This is mostly a non-spoiler review – and by mostly, I mean I have to give away one fairly huge detail in order to talk about the book, because it’s related to the story-telling mechanics. I personally don’t think this will ruin the story, but if you’d rather go in blind, don’t read this review until you’ve had a chance to enjoy the novella first.
Rime is the story of a gigantic space ship carrying millions of humans (all in cryo-sleep, except the 300 or so crew members), on its journey to set up the human race on a new planet, after Earth becomes unsustainable. But there’s something out there in the dark depths of space, and things go… awry.
I’m a bitter, soulless goat that takes nihilistic joy in most things that “normal” people find scary, but one thing that is indisputably terrifying to me is the concept of being in space. I simply cannot fathom how anyone ever decides they want to be an astronaut – those people are made of steel. To find the idea of flying up into that vast chasm of emptiness exciting or alluring, rather than bone-chillingly scary is unfathomable to me. We don’t belong up there – everything about that environment, should something go wrong, will kill you. I don’t care how state of the art your ship is – those ships are made by people, and people make mistakes, or end up unprepared for things they couldn’t possibly foresee. And that’s what happens in this book…
A control room tech, partially responsible for taking care of the sleeping millions aboard Cradle (love that name – it’s perfect), and getting them to a new planet, ultimately fails, and he’s forced to recount the events that resulted in him being the sole survivor, because he’s on trial. His version of events doesn’t quite add up to the people who are holding him accountable, and if his testimony isn’t found credible, the consequences for him will be dire. We go between his account and present-day, in the world he’s from but is now alien to him.
It’s a (very creative) retelling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
At 72 pages, this is by no means an epic tome, but the ideas explored and the lasting impact of this book are gargantuan, at least to me. I don’t know what I appreciated more between the man’s horrifying account of events, or the futuristic setting in which he’s recalling them. Everything in this story just screamed doom and horror to me, even though I’m not sure that’s how I was supposed to feel at the end. In a small sort of sense, it does end on an uplifting note, but I don’t know… the direction that humanity seems to have taken here scares me.
I do not care for AI, and the fact that people like Elon Musk exist makes me fear that certain sci-fi ideas might become hideous realities. I don’t care how well-meaning the initial ideas are, or how beneficial certain technology could be to our species – you will never convince me that AI won’t turn out, at best, like a Terminator scenario. The machines that we build and fully control go wrong all the time, so the idea of a bunch of fallible humans building things and then giving them their own agency is just…. no. If you need me, I’ll be dwelling in a deep dark cave on a remote island somewhere, hiding. Don’t EVEN get me started on the shit-scary concept of integrating AI with our own brains and bodies.
What is happening in the main bulk of the story is equally as terrifying. This poor guy, one of very few people awake and responsible for the ship, is confronted by an unknown alien species, and has to make a quick decision. Needless to say, he regrets said decision when it sets off a horrendous chain of events that immediately spins out of his control, dooming them all. He panics, and chooses violence. In the moment that I was reading this, I was with him 100% – I was scared with him (a testament to Lebbon’s writing, obviously, as it takes a lot to scare me when I’m reading). I probably would have made the same decision. From there, Lebbon does an excellent job of exploring the consequences and regret and guilt of what could be viewed as a primal and overemotional reaction.
There is no narrative bias, no forced message of any kind, just wonderful, as-it-happened-from-this-guy’s-perspective story-telling, and yet I find myself ruminating on the very nature of humanity and our apparent inability to change our base-instincts and knee-jerk, reactionary thinking.
Something else that brought a smile to my thin lips was Lebbon’s love of the masterpiece that is Alien shining through. To be clear, this story isn’t like Alien – there are no xenomorph copies popping up to terrorise the characters – and the only real similarity is that the people questioning our protagonist don’t quite believe his story, much like those dicks who don’t believe Ripley at the start of Aliens. I’ve no idea if this was a conscious decision or a sub-conscious influence, but it was enjoyable regardless of how it came about.
The structure is interesting and elevates the pacing of the story, and the story-telling and the writing itself is, as usual for Lebbon, top-tier. Though this isn’t a blood-and-guts horror story, make no mistake that it IS horrifying. Besides the concept, which is panic-inducing by itself, there are scenes and descriptions of a Clive Barker ilk in this that made me shudder. I swear – the hideous things this author keeps dreaming up to inflict on people… and he’s such a nice person in real life! It’s hard to believe that behind his friendly and kind demeanour lies an imagination capable of such twisted unpleasantries and sometimes slimey savagery.
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy horror set in space (obviously), and to those who enjoy existential themes that will stick with you long after finishing the story. And honestly, just a general horror audience – this is a terrific piece of work.
If you’d like to get your own copy, you can find it here:
If you’d like to find out more about Tim Lebbon and his works, you can visit his website here:
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