Tor Books (US) / Titan (UK), Out March
A space station that requires decommissioning whose commandant has not been seen for some time; an epic battle that seems not to have occurred; and a voice that simply should not be there…
Adam Christopher’s science fiction novel takes many of the tropes of the ghost story and throws them into a hard SF setting, producing an unsettling tale that may well induce more than a few shivers and looks back over your shoulder when you’re reading it. He pulls off the difficult balancing act of keeping the audience simultaneously one step behind and one step ahead of the characters – we can deduce some of the twists and turns, and immediately recognise elements which are outside the characters’ experience, but there are plenty of surprises.
Christopher takes his time building the suspense, introducing us to the various characters who are left on board the space station. We dip in and out of many points of view, which help to explain the understandable tensions between the assorted parties, and there are multiple very clear and different voices. Not everything is spelled out, and this is a novel which will reward a second reading, once you know what’s going on, to spot the moments of foreshadowing which are layered beneath the more horrific sections.
The story is given a new energy part way through by the arrival of a “celebrity” to the space station, and her presence triggers the events of the final act. The ending is epic in scale, spanning time, space and other dimensions, and Christopher provides a final twist in the tail which might feel a little clichéd, but which you’d almost feel cheated if it weren’t there.
Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Development is in play to an extent here: some of the same ideas were examined in a recent Doctor Who audio (to say which would spoil both this and the audio!) but as if to prove that’s mere coincidence, a Japanese location mentioned in this book is key to the next novel I happened to start reading! Christopher is a Who fan (one of his previous novels paid homage to names from the series), and there’s a four-word motif used in the novel which will ring bells with other Who fans; on reflection, there are quite a few echoes between this and the classic story from which that saying comes, although Christopher takes his plot and characters to far darker places.
Verdict: With a very cinematic scope, this is Adam Christopher’s best book yet: a well-written, sometimes disturbing, descent into terror. 8/10