Thuss’ (Fertility Zero, 2015, etc.) sci-fi novel tells the story of a small group of people trapped in a nightmarish town in the Nevada desert.
Every four years, Dale B. Yeager rides his antique BMW motorcycle 2,600 miles from Virginia to southern California so that he may place flowers on his parents’ graves. During his latest trip, at age 67, the divorced millionaire decides to stop in tiny NoTown, Nevada, which turns out to be aptly named, containing only a “cinder block motel,” a “gas station with two old rusted pumps,” and “an old rail car diner with a flickering red and blue neon sign.” The Rest Stop Motel seems to be a well-preserved but unremarkable relic of a bygone era. Upon check-in, Cyndy Ferguson, the young woman at the desk, makes some odd comments regarding the length of Dale’s planned stay. He takes a nap and wakes up to find that he looks 27 again. “You’re not crazy, Dale, and you’re not asleep,” Cyndy assures him when he returns to the lobby, alarmed. It turns out NoTown exists at an intersection where the 11 dimensions of time and space meet, and it’s impossible to leave the place by simply driving or walking away. Cyndy, like Dale, is in her 60s but looks as if she’s in her 20s; she’s a microbiologist who’s been trapped in NoTown for more than a year. Also, there are predators roaming the night that abduct humans and do unspeakable things to them. Dale decides to call them “Súls”: “what stood out most to me were the eyes, and Súl was the Irish word for eye.” With the help of other trapped travelers, Dale and Cyndy must find a way to escape the place before their wills are destroyed and they succumb to apathy, madness, or worse.
The novel’s premise offers its readers a finely constructed puzzle that becomes increasingly and maddeningly complex as the story goes on, with rules that seem fixed but are revealed to be several degrees more complicated than they initially appear. Thuss’ prose effectively gets across the narrative shifts in tension, from long expositional conversations to more surreal moments, as in this passage, when Dale takes in his diner surroundings: “Everything was late 1940’s early 1950’s style: The plates, the silverware, all the decorations hung on the walls, and the red color of the vinyl in the booths. Everything but the small, decahedron shaped boxes mounted near the ceiling at each end of the rail car. We’re being watched, I realized.” The story is generally fast-paced and immersive, its twists are mostly surprising, and the ending comes before it overstays its welcome. Although the Súls are ultimately revealed to be a rather familiar foe, Thuss handles them well over the course of the novel, and he cultivates them into a truly terrifying adversary. Sequels appear to be planned, and they will be welcome when they arrive.
A fun and often riveting novel that features mysteries of time, space, and unknown life forms.