As I started writing my thoughts on Genevieve Valentine’s excellent novella Dream Houses, I became acutely aware of how much adding the words in space to a description will make anything sound better. Let me show you:

Dream Houses is a horror science fiction novel…in space.

It’s Alive (the movie)…in space.

It’s a locked room mystery…in space.

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It’s a tense tale of survival against all odds…in space.

(See what I mean?)

Nothing was supposed to go wrong on this ordinary Gliese run of the Menkalinan: there and back from Earth in about 7 years, most of it spent in deep sleep, its crew—under the command of Captain Lai—used to it by now. But one year into the journey, Amadis Reyes wakes up to find herself covered in blood in the control room, the alarm sounding in the background and no idea what is happening.

It soon becomes clear that Amadis is the only survivor (why her?), all the other crew members are dead in their pods (how did she get out of hers?), there’s not enough food (doesn’t matter how many times she calculates) to last her the rest of the journey (five long years), and no one (?) is left to keep her company apart from Capella, the ship’s AI.    

Was this a simple malfunction of the system or something more sinister? Amadis will have five whole years to try and find out. That is, if she can survive the cold, the hunger, the loneliness, her memories and everything else that threatens her sanity. 

Dream Houses is, at its core, a tense tale of survival against all odds, of a lone survivor trapped inside a spaceship for five years with not enough food and no company except for an AI who might or might not be on her side.

It’s amazing how much depth Genevieve Valentine was able to weave into this novella: from glimpses of a post-apocalyptic Earth to her fraught relationship with a brother she has barely seen over the years. From Amadi’s gruesome sensorial, emotional and physical decay to her complicated, ever-evolving relationship with Capella and the haunting memories of the houses she dreams about. 

Going back and forth in time, Amadi’s relationship with her brother actually shares the focus with the present storyline inside the Menkalinan. Her memories of their encounters through the years are presented in a nonlinear fashion and are gorgeously rendered as a slow, meandering build-up to one of the story’s main revelations. The moment it comes, it almost rewrites what you read, or, at the very least, cleverly enforces a reconsideration of everything that had come before. It’s a very effective narrative choice for a gripping story that slowly carves its way inside your brain…in space.

I read this novella for awards consideration—you know, Hugo Award season has started!— and it will definitely make my nomination ballot.

In Book Smugglerish: 9 out of 10

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.