Review: The Burning Dark / Author: Adam Christopher / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland has one last mission before early retirement: decommissioning the U-Star Coast City, a semi-deserted research outpost orbiting a toxic star on the edge of Fleetspace. Arriving to find the station Commandant missing, Fleet communications plagued with interference, and a hostile skeleton crew haunted by insidious shadows and disembodied whispers, Ida becomes increasingly isolated and paranoid. He reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune into a disturbing signal: a woman's voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. Is the transmission just a random burst of static from the past or a warning of an undying menace that threatens to devour humanity s future?
Adam Christopher’s The Burning Dark is essentially a haunted house story set on a space station, which will immediately draw comparisons to the movies Alien and Event Horizon. But if you like these films (and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of Alien?), then we think it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy Christopher’s latest offering.
The story itself is hardly original but its blending of ghost story, conspiracy theory, revenge thriller and Japanese folklore work remarkably well. Christopher also captures the boredom and claustrophobia that the station personnel have to cope with. It’s particularly tough for the marines who are used to combat conditions, so when retiring war hero Ida Cleveland is sent to sign off on the decommissioned station he falls victim to one marine's frustration. But that soon becomes the least of his worries.
Crew members vanish, communications and environmental systems inexplicably fail, shadowy figures wander the corridors and unknowable secrets are whispered in the dark. The building tension and mounting paranoia is expertly realised by Christopher. Rather than focusing directly on the horror he uses the literary equivalent of subtly suggesting that something much worse is occurring out of shot.
There are some wonderfully sinister moments in this well-paced tale, which often makes it uncomfortable reading, such is the atmosphere that Christopher evokes. If there are any flaws, then it’s that the marines are pretty much stock characters that you’ll have seen in countless war movies, and that the alien bio-mechanical spiders that Earth is at war with barely feature, and why does it take Ida so long to realise that strange occurrences are, well... occurring?
Although this is the first volume in The Spider Wars series (with subsequent volumes no doubt focusing more on Earth’s arachnid enemy), The Burning Dark has a very definite beginning, middle and end and so can be read as a standalone novel. One thing's certain. You won’t listen to static the same way the next time you manually tune your radio.