It’s no exaggeration to say that THE VOID is one of the best horror novels I read in 2012 (yes, I’m a bit late in writing this review in February 2013). I had previously read Brett Talley’s previous novel, THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE, a fun contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos that ties a few other horror tropes to Lovecraft’s world in interesting ways, but it in no way prepared me for what I could expect from his latest. THE VOID is, in my experience, a rare beast: a science fiction novel that successfully blends the genre with strong horror elements.
Mild plot spoilers follow.
In the mid-twenty-second century, humanity has discovered the secret of faster-than-light travel (FTL) and has begun to colonize worlds across the galaxy. There is just one limitation to FTL travel: humans must be asleep during the voyage, and, while asleep, each traveler dreams. The dream is different for each traveler, but recurs every time that person travels through space. No one talks about their personal dreams, unsurprisingly since the dreams are closer to nightmares, and deeply resonant for each individual. Every now and then – not too often, but just often enough – the dreams drive someone mad. And sometimes people who go to sleep never wake up.
THE VOID centers on one starship voyage in which six people on a seemingly routine voyage happen upon another ship that had disappeared in the depths of space a decade previously. The crew and passengers awake prematurely during their trip, seemingly trapped in a field of black holes making navigation and escape almost impossible, and having few options but to investigate the derelict ship. Unsurprisingly, each of the travelers is more than they appear, with secrets in their pasts and hidden agendas, all of which surface on this trip. A few of the characters are more hastily sketched than others, but the characters and their pasts are interestingly interlocked, and one of THE VOID’s strengths. I won’t reveal the nature of the dreams or what the travelers find on the missing ship, lest I ruin key elements of the plot. Suffice it to say that the mysteries revealed were well done and genuinely scary.
Comparisons between THE VOID and films like Event Horizon and Solaris are probably inevitable, but also a little misleading, as THE VOID avoids the gore of Event Horizon but is less introspective and more action-oriented than Solaris. I sometimes find that stories involving dream sequences and flashbacks hard to follow or too confusing to be worth the effort, but Talley demonstrates his mastery of writing here, doing a good job of keeping the story moving forward coherently despite the eerie dreamscapes the characters experience.
THE VOID is haunting and thought-provoking. The characters, plot, and premise have all stuck with me since reading it and I can certainly see myself rereading it. Sure, parts of the plot are a little predictable, but then again, we know that this is essentially a Lovecraftian haunted house story set in space, so certain tropes and plot elements are almost expected. Highly recommended for those who like their science fiction mixed with horror.
Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers