I am Gary Rendell, astronaut. I was born on Earth too many decades ago. I was lost from the Expedition Team too many months or weeks or centuries ago.
Gary Rendell is the lucky (lucky, so lucky!) astronaut chosen as part of a team to investigate a mysterious artifact found in the outer reaches of the solar system. As Gary descends into the depths of the artifact, he also descends further and further into insanity as the Crypts slowly strip of his humanity.
Coming into this book after The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling, I was prepared for a novella heavy on survival horror elements. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tchaikovsky takes us on a tour of the human psyche, slowly dismantling Gary bit by bit as walks through the mysterious Crypts. His knowledge of time, of distance, and of any human metric you or I might use to measure our lives has been rendered meaningless.
The novel opens on Gary’s discovery of an alien corpse, which he is thrilled by – not only is it edible, it’s also flammable. An opportunity to keep the darkness at bay. Gary’s madness is a quirky one – while his actions are eminently practical, we get our first glimpse of the humor present in this book when Gary names the strange, deceased, insectoid explorer Clive. Later on, he provides a full backstory for where Clive might have come from and where he might have been going.
It had a dozen many-jointed legs, and I snapped them off and piled them up, a camp fire just like my old scoutmaster taught me, and I used one of my shonky little jury-rigged pieces of nonsense to spark it into flame.
Tchaikovsky moves us between the past and future, slipping back and forth as Gary’s thoughts and narration scatter between the two. We have small snippets of an optimistic back-story. Once, Gary was a bright-eyed youngster who wanted nothing more than to explore; between this and the humorous, eccentric narration, it’s often difficult in the beginning to truly feel the gravity of the situation Gary is in.
We encounter numerous fun little aliens in the first half of the novella. Some cute little egg-shaped machine-like guys, a few little fellows shaped like pyramids with a fondness for arts and crafts. However, we’re also introduced to the dangers of the Crypts, which are filled to the brim with monstrous ambush predators.
I see it unfold itself from the far wall. Most of the Crypt fauna are low-energy ambush predators, capable of lying dormant a long time between meals. This one had been camouflaged amongst the carvings, long worm body clutched to the wall, terminating in a horrifying assemblage of hooked arms about a saw-edged mouth.
All this ramps up gradually to a peak about three quarters in. While I won’t spoil, I will share my reaction:
“Oh. Oh god. WTF.”
Which really sums up all of my feelings on the matter, to be quite frank. Excellent, horrifying ending. This book had me fooled for quite a while, thinking that it was going to continue to quirky with fun little aliens, but I was so, so wrong. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s works in the future. I’ve had Children of Time recommended to me several times now, and it might be about time to give that a shot…
My only complaint about this book was that I felt the pacing was a little off at times. It would have been nice if the slide towards the conclusion was a little smoother; there were several spots that seemed to plateau and did not move along as well as they should have. This is especially evident in novellas such as this – with only 140 pages to work with, each page needs to be important to the overall story.
Thank you to the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
About the Author
Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist.