Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In Karl Drinkwater’s science fiction/horror novel Lost Solace (1), Opal, a rogue soldier, has stolen a ship with an experimental AI on board. She hacked the AI and gave it her little sister’s name, Clarissa. She’s about to rendezvous with a set of coordinates that will hopefully lead to a Lost Ship: occasionally ships go missing when travelling faster than light, and even more occasionally one comes back. Honestly, most people think it’s a myth, but Opal is bound and determined to figure out the mystery, because her sister was on board one of the missing ships. She finds what she presumes to be a Lost Ship, in the middle of perilous circumstances. Not only does it seem to be filled with deadly creatures, but two military vessels have just shown up looking for her and her ship.
I’d heard this had a touch of “Event Horizon” to it, and I love that movie, so that made me eager to read this. It might have a touch of the plot, but it lacks the feel. This is definitely more of a dark science fiction story than it is a horror story. The creatures are mostly okay, with one or two standouts. Also one big miss, IMO: an actual sentient creature that sounds remarkably human, thus doing away with any real sense of awe or horror with regards to it.
Anyway, all of that is mostly down to improper expectations, so hopefully your expectations are now set properly. And as a dark science fiction tale, this is excellent. One of the things that’s so fascinating about the seemingly-abandoned ship is that in some ways, it seems like a prop for a movie. It doesn’t fit any one set of specifications matching any one ship–it seems to be a conglomeration with some bits added. Some of the surfaces on board the ship seem very strange, and certainly not normal. Equipment doesn’t really work the way it should. And boy howdy is it filled with dangerous critters!
Clarissa and Opal are both great characters. Clarissa gradually develops something of a dry sense of humor and a touch of witty banter, which frankly makes Opal worry, because it could mean Clarissa’s unstable and therefore dangerous. She also has to worry that the AI might somehow retrieve the memories she’s blocked off, remember who it works for and that she stole it, and kill her. Opal is wonderfully determined and has an interesting background and set of skills. The worldbuilding is fairly subtle, worked in little bit by little bit. There are clearly some class and racial issues that have affected Opal.
I like that Opal is conflicted when the first set of creatures comes looking for her, because they’re so alien that she has no way of knowing whether they’re friendly or deadly, whether this is a misunderstanding or they’re hunting her. She keeps having to wonder whether she should shoot them or not shoot them, and you can feel a genuine tension in that.
There was one event that I still don’t entirely understand, near the end. Hopefully it’ll be cleared up in the next volume–which I’m looking forward to reading! Content note for combat and death and creepy critters.
They were called the Lost Ships.
And sometimes they came back.