The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

Read December 2022
Recommended for fans of colony ships
★    ★   ★    


An enjoyable, recommended entry for my women-in-space files. Though loosely described as horror, I found–thankfully–it to be more about suspense. It’s a quick little novella for fans of a colony ships, female captains and manor-house mysteries. I hesitate to say too much more because I find that part of the joy in these briefer works is the unfolding of the story.

“If Otto was right, then Watson had just discovered their first confirmation of something else out there in the space between the stars, perhaps the very thing that took the Calypso between its teeth at random and shook. Their systems hadn’t been powerful enough to detect anything during engagements, until now. If they could finally sense them, they could survive them.”

While Brown does a nice job of building the world and the ship, this is one of those that I’d say falls under ‘sci-fi’ light as it doesn’t get too far into the mechanics and details of the technology. There’s enough to give us the parameters for the set-up. That’s okay; I didn’t need Aurora level technical details, but some might want more. I, for instance, found myself wondering more about the crisis that launched multiple giant colony ships without better resources.

What I did need details on, partially because it seemed the set-up for the reason the protagonist is captain and partly because it seems to play a role in her psychological state, is why a crew would allow their captain to isolate during a time of crisis. It didn’t make sense to me on any level and very much had the feeling of being saved for Later Dramatic Reveal.

“‘I’m here to report ship and mission status.’ She looked as stupid yelling outside the bulkhead now as she had the first twenty times.”

Horror details are skimpy, and are more about suspense of both mystery and situation than body-horror. Personally, that’s exactly the kind of book I’m looking for.

“As soon as her fingers touched the metal panel, a bang like a gunshot cracked under her touch, making her spring back. It came again, even louder. This time it was accompanied by a hard, metallic scraping.”

There’s some word choices that feel a little off, one of those first-book, pre-hard-editing kinds of things (‘stared at a horrible noise,’ and my personal peeve, an inappropriate ‘smirked’). Hopefully, that will improve in the final edition, but I’ll note that it seemed better than the average first-book.

It has a good heart: an interim female captain trying to find her footing, a potential romantic interest, the sense of scrappy, desperate humanity going to try and overcome the odds through science, technology and grit. With all the elements that were eventually brought into the story (spoilery stuff), it might have been a bit too much for a novella.

However, I really liked the ending and the way most of it tied together. Honestly, though, there was enough to flesh this into a Robinson/Stephenson sized-novel if Brown would have been up for it. (That said, as a reader I appreciated just a bite-sized chunk). As it is, I’d definitely read more of her writing, particularly if Brown puts out a full-length novel in this world. This would make a very solid 0.5 kind of story in a series.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Tor/Forge for the advance reader copy. Of course, all opinions are my own. Duh. And of course, quotes are subject to change, but I think they’ll give you a flavor of the writing style.


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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