird.” But taken as a fun, pulpy science fiction novel, everything works. If the reader takes any of this too seriously, then it becomes less comical. Phar, for one thing, is at once a hideous thing and a hilarious device. Most of the time, Brown seems like he’s having fun with the reader using elements that make one cringe or giggle.
There’s this little annoying “pseudo-romance” subplot that runs through the book that involves the character Lania. I found most of this pretty crappy writing – but, honestly, it’s really typical for pulp. If I ignore that and I accept the novel as what it is – this is a solid three-star book. The next book has even more potential, I think, because the reader would have already been introduced to Weird Space. Though the characters are so obvious, I cannot help but say I do want to know what happens next.