STARRED REVIEW
October 01, 2015

A high-stakes space drama

By C.A. Higgins
Review by

Given the title of C.A. Higgins’ debut novel, Lightless, it’s fitting that so much of the tale’s enjoyment stems from how well and how long it keeps the reader in the dark.

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Given the title of C.A. Higgins’ debut novel, Lightless, it’s fitting that so much of the tale’s enjoyment stems from how well and how long it keeps the reader in the dark.

Like any good author, Higgins has rigged the game from the beginning. There’s something about the very setup—three crew members traveling through space in a large spaceship—that might cause a claustrophobic, or monophobic, twitch in some readers. The mission of this “miracle of engineering” called Ananke and of her crew? Unknown. A mere three pages in, Althea, the ship’s engineer and novel’s protagonist, sets this particular tale in motion with two ominous words: “Someone’s boarded.”

From there, and for much of the novel, Lightless relies more on its bona fides as a suspense thriller than any overtly sci-fi-flavored action, large spaceship locale or no. Higgins never lets the ship’s population rise above five or so, and even as the population grows, she rarely presents the reader with more than three characters together at a time. The novel is mostly divided between time spent in the mind of a character and watching a particularly prolonged and thorough interrogation unspool. (As much as some might wish to connect Lightless with Alien or, even better, The Martian, “The Closer in space” is probably the truer pitch.)

It’s for these reasons, and despite a gradually unveiled, sprawling backdrop filled with off-world colonies and an oppressive, ever-watching and oft-suppressing System, that Lightless remains relentlessly intimate throughout. For her part, Higgins sustains the suspense so effectively, that the novel’s rather shocking conclusion doesn’t feel forced or contrived. Instead, it feels like a fitting, explosive release of a plot drawn tight and kept taut before the reader even opened the book.

Granted, Lightless pulls off a few tricks that will only work once. With a sequel, Supernova, scheduled for 2016, it will be interesting to see just how well Higgins handles the transition from claustrophobic thriller with a cast of, well, not many, to the chaotic, actor-filled stage the ending of Lightless at least implies awaits us.

Michael Burgin is the Movies Editor for Paste Magazine. He lives in Nashville.

 

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Lightless

Lightless

By C.A. Higgins
Del Rey
ISBN 9780553394429

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