Rating: 4 out of 5
Anne Tibbets’s horror/science fiction story Screams from the Void owes “Alien” a nod for the basic premise (alien creature gets loose aboard spaceship and starts killing everyone), but it has plenty of original material to add to the basics. When our story starts, Ensign Kris Cunningham notes a reading that doesn’t make sense: it indicates a foreign biological is quickly making its way toward the flight deck of the Demeter through the air vent system. What emerges is roughly dog-sized, furry, has six legs and four eyes, and can camouflage itself. It also has quick reflexes and claws like you wouldn’t believe. Meanwhile, three others are returning to the ship from the planet they’re studying (Planet Gliese). One of them, Technical Sergeant Pollux, has damaged her suit controls and is in danger of literally roasting to death. Mechanics Ensign Raina attempts to jury-rig a fix, knowing all the while that it’s yet another “unregulated” repair and that her boss will report her yet again. As people start to realize that there’s something horrible going on, the living split into two teams: the officers go after the biological, and the ensigns are made to hide away in the galley. Unfortunately for Raina, her ex, Ensign Morven, is also there. Not only is he the person who badly abused her in the past, but he has some goals and ambitions that don’t mesh well with working together as a team.
This is a great combination of creature-horror and emotional horror. Half of the story takes place in the present, and half of it takes place in inverse chronological order in parallel (it makes sense when you read it). Tibbets was seriously courageous to work this kind of tale of domestic violence into a horror/sci-fi novel. There’s a lot of very realistic stuff in Raina’s relationship with Morven. He manipulates her perfectly. She ignores warning signs. The captain just sees it as a natural consequence of the fraternization that he always warns his crew against, and doesn’t do anything other than telling the two to stay away from each other.
It makes some sense that the ensigns lack a certain amount of common sense, since they’re fresh out of training. So I can forgive most of them for putting down bait to catch the creature, only to stay nearby arguing loudly. Most character mistakes are entirely believable in here.
If you like claustrophobic creature-horror tales aboard old, junky spaceships, this one’s perfect.
Content notes: gore, death, domestic violence, partner rape, sex.
SPOILER WARNING: There are only a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me. One, several people develop massive (presumed allergic) reactions to a particular substance. The critter then seems to avoid killing those people, so the implication seems to be that whatever’s happening, it isn’t just an allergy. This is never explained, however. Also, one of Raina’s memories about her relationship with Morven depicts them sitting with the captain, who’s been apprised of what’s going on after Morven beats the crap out of Raina. Raina seems to have had the scales lifted from her eyes at this point, and is outraged that the captain doesn’t take it more seriously (Morven, of course, said he was “provoked”). If she’d been less angry and less sure of herself in this scene I would have had an easier time believing that she continues to have feelings for Morven at times, and still tends to think he “loves” her. But it really seemed like she’d figured things out in that scene. (One of the times when she thinks “oh, but he still loves me” takes place right after he very obviously tries to lock her out of the hiding place so she’d get killed by the critter.) Otherwise, I think the depiction of the push/pull of a violent and manipulative relationship was presented extremely well.