Fans of fast paced, action-based science fiction novels will find a lot to enjoy in Obscura. The tale of a spooky ship, a creepy mystery and a stalwart heroine, this book is a quick and easy read.
It begins with an accident. Gillian Ryan is in the car with her husband when the culmination of the last few week’s events blurt out of her. He’s forgetting things. Too many things to be accounted for by stress. He needs to see a doctor. Just as she’s driving her point home, he enters a fugue state and crashes the car. They survive. At least for a while.
It’s called Losian’s. It’s an aggressive new form of dementia which begins with memory loss, progresses to fugue states and ends with violent episodes and death. It takes less than two years for Gillian’s husband to succumb. Her only comfort? Her daughter. When her beautiful, darling Carrie is diagnosed Gillian begins the fight of her life. Research and her daughter are the only two things that exist for Gillian after that moment. She knows given time, she will be able to find a cure. She also knows the one thing she doesn’t have is time.
Then comes the day that changes her life. Her current funding is pulled but an intriguing new option develops: An ex-boyfriend named Carson, a NASA big shot, has a proposition for her. She will travel to a (relatively) nearby space station with a NASA team where some members of the crew have begun to complain of memory loss, fugue states and in at least one case, a violent episode resulting in death. She will be gone from her daughter for six months. Six months where her research will be fully funded and she is guaranteed all the funding she needs upon her return. Money will never be an issue again. Gillian doesn’t want to leave Carrie, but she sees no alternative but to hope that this sacrifice will result in the miracle she is so desperate for. It should work. If only they don’t discover her secret.
There’s only one problem. That station is full of secrets. And someone is very willing to kill to keep them.
Plot, setting, character, conflict, prose (also known as style) and point of view are the main elements of fiction. When I review, I try to keep those things in mind and judge the book based on how well the writer executes them in addition to pacing and overall readability of the tale. In this case, Hart, an accomplished writer, nails the basics. He has a smooth writing style which is clear, concise and easy to read. He doesn’t have any struggles with point of view. The story is told in third person limited, presenting us with Gillian’s perspective throughout and the author does a great job with that. The setting is also handled well. We aren’t overwhelmed with details, but a clear image of the ships and station are drawn; we can easily picture what we need to see. The conflict is clearly set up. In terms of the execution, the tale is close to perfect. And the pacing! That perhaps is the best piece of the puzzle. What makes the tale interesting and readable is that the pacing is so brisk. We never have time to think too deeply about what is happening because the story moves so quickly, and each new revelation is so fascinating that reading is both enjoyable and mesmerizing. I just wanted to know what was happening, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as a result and I felt like I was running a race to the finish. If there had been a book two I would gladly have picked that up in order to continue the journey; I was that invested in the characters and their story.
Speaking of which, the author does a good job of painting the characters sparsely, which is necessary in a novel driven by action, but giving us enough time with them and information about them that we are able to bond. I never warmed to Carson, which I think was understandable given his behaviors, but I did warm to Gillian, Birk and even Dr. Anders. I liked what I knew of them and would have been interested in learning more.
Most novels have flaws, though, and I think in this one, the flaw lay in the plotting. Once you had time to think, the holes in the overall storyline became a lot more obvious. For example, the fact that much of what occurs relies on Gillian’s addiction felt a touch unnatural. For that to have been the first domino in a line of falling blocks would have worked, but so much that is crucial to the tale depends on her being an addict, meaning that it went from a plot point to near deus ex machina. For me, the tale works easily in spite of this, but others might find that to be more of a stumbling block. Also, once the solution to the mystery is floated by the characters – the ‘why’ of what is occurring if you will – it’s immediately obvious who the guilty party is. I still wanted to see how the story ended, so that in no way ruined anything for me, but some might find it annoying.
I thoroughly enjoyed Obscura and would be happy to pick up a sequel and see what happens there. While not a perfect novel, I think fans of space adventure science fiction set in the near future will find a lot to like about it, too.