I’ve been a big fan of Adam Christopher since I first discovered his novel Empire State and its world-twisting take on superheroes. Two additional superhero novels followed (Empire’s sequel The Age Atomic and the stand-alone Seven Wonders) that are also solid recommendations, but I’m really quite taken with Christopher’s science fiction/supernatural/horror universe that he created with the eerie The Burning Dark and now continues with sci-fi military thriller The Machine Awakes.
Science fiction and horror are a tricky balance. I often find that with a science fiction story background, the concept of things-that-go-bump are hard to pull off because advanced science either explains away the supernatural or often is used to save the day with advanced weaponry or an “alien solution.” The Burning Dark found a way to offer a mix of military science fiction with a dose of dread–fans of Event Horizon will appreciate the shadows in the corner of the eye that fill the decommissioned space station orbiting a strange star that gives off toxic radiation. This story takes place in a future where corporations own planets for mining and the Fleet is defending humanity across light-years of territory against an artificial intelligence-driven enemy called the Spiders that can disassemble entire planets. The Burning Dark, however, is not a story about the Spiders or The Fleet’s military operations… it’s a creep-filled tale of a darkness that is trying to escape into our universe, first through negotiation and later through manipulation and force. It was good stuff, and I thought it was a stand-alone story that tied things up nicely.
Then Tor reached out to me to tell me a sequel was in the works, a sequel that would take a slight detour back to the Fleet. What I was expecting was another supernatural story, but what I got was a tight military-style mystery that not only answered a few questions about the events in Burning, but also opened up more than one new can of worms by introducing more details about the Psi-Marines, psychic warriors trained to interfere with Spider communications, and going deeper into the war with the Spiders and the Fleet organizations who must deal with two sides of the war–political and commercial.
At its most basic, The Machine Awakes is a mystery. More than one, actually: two shocking assassinations, twin psychic marines gone missing, and the discovery of an incredible jump in robotics technology. A Fleet special investigator is pulled from a deep-cover assignment to try and uncover the culprit or cause for what has put the Fleet in complete turmoil… and along the way he begins to discover a more sinister conspiracy that could very well mean not the end of the Fleet, but all of human civilization. Pretty heavy, huh?
The Machine Awakes may take place in the same sci-fi world as The Burning Dark, but the style of the storytelling is completely different. Gone is the supernatural, in comes the straight-forward whodunit. Did I miss the supernatural/horror found in The Burning Dark? A little. But Burning didn’t offer up the bird’s-eye view of the Spider War or the gritty details of how the Fleet operates. That kind of information has really helped get a better grasp on just how bad things may be with the war (and explain why certain events in The Burning Dark occurred).
Between the military thriller of The Machine Awakes and the horror found in The Burning Dark, I’m anxiously awaiting to see what direction Christopher takes next with the series. It’ll be interesting to see if the supernatural elements found in the first book will mix with the hard science fiction components found in the second. Christopher has created an enemy that has shown it can be relentless and cunning, and he’s also created an enemy that the Fleet knows almost nothing about. How will this play out? I have no idea, but Christopher hasn’t let me down with any of his other novels (including his recent Sherlock Holmes novel)… so I’m anxious to see what he comes up with next for the Fleet, the Spiders, and the Dark.