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“Lightless” by C.A. Higgins: A Review

I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a sci-fi reader. I love sci-fi shows and movies (Killjoys, Gravity, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc), but reading the genre usually seems like more of a chore than a pleasure; I feel my eyes glazing over when scientific and mathematical concepts start getting “explained” with no visual representation for my brain to make sense of it. Thankfully, Lightless was rather mild on that front, but that was only one of the very few good things about the book.

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I’ll be blunt, the first page alone was enough to turn me off from wanting to read more. That first paragraph echoed the entire novel in terms of repetition and taking too long to get to the point. From the very beginning the lead character, Althea, had the personality of a paperclip compared to her counterparts, neither of which turned out to be all that great by the end either. That in itself was a shame because Althea, a woman of color filling a typically masculine role, had so much potential that was either wasted or ignored. Another shame was that one of her crewmates strongly reminded me of Stacker Pentecost from Pacific Rim, one of my favorite characters ever. Too bad he turned out to lose any likability by the end of the story along with everyone else.

Nearly every single character was entirely unlikable and just plain irritating with barely any growth or development, unless degenerating into an even bigger mess counts as development. One minor character was far more interesting than any of the others and she had the least pagetime of all. By the end of the book the only character I’d come to like and be interested in turned out to be just as a big a disappointment as the lead.

Lightless took forever to get to anything remotely interesting (it wasn’t until chapter seven, three-quarters of the way through, that it got good…then it devolved from chapter nine to the very end). When it’s not lengthy conversations that go nowhere and do nothing but illustrate how awful these people really are, the biggest problem was how utterly confusing the entire thing is.

The basic plot of an oppressed people rising up against their oppressors, in this case an interplanetary governing system with the disarming name The System, is one that’s been told countless times before, but is still fascinating to see unfold. Unfortunately, not in this book. Everything being told secondhand rather than “experienced” by the reader created a vacuum of empathy and concern, making the so-called heroes little more than cardboard cutouts of what a revolutionary is supposed to be.

The lack of characterization for the main players save one, a sadistic interrogator who at least exhibited some kind of personality as terrible as it was, made everyone seem like mouthpieces rather than actual people with layers and depth. Everything was so far removed from the focus of the story that hardly any of it evoked any kind of sympathetic or emotional reaction, and because of this, the “big reveal” of the identity of the terrorist mastermind had next to zero impact. The characters served as a framing device for a much bigger story, but since the story was so hinged on them rather than the overarching plot anything of significance got lost in the mix.

There were so many other points where the story suffered I’ll spare you my bullet list of problems and suffice to say that Lightless not only missed the mark on so many things, but did so so spectacularly that chapter four alone not only did nothing positive for me, but actually pissed me off in about four different ways – the heavy-handed and rather unnecessary description of Althea’s physical appearance, the sloppy commentary on the foster system (possibly on today’s modern institution), still taking too long to get to any kind of point with the interrogation, and the apparently insane amount of bigotry and prejudice still in place amongst humans despite having the societal and scientific advancement to colonize the entire solar system. It’s one thing to leave some things to the imagination of the reader, but another when only the skeletal outline is there and everything is expected to just be accepted.

Gravity and Alien are both masterpieces of the sci-fi genre, so why Lightless is being compared to either of them when the only things they have in common are space and something banging around inside a spaceship’s walls is beyond me. This book is much more of a confusing mess than anything truly enjoyable. Light on the science side of sci-fi except in two or three instances, one of which being a lengthy proclamation of divinity and superiority BECAUSE MATH that came out of nowhere, and sorely lacking on everything else, I would highly recommend looking elsewhere for something compelling and intriguing.

Thank you to Del Rey for providing a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Lightless will be released on September 29, 2015.

About Michelle Lawhorn

Hailing from some kind of void beyond the stars, Stormraven indulges in costuming, writing, and flailing excessively over her favorite geeky things; Star Wars is at the top of the list and will remain there for quite some time.