Title: The Burning Dark
Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Tor, 2014
Series: Spider Wars, Book 1

THE BOOK: From the moment decorated war hero Captain Idaho Cleveland arrives on the U-Star Coast City he knows something is not right. No one on board seems to have heard of him. Ego aside, the battle that he survived should have been known to anyone in the military, as it was the only successful fleet action against the Spiders. Ida is being eased out of the military, and this posting to the station is his final assignment. The Coast City is being decommissioned. It was initially put in place as a scientific observation facility around an unusual star known as Shadow, but the Coast City also served as a defensive outpost against implacable and technologically superior enemy known as the Spiders. Neither purpose seems to have panned out (the Spiders haven’t been seen in that sector of space and the star is just as mysterious as ever), and the station is being closed. Shadow’s eerie purple light seems to oppress everyone in its sphere of influence, and might be having a real effect of the Coast City crew. Ida has no real role in the stations, and the crew seem to resent him or ignore him in turns. He spends more and more time alone in his cabin, turning to an old radio-building hobby to keep himself entertained. But the radio seems to be picking up signals from across time and space. Is it a message or a warning?

MY TAKE: For me, this was a great example of how horror and SF can be combined for great effect. Christopher (who wrote The Atomic Age and Empire State) builds the tension and the creepy atmosphere brick by brick until you are almost drowning in the claustrophobic dread. Like Cleveland, you just don’t know what’s going on. Ghosts? Real signals? That, plus the setup on the Coast City, with bored soldiers slowly losing their marbles and a station being taken apart section by section, made for an ideal haunted house story in space. The only things that I didn’t like was how quickly Christopher wrapped things up. After building the suspense and horror atmosphere, he seemed to want to sweep it away with a more scientific explanation in the end. Also, the Spiders were a threat that never made it on stage. I have a feeling that this will be addressed in later volumes of the series.

Science Fiction: The setting worked for me as a space opera. There is the enormous space station, the spooky shadow star, the hint of space battles past and to come against a vicious enemy. The unknown reaches of space seem like such a fertile place to set a horror story that I’m a little surprised that we don’t see more of these. Alien films notwithstanding.
Horror: The essence of good horror is often that the thing, the danger, the monster — they are unexplained. This puts it in conflict with SF, which usually wants to explain everything, but Christopher balances the two urges well. The horror starts with Shadow, the stars whose light seems to be twisting the minds of those who are near it. Then we get the (related?) weirdness of the voices that Ida hears from the radio and the mysterious crew psychologist that only he ever interacts with. It also creates an oppressive atmosphere that really works as horror.

RATING: 8/10 Excellent

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The Echo by James Smythe

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