Brett J. Talley’s first novel, That Which Should Not Be, received quite a bit of acclaim — enough that I finally decided that I simply had to read it… but before I could do so, his second novel — also from JournalStone Publishing — was announced and a review copy arrived. That second novel is The Void, and it’s a classic combination of science fiction and horror (a genre mash-up that I’m an absolute sucker for), in the same vein as Event Horizon, Solaris, or Moon (to cite film comparisons only).
Between the acclaim for That Which Should Not Be, the advance praise for The Void, and my affinity for sf/horror combos, my expectations for this book were sky-high, and that’s a heavy burden for any author to bear. How did Talley fare? Let’s examine…
Set aboard the intergalactic starship The Chronos in the year 2169, the story employs a small but interesting cast of characters that for the most part resists resorting to type and includes the following notables:
- Captain Caroline Gravey, a recently-retired Navy veteran who’s taking the helm of a private vessel for the first time.
- Navigator Aidan Connor, who has no memory of the catastrophe that destroyed his last ship, a disaster that only he survived.
- Rebecca Kensington, a somewhat-secretive passenger who possesses a few misgivings about her hidden agenda.
- Dr. Malcolm Ridley, the ship’s resident psychiatrist, a role that’s required due to the mental effects that sometimes result from warp-drive travel.
Warp travel necessitates that crew members and passengers be sleeping during the journey, and the “mental effects” mentioned above — which can result from the strange, frightening dreams experienced during warp sleep — essentially translate to insanity. What’s worse, the affect can sometimes be gradual and insidious, so waking from warp travel and feeling fine is not necessarily indicative of anything.
When the Chronos emerges from warp travel, the crew discover that they’re not where they’re supposed to be. Instead, they’re in a remote, unpopulated area of space, near an unidentified and seemingly derelict vessel, surrounded by black holes. With a small window of time before the other ship is pulled into one of the black holes, the true nature of the situation into which the Chronos has been manipulated is revealed, while the other vessel turns out to be perhaps not so derelict after all.
The fear of losing one’s mind is effectively conveyed, and later in the story there are seemingly human threats to deal with, but the greatest sense of terror here comes from the eponymous void — the endless reaches of space, the black holes, the vast nothingness.
So, at the end of the day, did The Void live up to my expectations? To some extent, yes. There’s no denying that there are the seeds of a very good novel here. What detracts from the book’s overall impact, though, are a few occasional awkward sentences, some rather jarring shifts in style, and far too much time spent on chapters exploring the characters’ dreams, some of which really drag. In sum, I’m glad I read The Void, but I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.