Review of Lightless

Review By Ty Black

In a future dominated by surveillance, a totalitarian government will stop at nothing to stifle dissent, even if that means depopulating entire worlds. When a known criminal and possible terrorist is captured breaking in to top-secret experimental spaceship Anake, the government sends intelligence agent Ida Stays to interrogate him. Meanwhile, his partner made the Anake’s computer go haywire before evading capture, and ship’s mechanic, Dr. Althea Bastet, doesn’t know how to fix it.

Space opera Lightless is author C.A. Higgins’ debut. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, stories live and die on the strength of their villains, and while there are plenty of bad guys to choose from in Lightless, Ida Stays is one of the best villains I’ve seen in a while. She’s ruthless, self-assured, and most importantly she believes in the horrible things she does.

I found the beginning quarter of Lightless hard to get into: Althea spends a while being stumped about how to fix the ship and Ida’s interrogation spends a while going nowhere, and it felt like that action was stalled. That said, Higgins was setting up some surprises for later which made it worthwhile. There was also just a bit more purple prose than the story could sustain, and the narration felt stilted in places.

Once the book reaches its climax, the body count spikes sharply and the pieces Higgins set in place so carefully come together in rapid-fire in a series of surprising ways. I won’t give any spoilers, but the book’s last lines were intriguing enough to ensure that I’ll read any sequel.

You know there’s actually going to be some “sci” in “sci-fi,” when a book uses the laws of thermodynamics for its epigraphs, and Higgins, who was a runner-up to the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing for her short story, The Changeling, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics. That (naturally) led her to a job in theater, and this is an author I look forward to seeing more from. I give Lightless three of five stars.

304 pp. Del-Ray. $25

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