Review: Erebus by Ralph Kern

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002

Arthur C Clarke meets Kim Stanley Robinson

I was really beginning to long for the days of just running after thieves and shoplifters down Islington Upper Street. Instead, here I was in a starship, racing toward the most destructive force in the universe at full burn, chasing down a cybnetically enhanced killing machine while worrying about whether the laws of physics would rip me to shreds.

Ralph Kern is fast becoming a classic “must read” modern science fiction writer.

His first book, Endeavour, read like a cross between Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero and Joe Halderman’s Forever War. It took us out to a far future that was believable, full of great ideas, along with a grand unfolding plot. My only criticism with that book was perhaps we could have enjoyed more character development.

In Erebus, Ralph Kern easily addresses that with a colourful international cast. What begins as a thriller soon uncovers a much bigger picture of space. And, of course, that brilliantly imagined vision of the future is still there.

Rather than a sequel to Endeavour, Erebus works within the same frame of reference. There are plenty of bits of continuity between them, but Erebus appears written to work as a standalone novel - heck, even the first part of a series.

I’ve long been frustrated with modern SF - there are almost no visionaries to match the grandmasters of the 60’s and 70’s. There are plenty of easy-reading derivatives of Star Trek, and dull engineering narratives that are already out of date when published. Almost no modern science fiction writers are trying to imagine a future to wow us.

Ralph Kern is one of the few that is. He writes with the vision of a grand master, tackling big science themes, while paying attention to little details. All in a way that’s wholly believable.

Erebus is another hard SF book to put on your bookshelf beside the classics.
Brian, nice review. I still have to read the final product. I read an early version almost a year ago, and I liked it a lot then. I'm sure it is even better as a finished product. I can't wait for everyone to see his story in Explorations too :)
Thank you for the positive review.

I'll take the opportunity to point out this was very much a team effort:

The Rogues Gallery includes:

Jennifer L Carson (editor)
Gary C (Cover)
Shaun Grindell (Narrator)
Allison (proofer)
TBP & Tantor (Publishers)
The folks of this thread for criting the blurb (several of whom were also betas): Erebus - The Blurb (Micheal M, Tinker Dan, Loren, Thad, Brian, Jo Z, Ratsy, Hopewrites, Tywin, Harebrain, Quellist)

A couple of years ago, someone provided some feedback on one of the pieces of technology used (ERPing). I can't for the life of me remember who it was, nor find the emails. Poor show, I know - but thanks to that person too.
I especially loved the use of HUDs as part of the enhanced character experience. That in itself would have made Erebus seem futuristic. But what I thought was especially clever was how Trent slaved his HUD to various other systems as a matter of routine.

Futuristic technology was treated as ordinary, and I thought that was a great touch.
It seems long ago that I beta read thistfor Ralph, and I will certainly be reading the final version. It was one of my favourite reads last year (i think it was last year) even in its earlier incarnation.
Thanks, Brian. The HUD created an interesting problem in writing, hence why I chose a first person narrative in the end as it enabled the reader to literally see the world through Trent's enhanced eyes. I'm trying to pull it off for third person in Endings and...well it seems far more forced, but I'll get there. :)

Of interest to you might be the following which I may clean up for a blog:

HUDs (or whatever they may be called in real life) are coming. I believe the new Samsung Galaxy S7 incorporates VR features - you basically slot the phone into a pair of glasses and wear it on your face. A somewhat inelegant solution, but an important first step.

The next stage will be a more fashionable (I know, I know -we're definitely not there yet :) ), truly wearable accessory, something Google is working on.

From there we go to active contact lenses. Something I understand BT was ahead of the curve on for awhile, I'm not sure now though.

Even now, one solution for vision defects is implanted contact lenses:

IOL-VIP - Intra Ocular Lens - Dry AMD Treatment | Optegra

It seems logical to me at some point for those latter two things to be combined and for it to be an elective surgery to upgrade oneself.

