I’m not sure what to make of ‘The Burning Dark’ as it could be described as being a ghost story with a SF twist. Of course, the ghosts are not your normal run-of-the-mill ghosts as this is a Science Fiction story after all. The SF twist comes largely from the setting as the story takes place on a space station that is in the process of being decommissioned and dismantled. The remains of space station Coast City are in orbit around a star called Shadow, which is interestingly labelled as toxic. I’m not quite sure what toxic means here other than ‘spooky’.
Before the main event starts, there’s a brief two page chapter called YOMI, detailing the sheer anguish and hatred of a dead woman who was betrayed by her husband. She is locked in an inescapable prison with other creatures and swears vengeance on her still living husband. Having read the book, I understand the chapter but still have no idea why it’s called YOMI.
The next chapter is initially somewhat confusing as the main character, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland, retells the story of the military action that led to him being decorated as a war here. His audience doesn’t appreciate the tale and certainly make their feelings known. As I said, I found this initial chapter confusing but it does fall into place eventually.
Having got those two chapters out of the way the main event settles down as Captain Cleveland begins his last mission before an early forced retirement from the Fleet. The mission isn’t much, just a make-work to oversee the final decommissioning of the space station. Cleveland’s addition to the staff is certainly not appreciated by the current officers and skeleton crew who are left behind to complete the work. Faced with open hostility, Cleveland retreats to his own quarters and limits his interaction with the remaining crew to only that which is essential for his duties. In his quarters, Cleveland takes up the suggestion for a hobby to fill his time and builds a space radio.
In many ways, a space radio is comparable to radio ham wireless sets we have today but capable of two-way transmissions over huge distances. It might be an oversight on Cleveland’s part but his hobby radio can also tune in to the banned sub-space frequencies. It’s while scanning the sub-space frequency channels that Cleveland stumbles across a ghostly broadcast of a woman who had died approximately a thousand years ago. This strangely bizarre transmission unnerves Cleveland but it’s only the start of his troubles as things start to malfunction and strange events are reported across the remains of the station. With the number of incidents growing and people disappearing, things slowly build to a climax where we finally learn the true nature of the ghosts. Cleveland and his reluctant colleagues are forced to take desperate measures to stop the ghosts.
‘The Burning Dark’ isn’t a bad story and it has a good ending but I did get the feel that it was written for the big screen. I could visualise creepy moments from the plot but the written descriptions just didn’t impart that feeling to me. For most of the novel, Cleveland is confused by the events and, it has to be said, so was I. This might be the author’s way of getting you to relate to the hero’s confusion but I’m not sure it worked. There are things that are largely unexplained which in the case of the PSI Marines might just be because everyone knows what a PSI Marine is and what they can do, right? Actually, I don’t but I wish I did.
The American version of this novel has the sub title ‘Spider Wars 1’ which is interesting. The war with the giant planet eating spider race is just a backdrop to ‘The Burning Dark’. It’s where Cleveland fought and won his service medal before the events of this novel. Having said that, the giant planet eating spiders did pique my interest and I’d like to read more about them.
‘The Burning Dark’ is an interesting read but not an exceptional one. It would be worth watching as a movie and, of course, it does lay the foundations for follow on episodes.
(pub: Titan Books. 344 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78329-201-1
(pub: TOR/Forge. 334 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3508-1)