SUBSTRATE PHANTOMS by Jessica Reisman

SUBSTRATE PHANTOMS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On a vast, intrigue-ridden space station, an orphan becomes the lone survivor of a cosmic accident that may have left him partially possessed by an alien consciousness.

This novel’s setting is the Aggregate, a spacegoing future in which old Earth is a receding memory, nearly as mythical as the notion of “alien” intelligent races that human beings have, so far, not encountered. But on a giant space station/colony called Termagenti, gossip suggests an unclassified hunk of salvaged debris is indeed an alien vessel. A team of foolhardy station techs exploring the mothballed artifact is engulfed by an energy surge. The lone survivor, Jhinsei, an orphan, lands in the medlab, where he’s told his “blood chemistry is behaving—strangely.” He is suddenly no longer as alone as he used to be. Flickering mind fragments of his dead workmates now co-exist in him—along with another intruding presence (“Something was using his skin to feel the air, scent, see and hear everything, rising to it with wonder. Behind this whatever-it-was, Jhinsei was terrified and jittery as hell”). Meanwhile, more anomalous events (and sightings of a phantom figure in a glittering, birdlike costume) accompany what seems to be a conspiracy, tying religious fanatics to a reclusive, high-tech media mogul forcing the next step in human evolution. Reisman (The Z Radiant, 2013) takes the familiar sci-fi premise of “first contact” into the realm of surrealist poetry with her tale’s argot-infused text, melding clever word inventions with esoteric phraseology. At times, one suspects that a fairly simple, if actually underdeveloped, plotline abides beneath all the filigree, fabulist grammar, and dreamlike imagery (“The vanessa, highly illegal—thanks to the Thespis Guild— somatically modal flash analog as she was, lay sweet-skinned and languid, long limbs entangled with his”). But Reisman’s vision deftly invokes a remote culture and characters so extreme and exotically alluring that the concept of a wayward E.T. in this realm hardly makes a stir in the foliage. Newbies in Jedi pajamas be warned.

A deep dive into prose-poetry sci-fi and a mind-stretching mystery.

Pub Date: May 16th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63023-033-3
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Arche Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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