Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Interlude 003

The BurningDark – Adam Christopher

Published 2014

3 stars

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star 
Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

Since AdamChristopher appeared on the scene with the fantastic one-two of Empire State and Seven Wonders I’ve been dying to see where he would go next. I love comic books and you get a real sense from both these books that Adam does too.

I have yet to read Age Atomic (the follow up to Empire State) or Hang Wire as I decided to go past those and see what he could do with space horror (or ‘space suspense’) instead.

First off, don’t let the three stars I gave it suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. It was good. I have a feeling I will 
read anything that this man writes and I didn’t regret reading Burning Dark for a second. It’s just that I had a few tiny problems with it. And one really big one.

The opening scene set during a space battle blew me away and probably led to the challenge for the rest of the novel to live up to. Mighty battle ships facing off against a robotic spider the size of a moon, a planet caught in the middle. Epic stuff. Straight away I want to know more about this war.

Unfortunately it switches to a slower story and never really gets back to that epic scale again. I felt snatched away from the Human/Spider war that the intro teased. It didn’t help that before this novel I read the novella Cold War which is set in the same world as Burning Dark. This short story follows a team of marines sent to capture a baby spider and return it to the Fleet at any cost. It was good, tense stuff.

Still, once I’d shifted with the book and got into the slower story I started to enjoy myself again. The build-up of tension, the shadows, the noises and the voices from the far reaches of space coming through a hand built radio. Something I really liked was how future tech was used to enhance the fear. You would think that, with all that modern technology, it would be difficult to find scares on a functioning space station. But Adam utilises features specific to the genre to take things back to that haunted house feel. Because the station is being slowly deconstructed things that are at first thought to be technical glitches suddenly become spooky when systems check out normal. I particularly liked a scene involving the location (or not) of a marine through his locator chip.

But then we get to my main problem with the story. Cleveland is supposed to be smart; the best the fleet has to offer in terms of ship commanders. Yet something extremely obvious exists in the story that just makes him look dumb for not noticing. I wanted to scream at him regarding this ‘twist’ but I knew he wouldn’t hear me. Again and again it was too obviously sign posted to the reader while the main character takes three quarters of the book to figure it out.

This one thing irked me from the moment I spotted it right through to the end. It’s a shame really because I was really getting into the rest of the story and the characters. Without this character flaw the rest of the book was good. I wished for more of the Spider War and am looking forward to the second book in the series called The Machine Awakes.  

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