Burch’s debut sci-fi novel offers creepy atmosphere in a deep-space.
The crew of the Icarus, both scientists and military types, bring aboard a mysterious artifact that seems able to deflect the sun’s radiation. Right away, things go awry. Communications with their sister ship, Prometheus, go silent. Dr. Tybalt is obsessed with the artifact. Lovers, Kerrick and Straub, quarrel. Sgt. Laguardia starts carrying a gun at all times. Captain Udeh, who seemed to have his claustrophobia under control, suddenly requires more medication. Engines fail. Are these just normal fissures from the wear-and-tear of a solar dive, or is it something more ominous? The narrative follows at least six characters, which can get confusing since the characters are primarily addressed by their last names. The plot crawls as we meet the ensemble cast, but halfway through the book, as life aboard the ship unravels, things get interesting. Tension builds when the crew probes the artifact, discovering a mysterious “void” inside. They come to the horrible realization that the artifact is in fact a portal, and something alive lurks on the other side. The action-packed climax feels drawn-out after the long, powerful middle. Wordy constructions—“he was thinking” instead of “he thought,” or “the darkness was something that he had gotten used to” instead of “he was used to the darkness”—sometimes hobble the pace. A sharp edit to weed out passive voice, unnecessary backstory and too many protagonists could help better explore the interesting premise.
Despite an overcrowded cast, the competent dialogue and well-developed characters enhance this decent contribution to the genre.