Ness Brown’s The Scourge Between Stars is a tense, claustrophobic sci-fi/horror blend set aboard a doomed generation ship harboring something terrible within its walls,
‘The Scourge Between Stars’ is part horror, part tense thriller and all well-crafted Science Fiction.
The story focuses on Jacklyn Albright, acting captain of the generation colony ship Calypso, part of a flotilla of ships limping back to Earth after a failed attempt to establish a viable colony on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.
What first gripped me about this story was the pervasive and initially unexplained sense of doom that clung to the Calypso like a bad smell.
The acting captain seems out of her depth. The crew seem tired and demoralised. The ship is suffering damage from repeated engagements with forces that they can’t see or contact. Comms with the rest of the flotilla are unreliable. Progress is so slow that the journey might take more than a generation. Rationing is already in place and morale is so poor that sections of the population are rioting.
Then a new threat starts to emerge. A garbled distress call comes from another ship in the flotilla, The clearest part of the message is the repeated warning: ‘Don’t Open The Door’. Then, as strange noises are heard in the walls in damaged areas of the ship, crew members start to disappear.
What followed was a tense, I-need-to-keep-reading-to-know-what-happens-next story that mixed action, suspense and threat in a way that felt like a horror story but with real monsters.
The tension was enhanced by focusing the story on Jacqueline Albright’s personal struggle not just to solve the mysteries and protect her crew against internal and external threats, but to sustain her belief in herself and her abilities. Albright’s backstory is filled with personal trauma that makes her more interesting than the omnicompetent, weapon-wielding heroine that has become typical in these kinds of stories.
I was impressed both by how credible the description of life onboard a generation colony ship was and how well it was integrated into the telling of the tale.
Most of the plot takes place over an intense couple of days of action but the book is more than a series of violent encounters. It becomes clear that what is happening is closely linked to the history of the Albright family, who have been leading the ship for a generation.
I liked that the plot delivered all the frisson of the horror-movie idea of something bad but unknown lurking in the shadows but also provided a credible explanation and one that actually made everything seem worse than I’d expected.
Ness Brown packs a lot into this 163-page debut novella. I think it worked very well. I hope they go on to give us more books like this.
I recommend the audiobook version of ‘The Scourge Between Stars’. It’s performed by Bahni Turpin who is one of my favourite narrators.
Ness Brown was born and sort of raised in New Mexico, a land with long traditions of speculative storytelling and alien conspiracies. During their nomadic childhood, books became their vehicle to worlds unknown, which they continue to explore both creatively and as a career.
Ness came to New York City to study Astronomy at Columbia University, where they also found their husband and passion for Wing Chun kung fu. After graduating they spent six years teaching college astronomy and astrobiology.
3 thoughts on “‘The Scourge Between The Stars’ by Ness Brown”
Great review! I’ve had my eye on this novella for a while now (but I’m currently on a book buying ban – *sigh*) it sounds like it has everything I love in a science fiction. How would you describe Ness Browns writing style in two words? Looking forward to your next post.
“How would you describe Ness Browns writing style in two words? ”
I wouldn’t 🙂
I’d ha ve to use four:
“Great camerawork and lighting”
I hope your book ban expires soon and that you enjoy this when you get your hands on it.
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Ha ha! Well said! 🙂