Lightless by C.A. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After great deliberation, I nudged this one up to three stars, but if it wasn't for the end, I would have left it well in the comfortable two.
I was annoyed for the majority of the novel, knowing that the stilted characters could have had more life, that there could have been more hints as to who, exactly, was supposed to be the hero of the tale, or, indeed, if there was one at all that I could sit back and watch, going, "Oh, well I don't like that person too much, but at least they're painted prettily."
Indeed, the best I could say about the first 2/3rds was that it started out with action, continued faithfully with action, and kept us In Medias Res until we were bogged down in constant interrogation-speak reminiscent of a million and a half cop shows.
I was struck mostly by the incompetence of everyone. I mean, Everyone. At a certain point while reading, I kept trying to think about ways the book could have been made Better, and an idea came to me, fully-fleshed and all excited with a desire to live: This Could Have Been Made As A Comedy.
Just a few tweaks here and there would have turned Ivan into the spunky Stainless Steel Rat, loveable and absolutely capable of getting out of as many messes as he gets himself into. Ida the Interrogator, the bumbling but sociopathic inspector. The captain and the scientist were throwaway shadows with no more life than puppets, and the engineer, who arguably gets almost the most stage-time, spent most of the book being hopelessly outclassed and stumped by THE COMPUTER. It was almost a satire. Terry Pratchett could almost be heard in the other room, shouting hints to the story.
The whole thing smacked of a second-rate C.J. Cherryh lesser SF novel, or perhaps a 60's pulp. I know this sounds rather cruel, but unfortunately, the only thing about either the writing or the ideas behind it that I really got into, from the very start, was the fact that they were on a spaceship that had housed a small black hole in its innards. Everything else just had me asking unfortunate questions, like: If this is such a heavily-funded project needing the best and the brightest, shouldn't they have gotten more than just three crew? And shouldn't they have been a LOT better at their jobs? Seriously. It wasn't a comedy, no matter how much I thought it could have swung, successfully, in that direction. Hell, I know that Connie Willis could have made this novel comedic GENIUS.
Okay. Now on to the better parts. It took a long time to get there, and the reveals weren't that surprising, but fortunately, there WAS a LOT of them. The twist was the return of really old SF ideas, but because they were here at all, it forced me to bump this book up into a higher rating bracket.
SPOILER ALERT ::: SPOILER ALERT :::: SPOILER ALERT
And I bumped it up because:
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress comes to mind, despite it ramping up revolution to include the whole system rather than just the moon, a subversive emergent AI that seems to have more personality than all the characters, combined, and well,... that's it.
And the characters become a bit more likeable, because: Almost all of them died.[Especially the ones that died. I.E., almost all of them. (hide spoiler)]
END SPOILER ALERT
It was a serviceable novel. It mostly kept my attention.
It just didn't stand out too much.
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