|Across the Void by S K Vaughn|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Stephen Leach|
|Summary: Slow to get going, but a character you'll relate to and constant ramping up of tension. A good read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: June 2019|
Sea epics? So 20th century. Try a space epic.
For those who've always wondered about what a voyage across the stars might be like, Across the Void might just be the book for them - and it might just put them off. Set not too far into the future, it's the story of a lone astronaut trying her best to get home after a catastrophic wreckage leaves her ship stranded off-course. There are some awful scares and unsettling imagery, mainly relating to the many, many nasty ways a person can die in space, and the general unpleasantness of life aboard a spacecraft. The danger feels ever-present: there are genuine moments of high tension and shock as May struggles to pilot her ship home. The action ramps up, and up, and up again - every time I thought the stakes were as high as they could get, Vaughn seemed to find a way to raise them just a notch further.
And the key to all this tension is the fact that I truly cared about May surviving her journey back - she's a great protagonist. It's a feat of Vaughn's writing, too, that my favourite character was a robotic AI. Across the Void does what good sci-fi should do: keeps a steady balance between techno-jargon and human concerns, and highlighting the ever-diminishing gap between humanity and technology. The connection between May and her estranged husband Stephen is what gives the story its heart, and the narrative frequently shifts between the present day and the years and months prior to the launch, highlighting how their relationship has changed and developed. The hefty length of the novel is offset by the frequently short, sharp chapters, which serves both to keep the reader engaged and create a sense of constant uncertainty about what might happen next.
If Across the Void has a particular fault it's that it takes slightly too long to get going - almost a quarter of the way into the book, I still didn't feel that the plot was yet moving at speed. In general the story could do with being somewhat tighter. Amnesia as a plot point also tends to turn me off, but this thankfully largely takes a backseat to the more pressing matter of staying alive. There's also a certain twist that comes partway in - I'd question how needed it was, but the climax of the story draws you in inexorably and it does not disappoint.
As someone who rarely reads sci-fi, I did not expect to enjoy Across the Void as much as I did. But I did - and I have no doubt this is going to be a book people talk about. I already can't wait to discuss it with others.
If reading this book leaves you wanting more sci-fi, Ken Liu's Invisible Planets is a masterful collection of evocative short stories bound to get your imagination humming. Similarly sci-fi but much more speculative is Philip Reeve's Railhead, the first in an inventive three-part series.
You can read more book reviews or buy Across the Void by S K Vaughn at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Across the Void by S K Vaughn at Amazon.com.
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