Dark Dweller by Gareth Worthington is a slim book that crams in lots of classic science fiction ideas. Singularities, first contact, and sentient spacecraft to name but three. Of my recent SF reads, Dark Dweller reminds me both of James Smythe and Gareth Powell
What is Dark Dweller?
The novel opens in a future dystopia. In order to run on clean energy, Earth requires Helium. This is acquired, at no small risk, from Jupiter. The companies that run the operations are fabulously wealthy; the people that do the harvesting, not so much. The 12-year journey to and from Jupiter is hard going. You’re in suspended animation for much of it, but that gap messes up your life. But hey, it’s a job.
The mining ship Paralus is bearing down on Jupiter when it encounters an escape pod. Inside is a young girl. A girl who claims to be the captain of a ship that crashed into Jupiter one hundred years earlier. This outlandish claim is backed up by matching DNA and medical records. Physically, at least, she appears to be telling the truth.
So the first mystery of Dark Dweller begins.
Whilst the crew takes instructions, they head towards a scientific research station on Titan. The ship’s psychologist Sarah Dallas interviews the child, hoping to glean some understanding of the conundrum, aided (and sometimes hindered) by the ship’s A.I. The child claims to have been trapped in a timeless state, witnessing all history at once. She proclaims the coming of a rapacious force, that will consume the galaxy. Her story feels like the stuff of fairy tales.
Dallas descends to the surface of Titan to consult with their lead scientist, yet he is preoccupied with a shadowy form discovered beneath the moon’s volcanic surface. The second mystery of Dark Dweller.
Why Read Dark Dweller?
There’s a lot going on here and the book riffs on many classic science fiction themes. Space travel, interesting physics, the nature of A.I., and what would humanity do if it came up against alien life. In addition, there’s a large ecology thread running through the novel. One not dissimilar to the recently reviewed, The Forcing. Earth has been taken to the brink by climate change, a key fact underpinning the events of Dark Dweller. Further to that. This is not an equitable future, the haves are still exploiting the have-nots.
The novel is told from the viewpoints of several different crew members, chronologically. Each of them has different priorities for the mission and certainly a different opinion on the nature of the child in the escape capsule. We have a host of unreliable narrators.
As the novel reaches its conclusion several hidden strands come to light, delivering a cataclysmic if not entirely unexpected conclusion. Whilst it may have been possible to see the ending, there certainly are a number of surprises on the journey there. The book is filled with tense stand-offs and shifting allegiances. There are a couple of moments of brutal action that punctuate the cerebral nature of the crew’s deliberations to great effect.
Overall, Dark Dweller doesn’t break any new ground, but it remains an entertaining and thought-provoking read, that creates genuine moments of shock. It does not offer a particularly optimistic view of humanity’s future, and one can’t help but hope that the fate of planet Earth remains science fiction rather than becoming science fact. Unfortunately, much like The Forcing before it, that part of the novel is all too realistic.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Dark Dweller, you can do so here, in the US, and here, in the UK.
If you want to discover more about the book take a look at the Dark Dweller website. Whilst researching for this review, I found a story about the teacher to whom Gareth Worthington dedicated the book. The world needs more Mrs Grays.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.