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The Burning Dark (Spider War) Hardcover – March 25, 2014
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About a thousand years from now, a heroic spaceship captain (he once saved an entire planet from destruction) is given a discouragingly less-than-spectacular assignment: he’s in charge of the demolition of an old space station in a remote star system. Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland—he goes by Ida—finds himself ostracized by his fellow crew members, who frankly don’t believe his stories of planet-saving heroism, which aren’t supported by official Fleet records. When Ida builds a space radio, taps into the subspace frequency, makes contact with an astronaut who died a millennium ago, and discovers some seriously troubling goings-on aboard the mostly deserted space station, well, nobody believes him about any of that, either. Like water turning to ice and then to steam, this novel changes its properties several times. It begins as a fairly straightforward sf yarn, shifts gears and becomes the story of a persecuted (and possibly delusional) man alone among a shipful of unbelievers, and then plunges full-tilt deep into horror territory. An exciting new novel from an exciting new voice in sf. --David Pitt
“Builds tension expertly. Claustrophobic in mood but with the scope of great space opera, this is SF you will want to read with the light on.” ―Library Journal, starred review, on The Burning Dark
“An exciting new novel from an exciting new voice in SF.” ―Booklist on The Burning Dark
“Christopher has produced a widescreen Hollywood spectacular in novel form. Not to be missed.” ―James Lovegrove, New York Times bestselling author
“Christopher puts SF in a metaphysical choke-hold--The Burning Dark makes reality tap out.” ―Scott Sigler, New York Times bestselling author
“Smart, intricate, and viscerally gripping… Christopher carves a place for himself among the stars of his genre.” ―V.E. Schwab, author of Vicious
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Top Customer Reviews
However, this book is too full of inane technobabble. Readers are constantly confronted with severe scale mismatches - at one point a spider eats a PLANET (yes, a planet), and this spider has a stellar core inside it. This stellar core later falls on a half-eaten planet, which survives it and remains a happy ball-shaped object and not a rapidly expanding cloud of plasma.
And that spider was killed by a ship about 200m in size.
At the very end a small baby spider devours a _star_, making it to go nova. But it's apparently not a big deal, because a small shuttle survives this nova, being just several light-seconds from the star surface during the explosion.
Oh, and that star-eating spider was carried in a mining ship crewed by 5 people. One of them a multi-zillionaire capable of buying entire planets out of spare change.
Handguns are described as capable of punching through unobtanium walls of ships. Which is so expensive that several shiploads of it make you uber-rich.
And I can go on and on.
Plot: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a veteran of a nasty war against monstrous machines that are destroying whole worlds. Before retiring after a huge battle that nearly killed him, he is sent on a last mission, one that seems innocuous enough: finish the decomissioning and salvaging of a remote space station. But when he arrives, he quickly realizes something isn't right: his battle records are missing (causing mistrust and abuse by fellow marines who accuse him of lying), he starts having conversations with a female cosmonaut who died over 1000 years ago, and people are starting to go missing on the station. With only a psychologist to help him, things quickly begin to deteriorate on the station. Something is very wrong on the U-Star Coast City and he is beginning to suspect he is a sacrifice to something very wrong and very alien.
The beginning of the story was told in a very clunky way: the main character describing his big battle in a way that sounded like an 18 year old on speed, then random scenes that I still don't know where they place in the book. As well, there is a large info dump that really doesn't segue into the story seamlessly. It's all a mess until about 15% into the book, and then things pick up. Honestly, I would have preferred the entire beginning jettisoned so I could have just enjoyed Ida's story (I really wish the character had been given a different name/nickname - every time I read Ida, I expected a woman).
Once the story gets moving, then we have the fun mystery to follow - with clues dropped in (sometimes heavily and too strongly) to flesh out the mystery. The 'bad guy' is pretty obvious since she has a monologue in the beginning. So don't expect any big surprises in that light. But just how all the characters came to be on the station (and why) is the reason why you follow the plot.
