Machine or Human? A Review of Lightless




For a debut author, C.A. Higgins’ Lightless is an excellent foray into the world of science fiction that transcends the boundary between man and machine. Like most science fiction that has a dystopian/post-apcolyptic feel, Lightless’ premise is relatively straight forward and not unlike Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure, both by Marko Kloos, Meritropolis by Joel Ohman, and somewhat similar to Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn and Waterproof by Amber Garr.

Essentially there is an all-knowing, ever present, never in the dark System that controls all manner of life. Only the smallest of gestures, speech or actions is not reported back, critiqued, and punished when not in accord with the System’s principles. Life is not sacred. In fact, humans are expendable and the smallest of infraction can merit death or at best, long terms of imprisonment in a cell worse than Stalin or Hitler could ever devise. The System, based on Earth, controls the solar system with ruthless efficiency. If it does not like what is happening on a moon or planet, that world is wiped out and terra formed anew. It is in these circumstances that a three person crew on a largely automated military-research ship is traveling to Pluto for some top secret mission when the story opens. Two intruders, Leontios Ivanov (Ivan) and Matthew Gale (Mattie) make it past the ship’s defenses through stealth and manipulation of the ship’s state of the art computer. Mattie escapes, leaving Ivan on the ship, to be captured, then interrogated by a System agent, Ida Stays. The computer is forever altered, for good and bad. Who, what, why, and how the intruders have accomplished what they have is the gist of the story. It is System versus Revolutionaries.

Some of the language particularly in the beginning was clunky, hard to decipher the meaning even after three re-readings. Part of the problem I attributed to the protagonist of sorts, a female mechanic-architect of the computer, Althea. She complains that one of the crew, Gagnon, a computer science theorist is stuck in the realm of pure science, unable to apply abstract ideas and principles to real-life circumstances. This description fits Althea to a T. Althea, not Gagnon, belongs in the lab, not set loose on a ship. She was hapless, virtually incompetent when presented with more than one problem at a time. At times, her actions are treasonous, and deadly. Her box cutter stolen from her, (though not reported as missing by her) is used to kill Ida. People die around her, because of her.

The rest of the clunky language was minor in comparison. That being said, Ida Stays’ interrogation of Ivan could have been tightened somewhat. Ida Stays was a heartless bitch; her position as an expert System interrogator with a known and feared reputation was compatible with that characterization. Ida was the counterpoint of Domitian, the hard-as-steel unforgiving ship’s captain. There was no point in trying to make Ida more palatable. The author’s attempt to do so could have been deleted. Other than that, the interrogation as written was on point and carried the narrative along and provided buffer from Althea’s idiocices.

When Althea figures out what occurred to the computer, that it is sentient to some degree, the narrative picked up steam and was even more of a pleasure to read. It moved fast with just enough detail to keep interest up and to this reader hint at a sequel. Just leave Althea out or in a lab, please.

***Book received free as part of the NetGalley in exchange for an honest review