If we then combine that with all the accessories out there, fitbit (an implant for monitoring health), contactless payment chips (you'll be your own bank vault), Flash drives, games, business apps (Skype meetings in a virtual meeting room), law enforcement tools (Facewatch - an app we use now for circulating wanted persons), High Command (my missus) has apps for controlling music and heating etc on her phone and I'm sure the adult industry will find all kinds of uses - and so on and so forth.

Rolling them together, we basically come out with the HUDs that are used in Erebus (and to a lesser extent Endeavour - although the characters in that are a bit behind those in Erebus in terms of technology). Not just a simple wearable screen but a new way of interacting with the world.

I suspect we'll be seeing implanted technology like this within ten years or so (hence why I think the Sleeping Gods may seem very dated in the not to distant future), and the more I read, the more I suspect it may be sooner as the big tech companies compete for something game changing.
Thanks, Quel and Ratsy. A lot has changed since the draft you read. With yours, others and JLC's guidance, a lot has been neatened up, especially around the start. And JLC gave some great advice around framing first person narratives.
I don't see HUD's becoming outdated exactly, just changing in technology and process. I use HUD's in the Liberator universe as a standardised name for anything that shows up in a persons visual experience. Armour suits hav HUD's, some in front of the eyes, some suits linking to peoples implant suits. Implants in my world are commonplace and any resultant visual experience is referred to as the user's HUD. (I didn't steal the idea from Ralph! He can testify to this as he has partly beta read for me too!)
I think this technology is soon to come in its basic form and will advance quickly.
I absolutely don't pretend to have any kind of claim to the concept :) Not at all.

What I mean, in direct relation to Erebus, is that this technology will be called something totally different, probably dependent on which brand you buy. (for example, I may text someone, or I may whatsapp them, dependent on which I use).

Unless I get very lucky, it is unlikely the technology will be called a HUD (though it does make sense to me - a catchy, meaningful name and all that jazz if Apple or whoever read this!). Say it's called a VISOR or something, then the idea may seem dated calling it a HUD. (Would you take a hard SF seriously that called a spacecraft a Rocket Ship for example?)

Who knows, I'll (hopefully) still be around to go back and retcon if it comes to it.
It seems logical to me at some point for those latter two things to be combined and for it to be an elective surgery to upgrade oneself.

I've always imagined implant technology being used in future. I tried to write about it in a sci-fi novel about 15 years ago. The big challenge for me was how on earth to communicate the experience of having a neural implant. The way you used the HUDs really worked well in this regard, partly for the visual experience of it, but also by the fact that it was completely ordinary to the character (except the Linked link). I did like the elements you mentioned about the Enhanced in general, and Cheng was all the more an intriguing character for it.

And the the fact that you're trying to imagine future technology is exactly why I liked this book, because a lot of SF authors are not doing this. This has been a huge frustration for me as a reader - one day I will write SF again, but I'm finding SF writers to be poor for inspiration, because none of the modern ones I've read are seriously trying to imagine the future in anything but fantasy terms.

And that's before we even get onto the subject of the physics of space - which, again, is treated as a throwaway inconvenience by too much SF (at least the Lost Fleet series acknowledges the complications of distance with communications and visuals - but that's all Campbell has brought to the table in nearly a dozen books so far).

But somehow, on top of all that, you manage to mix things up creatively, too - the Croatoan subplot in Endeavour uniquely changed the novel's structure. Not many writers do that, either.

Anyway, point of the rant is that you show an uncommon degree of vision in your writings. I can only hope that you get all the recognition you deserve for doing so.
Yes, thanks to an awesome new artist on the scene, Jamie Glover.

I gave him the descriptive passages and then these appeared. They're bang on, he took the descriptions and then added his own spin to them.

So, for example, with Endeavour being an earlier ship - The thought process with her was almost as if it was from a future 'age of sail' combined with contempary space craft. In other words, she has a certain attractiveness.

Erebus comes from a later, more commercial period in the timeline. She is much more capable, and visibly so, but somehow loses that sense of wonder in favour of being utlitarian.

I think he totally knocked it out the park. Both ships share a design ethos. (like, say, the original starship Enterprise vs TNG) yet look individual and awesome.

Similar threads