The three man crewed scientific spaceship Ananke is on its way to Pluto when a two man saboteur team get on-board and virus the computer so they wouldn’t be detected, except they are. Having only one brig, one is placed there and the other, with a broken arm, in a storage room. Only problem, as they discover, is he’s the lockpick specialist and escapes, fleeing in an escape capsule and not likely to survive. They are caught up with by detective Ida Stays who then interrogates their prisoner, Leontios Ivanov, first with a little chat with a lie detector about his links to known lead terrorist Malt-y-Nos. As you’ll know as little about him as she does or rather all the recorded information she has, then you follow as a picture of the reality of living on the various planets and moons in the solar system is built up. I even started to figure out who Malt-y-Nos might actually be although author C.A. Higgins plays the wildcard of the one you should least expect and was on my suspect list. Hence all the ambiguity of being careful not to name names in case I give too much away.
‘Lightless’ reads very much like and is really a detective story, borrowing heavily from the standard ten little indians crime trope once you get down to the nitty gritty which makes it very difficult to say too much about the plot without giving things away. As the sequel, ‘Supernova’, is out next month and I shouldn’t read until then to see if Higgins moves away from this.
Some of the plot is more obvious than others and I picked up on rather too easily. The Science Fiction aspect is a little more confusing. Considering the Ananke is heading towards Pluto and even the so-called relativistic drive that gets three other spaceships to it, you would have thought the System, the governing body running the worlds, would have sent more police to help on what is turning out to be a crucial situation or at least get them off the spaceship. If you dig a little deeper, you would have to wonder why even the nascent computer on the Ananke doesn’t have a proper firewall against being virused. This is the future after all and if its standard practice in our time, it would be more so in the future.
The characters don’t carry enough of what they represent. Ida Stays is described as a psychopath interrogator but over than chaining Ivanov up for extended periods, it doesn’t appear that she’s seriously torturing him. From the opening chapter, you would have thought that Althea Bastet was the captain until the second chapter reveals she isn’t but the spaceship mechanic. What is more worrying, especially for a detective plot, is you don’t really care enough for the fates of the characters, not helped by no second thoughts by the survivors. Granted some of them are killed in a short interval but you’re not given enough time to think what’s happening.
One can only presume that Higgins is going to flesh out this reality more with her second book, out next month, as to just what is going on. For an opening novel, it works fairly well but the tangibility of what is really going on less so.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 288 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $33.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-39442-9)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com