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The Burning Dark
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The Burning Dark

by Adam Christopher

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Adam Christopher's dazzling first novel, Empire State, was named the Best Book of 2012 by SciFi Now magazine. Now he explores new dimensions of time and space in The Burning Dark.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. After


Adam Christopher's dazzling first novel, Empire State, was named the Best Book of 2012 by SciFi Now magazine. Now he explores new dimensions of time and space in The Burning Dark.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. After saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace, overseeing the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station.
The station's reclusive commandant is nowhere to be seen. Persistent malfunctions plague the station's systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.
Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman's voice that echoes across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a spacefaring future, Capt. Abraham Idaho “Ida” Cleveland’s cunning victory over the Spiders at Tau Retore is rewarded with a posting to a backwater naval demolition facility in the Shadow star system. He soon discovers that his victory has been erased from the official records and that he is a pariah. Isolated and bored, he turns to amateur subspace astronomy and hears a message from Earth’s long-forgotten past, a harbinger of grim events to come. After inadvertently opening the door to Hellspace, Ida winds up at the center of a carefully orchestrated storm of occult and alien forces. The novel is an awkward partnership between the implausibility of space opera and the lurid violence of horror; an idiosyncratic use of ship names borrowed from various 20th-century comics and several references to the phantom cosmonaut crackpot conspiracy theories fail to distract from the cardboard worldbuilding and weak, derivative plot. Agent: Stacia Decker, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Space-horror yarn from Christopher (The Age Atomic, 2013, etc.). With Earth desperately trying to defend its colonies from attack by alien machines gigantic enough to chomp entire planets, Capt. Abraham Idaho "Ida" Cleveland scored a notable success by heroically destroying one of these "Spiders." As a result, he acquired a robotic knee and was pensioned off, his last assignment to oversee the decommissioning and deconstruction of a superannuated space station in orbit around a "toxic" purple star in the remote depths of space. But Ida finds strange occurrences plaguing the U-Star Coast City. The station's Commandant Elbridge has unaccountably vanished. Computer and communications problems are rife, thanks to interference from the nearby star. Worse, the station's complement of marines (but what are they doing there?) believes he's lying about his exploits—of which there seems to be no record in the official Fleet databases. And the empty corridors echo with odd noises and baffling shadows. Ida's only friend is Izanami, a mysterious blue-eyed Japanese woman who seems to be some sort of medic. So Ida builds himself a space radio and proceeds to probe the forbidden wavelengths of subspace—where he picks up a transmission seemingly from a female Russian cosmonaut who lived a thousand years ago. So far so…not good, but OK. But in a situation where either everybody is in denial or uninterested in asking pertinent questions, or even in pursuing a rational course of action, readers are entitled to a sense of frustration. And the anticipated flood of gory action fails to materialize. Instead, things drone on, becoming ever murkier and less absorbing. We are reminded of Doc Ostrow's dying gasp in the classic movie Forbidden Planet (1956): "Monsters, John. Monsters from the Id."
From the Publisher

“Builds tension expertly. Claustrophobic in mood but with the scope of great space opera, this is SF you will want to read with the light on.” —Library Journal, starred review

“An exciting new novel from an exciting new voice in SF.” —Booklist

“Christopher has produced a widescreen Hollywood spectacular in novel form. Not to be missed.” —James Lovegrove, New York Times bestselling author

“Smart, intricate, and viscerally gripping… Christopher carves a place for himself among the stars of his genre.” —V. E. Schwab, author of Vicious

“Christopher mines the terror of a setting that feels both tremendously vast and nerve-wrackingly claustrophobic. The Burning Dark will have readers hesitating before glancing at the night sky or turning on their radios.” —Robert Jackson Bennett, author of Mr. Shivers and American Elsewhere

“With this creepy and compelling mystery, Adam Christopher demonstrates why he's one of the most original and exciting writers working in the genre right now.” —Gareth L. Powell, author of Ack-Ack Macaque and The Recollection

“Christopher is writing science-fiction unlike anyone else – tense, unsettling, and grounded in a universe full of danger and mystery. The Burning Dark slips a cold, gloved hand around your heart and doesn't let go."--Jen Williams, author of The Copper Promise"A riveting SF mystery reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.” —Martha Wells, author of Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge

Library Journal
★ 03/15/2014
As his last assignment with the Fleet, Capt. Idaho Cleveland heads to the U-Star Coast City to assist with the space station's decommissioning. Put in place as a science station around an unusual star known as Shadow, the Coast City also served as a defensive outpost against an implacable and technologically superior enemy known as the Spiders. From Cleveland's arrival it's obvious that things are not quite right on the station and the strange purple light from Shadow seems to be making the skeleton crew aggressive and paranoid. Isolated, resented, and bored, Cleveland builds a radio that somehow picks up a signal from across time and space that might be a message—or a warning. VERDICT This dark and chilling novel from the versatile Christopher (Seven Wonders; Hang Wire) builds tension expertly. Claustrophobic in mood but with the scope of great space opera, this is sf you will want to read with the light on. Although the ending arrives quickly, this is apparently the first book in a new series exploring more of the world of the Fleet and the Spiders.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Spider War Series , #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt




“You ever seen a chick from Polaris? I mean, holy schnikes. You need level-ten protective eyewear just to look at them. Naw, seriously, they radiate UV when they get turned on. Some kinda survival mechanism. So yeah, it’s risky and you need to prebook yourself ten weeks in a class-three ICU afterwards to get your DNA rebuilt, but man, what a rush. What a goddamn rush. There was this one time—”

Ida flicked the volume of the radio set down by half. It was Clive’s Friday night. Let him have it.

