I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Lightless by C.A. Higgins
on September 29th 2015
Genres: Sci-Fi, Mystery
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The deeply moving human drama of Gravity meets the nail-biting suspense of Alien in this riveting science fiction debut. With bold speculation informed by a degree in astrophysics, C. A. Higgins spins an unforgettable “locked spaceship” mystery guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations—and into brilliantly thrilling new territory.
Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.
While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.
As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.
You know how some books grab you by the emotions and whip you back and forth from the get go and then others are a slow creep, kind of building to a climax without you really noticing until all of a sudden you’re punched in the face by all the things falling into place and happening at once and shit is going down oh holy fuck how did this happen? Lightless by C.A. Higgins is definitely the later. It’s a really weird sort of book that I got way more into than I was initially expecting to.
This twisty, locked room mystery (in space!) is whodunit story featuring an AI gaining awareness in the time of interstellar revolution. It’s told mainly through the (third person) POVs of a loyal System (like the Empire, basically) mechanic and a captive space pirate. I thought the POVs are an interesting choice. The mechanic, Althea, is largely removed from the main narrative as she struggles to save her beloved ship from a mysterious virus. Her POV establishes the setting the story takes place in. Ivan, on the other hand, spends most of his time chained up in interrogation, telling stories of his exploits, developing largely off camera characters and establishing the non-System approved version of the world this story takes place in.
The end result is a really interestingly put together book that sets up a story without directly telling it, if that makes any sense at all. The overall effect is largely distancing up until the end when all of the pieces come together and the plot becomes immediate for all parties and creates a really jarring OH SHIT EVERYTHING IS GOING DOWN scenario that felt a lot more dramatic than it necessarily would’ve been if reader had been immediately involved up front.
Though possessing great characters, Lightless does not come across as a character driven book. Given that I am generally in it for the characters, I think it says a lot about the book that I was so deeply into it without totally connecting to most of the cast. I definitely clicked the most with Ivan’s dashing rogue vibe (what can I say? I have a type). However, he’s not exactly at his most rogue-ish locked in a cell and/or chained to a table. This is compounded by the fact that he’s mostly telling other people about things he’s done in the past, making his portion of the narrative fairly passive on the immediate action side of things. That said, he still gave me a hell of a lot of feelings with his tragic past and snarky commentary.
Althea, the other, probably more, main character, is not exactly what you might call a people person. She’s far more comfortable completely immersed in her work and generally finds human interaction inexplicable and unnecessary. While never explicitly described as non-neurotypical, she can definitely be read that way. She’s prickly and impatient and loves her computer more than anything in the ‘verse, all things I like and relate to, but I never felt like I fully got inside her head (this is not a requirement for every reader but is generally a thing I like). Whether it was her temperament or the writing, I walked away feeling like she was an interesting person I’d enjoyed hanging out with but not really one I knew all that well.
As far as writing goes, the style swerved a little more to the tell vs show side of things than I generally prefer, but not enough to be a deal breaker. The author, C.A. Higgens, has a background in physics, so I’m assuming the science-y bits were fairly sound (I have a background in barely managing to not fail high school level physics so I am the worst person to comment on the accuracy of science stuff).
It might sound like I’m not so positive about the book but that’s absolutely not the case. By the time the climax rolled around, I was deeply invested in the outcome (also, totally did not see the who part of the whodunit coming which I can’t totally put down to mystery crafting as I am often utter shit at figuring out mysteries ahead of time). I was also incredibly impressed by how much I cared about things and people happening entirely off camera. I shipped a tragedy ship entirely based on a maybe three pages of story time and like, a page and a half of actual interaction. If the mood is right, I ship easily but not that easily, so definitely some kind of super skills and/or witchcraft afoot. I also love stuff that questions what it means to be human and books involving AI are perfect for that. Lightless doesn’t disappoint, while not exactly a philosophy seminar, it does make you (or at least me) think.
My biggest complaint is how invested I am in things that are barely a part of the book. If C.A. Higgins ever felt like writing a prequel or sequel novel featuring the adventures of Ivan and co, I would preorder that shit so fast I’d probably hurt myself.
If you’re in the mood for the art-house film version of scifi and don’t require a super immersive action experience from your reads, I’d definitely put Lightless on your tbr.
(Update: I have been told that, because occasionally dreams do come true, that not only is there a sequel (Supernova, out 2016) in the works, this is actually a trilogy. Sign me the fuck up.)