The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher is a sci-fi horror story set on a distant space station surrounding a very strange star. Adam Christopher is a guy with a brilliant imagination whose books I have enjoyed in the past, but for me this story is a case of what could have been.
The story follows Captain Idaho Cleveland, a decorated starship captain who single-handedly won an important battle against the human's most lethal enemy. After a long successful career he is given a respite posting where he will be assisting the deconstruction of an old space station that has gone past its used-by date. To pass the time Ida starts messing around with an old subspace radio, scanning frequencies that were banned from use centuries ago, and while he finds an ancient radio message sent from Earth long ago, he also finds something dark, sinister, trapped, waiting to get out.
The Burning Dark is a haunted house ghost story set on a derelict space station, where suspense reigns supreme. The atmosphere in this story is intense, and the writing pulls you through the first half of the story with ease. I read the first half of this book in a single sitting and I thought it was one of the best scifi books I had read in a long time. Then, something changed, like the flick of a switch. The ghosts and mysteries were getting explained away and the the suspenseful horror story was switched out for a conspiracy driven corridor shoot'em up. And it was boring. The characters lost all of their personality, the story lost all of its life, and I found the last half of the book an absolute chore to get through. I've never read a book that has taken me so high so fast, and then run off the rails in such a dramatic fashion. Other people may enjoy the action adventure and conspiracy theories that drive the last half of the story, but it just didn't work for me.
I don't have much else to say about the story to be honest. The setting and world building is fantastic. The characters have been well constructed and feel like real people with real problems. But the explanation of what the ghosts are and what exactly their insidious plans are was way too long, way too detailed, way to boring, and just ruined all of the atmosphere, mystery and enigma that was present in the story. As I said before, this story is a case of what could have been from my perspective.
Ryan Lawler, 7/10
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?
This new novel by Adam Christopher is interesting due to its structure. The book starts with what are almost two short stories. The first concerns a wife trapped in an underworld, left there by her husband. She is building up her rage until she is able to escape and track him down for his betrayal - this felt like a reversal of the Greek myths where the hero will go to the underworld to bring his beloved back to the world of the living. From there we speed ahead right into the story Captain Ida Cleveland, who is recounting his heroic mission in destroying a Mother Spider, in an ongoing war between humans and an enemy whose ships look like spiders, whilst saving Tau Retore.
Both of these mini-stories leave you feeling like you have missed something as the two voices recounting these sections are so different from the rest of the story. After these we are given the present setting of the U-Star Coast City, which is slowly being deconstructed as its mission was to gain intelligence on a purple star called Shadow. The nature of this book seems to be sci-fi yet it also has tinges of a ghost story from the past, there is the feeling of a mass haunting, disappearances and a memory of films where people are trapped on a space ship knowing something is out there but not knowing what it is or how to stop it. Which generally leaves an atmospheric taste in your mouth, where all you can think is how bad can this get for the characters? Are we reading a story where in the end there are no survivors left to tell their tale?
The main character in The Burning Dark is Captain Ida Cleveland, a semi-retired Captain who is sent to Coast City to help complete the decommissioning of the station. He is an outsider and the remaining Marines left on Coast City begrudge his being there. The Marines we meet are Serra, Carter and DeJohn, DeJohn venting his anger in a childish manner, whilst Serra and Carter are dealing with their own issues from the past. Then there is Ida’s only friend, a medic called Izanami, who helps him battle loneliness as the events around him slowly spiral out of control. For most of the book these are the most fleshed out characters, where we gain insight into their pasts that have made them the people they now are.
The action in the book comes on slowly, which builds the intensity of what is happening to the remaining members of the crew as things go from bad to worse. We mostly get the view point of Ida, who seems to be hiding away, playing the victim, but not really fully awake to what is happening around him. Will he remember his past and take control of his future or let himself be controlled by others expectations?
The Burning Dark is interesting and there are lots of twists thrown in. I felt Ida could sometimes be his own enemy, which can be infuriating as the penny never seems to drop even though you as the reader can clearly see what he is missing - but this can also be endearing. There are a lot of ideas here that make this an interesting book straddling many genres, which can’t be a bad thing.
Michelle Herbert, 7/10
Adam Christopher was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up watching Pertwee-era Doctor Who and listening to The Beatles, which isn't a bad start for a child of the 80s. In 2006, Adam moved to the sunny North West of [...]
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