Unfortunately, once the reveals start happening at the end, it all becomes very anticlimactic. For one, the 'villain' suddenly becomes powerless and is overpowered by one person (when they had free reign of evil for most of the story before then). As well, the evil entity ends up pretty much being a pissed off female (no real spoiler here since we meet her in the beginning chapter) who got dumped by her husband. And then tying her into Japanese mythology kind of really killed it for me. When an alien starts referring to herself by some foreigner's terms, you really don't get a feeling that she's all that powerful. Especially since that particular mythology crosses many cultures: Japanese: Izanagi and Izanami, Mayan: Itzamna and Ixchel, Indian: Savitri and Satyavan, Sumerian: Innana, and Greek: Eurydice or Persephone. So why settle on just one?
I was more interested in the mechanical spiders that were eating up worlds; but they were decorations to the plot and not really featured in the story at all. Reading between the lines, this book should have been a sweet short story about the romance of the broken down Captain and the long dead Cosmonaut Ludmilla and how she will save him. But that was fleshed out into a full novel at the expense of the love story, so we ended up with a lot of muddle in the middle that didn't need to be there. Especially at the end, with the bad character reminding me far too much of Gozer from the first Ghostbusters movie and side characters who ended up being somewhat comical in their reactions to "Gozer".
For a 'haunted house' type of book, I found I wasn't scared. Curious to see how the book will end but no racing heart or 'don't turn out the lights at night' scared. I think that was because characters met their demise usually by staring at the 'bad guy' and then screaming. Perhaps that's why the book felt so cinematic - it cuts the corners that movie directors have to in order not to show too much. But with a non visceral medium like a book, there is so much that can be done to scare the heck out of you using only words. That just didn't happen here.
Despite the decent middle (not scary or gory - more of a thriller), I have to rate this at a solid 3 stars due to the confusing beginning and problematic ending. Not a bad read, decently written, but somehow disappointing in the end.
Reviewed from an ARC.
Sent out of the way to the Shadow star system and the U-Star Coast City space station to oversee its decommissioning, Captain Abraham Idaho ‘Ida’ Cleveland finds he is treated as an outcast by those aboard, while the serving Commandant has apparently left and in charge is King, the provost marshal. With a strong resentment towards him and disbelief in his achievements, of which there is no official record, Ida finds himself growing distant from the crew. While tinkering with electronics he stumbles across a mysterious transmission from the past on the banned subspace channels, and that is only the beginning of his troubles…
It’s clear to see that the ideas Adam Christopher explores in The Burning Dark are multi-layered, with nothing ever being quite what it seems. However, this is also its downfall. While the early parts of the novel are a fairly straight-forward introduction to the U-Star Coast City, Ida, and all aboard, there is always an underlying and unsettling feeling seeping through the words. While part of this is very much to do with the story Christopher is telling, other parts can be attributed to the seemingly endless exposition, internal monologuing, and general clunkiness of the prose.
The parts that work, while few and far between, really do work. There was more than one occasion where I felt a chill down my spine, goose bumps on my skin, and a very real sense of uneasiness washing over me. The tried and tested formula of an almost deserted space station and strange occurrences really do pay dividends when done right. Unfortunately, these were perhaps the only parts of the novel that stood out as memorable and a step above the ordinary.
The setting Christopher has created is an interesting one. With humanity under attack by the strange Spider species, a seemingly artificial entity that attack and devours whole worlds at a time, there is plenty to get excited about. However, this part of the novel is very much relegated to Ida’s history of a battle against the Spiders, with few other in-depth examinations of this war. It’s always made known, but never really explored, which is a shame as some more detail on this aspect would have gone a long way to improve the world-building.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of The Burning Dark, as strange as it sounds, is the way everything seems to slot into place towards the end. While what happens is interesting in itself, but because there is little foreshadowing of events it all seems to come out of nowhere. One minute we’re wondering what the explanation for everything is, the next we’ve been told everything we need to know and, to be honest, it’s not something I could have put together from the plot up to that point.
In summary, The Burning Dark was a disappointment. There is potential within the pages for a great novel, but the execution is below par. Based on this novel alone I can’t see myself reading any future novels in this series, or anything else the author has to offer.
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