Clive was a pilot orbiting a lump of ice near Polaris. In a few hours he was due to break cover from behind his asteroid and spearhead a lightning strike on the hidden Omoto base on Polarii Inferior. Chances were this time tomorrow Clive would be a patch of brown radioactive dust drifting in the Polarii solar wind, the residue of his beloved Polarii women with him. Because no matter what the outcome of the attack—be it Fleet victory or a successful defense by the Omoto—there wasn’t going to be any sentient life left on the planet afterwards.

So, let him command the air awhile. Ida felt bad and hoped Clive made it, but he wondered if perhaps he should stay off the radio in the next cycle or so, busy himself with those damn checklists he’d let slide. As boring as Clive was, he wasn’t sure it would be the same without him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear about the outcome of the Omoto sortie, good or bad.

It was a waste, one that Ida objected to. Strategically important but ultimately futile. The universe was a big place and maybe the Omoto could keep their base. The Omoto weren’t even the Spiders, and wasn’t the Fleet supposed to be fighting those mechanical creeps instead of starting little wars over lumps of ice? Given how the war was going, Ida wondered if maybe the Fleet wasn’t focusing on the right thing sometimes.

A little interference on the line was obscuring select moments of Clive’s monologue.

Ida flicked through a set of diagnostic routines on the space radio’s three-dimensional interface. What was a hobby for, if not to present a series of tiny challenges that needed to be overcome, one by one? Talking to others out in space was only half of it.

The white noise of interference spiked. Ida leaned his chair back to the upright and cast an eye over one of the screens that hung on an arm over the desk. It wasn’t part of the radio set, it was just a display from his cabin’s computer, but he’d patched it into the solar observatory located at the very top of the station’s spire. He found the data useful. It had been ten cycles since Ida first turned the radio on, and he’d quickly discovered that the physics of Shadow frequently threw a spanner in the works. And tonight it was no different.

But he had to admit it was really quite a fascinating academic study on the interaction between the star’s strange light and the station’s own artificial magnetosphere. As the amber glow of data flowed across the screen, he noted a few spikes of stellar activity that corresponded to the static on the set. He could try to retune, or perhaps, given an hour, come up with an algorithm to work the mess out of his signal. Ida poked at the screen, the amber of its data tables and the blue light of the radio the only illumination in the cabin.

Clive kept talking. Castle, a civilian mining engineer whose job supervising the construction of a drill head on one of the moons of Arbitri clearly left too much free time on his hands, butted in occasionally to express his satisfaction with the juicier aspects of Clive’s adventures in Polarii love and to ask respectfully for more technical data on the difficulties of human–Polarii anatomical interaction. A newcomer too, calling himself Captain Midnight—Ida wasn’t sure whether this was his rank and name or some kind of superhero identity—seemed to be enjoying the chat. Ida didn’t quite believe he was calling from inside a black hole, but, hey, the radio hams of the galaxy were a bunch of sad, lonely losers with nothing better to do. If Captain Midnight wanted to be inside a black hole, then let him be inside a black hole. On the radio you could be anyone and anywhere you liked.

Ida wondered whether he should tell them about his adventures over the skies of Tau Retore, and whether he’d get a better reception here than among the jarheads that inhabited the Coast City.

DeJohn had been quite right about Fleet service being an honor. In the middle of a difficult, decades-long war against an alien machine intelligence, a citizen could do no greater service for humanity than enlist in the Fleet. And Ida knew full well how he would feel if he came across someone claiming a heroic action that they had no right to.

But was he really so far out on the edge of Fleetspace that the news about Tau Retore hadn’t made it? He’d saved a planet and seen off a whole Spider cluster—including a Mother Spider. Why else did they think he’d been awarded with the Fleet Medal?

And, he thought, an artificial knee, an enforced honorable retirement, and a final posting to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace. To oversee the decommissioning of an unremarkable space station well past its use-by date.

Ida absently flexed his robot knee, which had grown stiff as he sat at the desk.

He sat and thought.

Something was well and truly FUBAR, and not just on the Coast City, but at Fleet Command itself.

Something that, maybe, he should look into.


Copyright © 2014 by Seven Wonders Limited

Meet the Author

ADAM CHRISTOPHER is a novelist and comic writer. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand's highest science fiction honor. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow's Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. His other novels include Seven Wonders and The Age Atomic. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in the United Kingdom since 2006.

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