Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Helen Collins
SFR - Speculative Fiction Review, 303 pages

Helen Collins
Helen Collins was born in New London, Connecticut and attended the University of Connecticut where she majored in English. As an undergraduate, she spent a year in Herrsching am Amersee near Munich studying language, drawing and sculpting. Returning to the United States, she earned a M.A. in English at UConn, specializing in 18th and 19th century English Literature. Next, she took advanced courses at the University of Rhode Island, lived in Manhattan and taught English at Brooklyn College. She has been a Professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College. Her first novel, Mutagenesis, was published by Tor.

Helen Collins Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

The idea that a novel could be old-fashioned is not surprising, but is there such a thing as an old-fashioned universe? That seems to be the case with Helen Collins' NeuroGenesis, an old-fashioned science fiction novel set in a universe where the readers and writers of science fiction's Golden Age would feel right at home.

The planet Z2 is part of the Octente, a political entity comprised of many planets whose communications and commerce are limited by the use of SPEED ships that travel near, but not beyond, the speed of light. SPEED ships are also used for exploration and research. That's the mission of the Procne, but when the Procne's crew is changed at the last minute, and its mission is mysteriously altered from two years to two hundred in local time, the effect on the friends and family of the crew is as if they have all been murdered, because their loved ones will never see them again.

The novel starts out a bit slowly, introducing us to the main characters and their homes. It's when the story turns to events on the Procne that the narrative begins to take off, as the characters realize what has happened to them, and react to the news in various ways. Indeed, through much of the book the main interest is in why these people have had their old lives taken away from them. The story takes a hard right turn, however, when their voyage is detoured to a planet inhabited by a race of intelligent birds. The main story then becomes one of how the avian civilization relates to the Octente, and why it has been kept hidden for so long.

The reason NeuroGenesis has an old-fashioned feel to it lies not only in the setting, but also in Collins' prose style, which reads as if such styles such as the New Wave, cyberpunk, and the more recent post-human movement had never taken place. And in its portrayal of a social science built around the group dynamics of human beings, known as the dynasphere, it's hard to not think of Isaac Asimov and psychohistory's analysis of social interaction.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The real weaknesses in NeuroGenesis lie in the portrayal of the characters, who even as victims are hard to sympathize with, and a narrative that changes its focus enough so that when the person who sabotaged the voyage of the Procne is finally revealed it feels like an afterthought, no longer central to the story. Still, for any reader feeling left out by some of the latest trends in science fiction style, NeuroGenesis could provide a welcome step back in to the way SF used to be, with oddly named places set in a familiar universe inhabited by people who are undoubtedly human in their motivations and relationships, and aliens who are definitely not.

Copyright © 2009 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson worries that the main problem with a novel like Neurogenesis is that, by playing it safe and comfortable, it loses some of that sense of wonder that depends on exploring the edges of scientific thought by instead dealing with the tried and true. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide