Ren Warom’s The Lonely Dark belong to a sub-genre of science fiction (which I might have made up) called 'head-fuck science fiction'. Other examples include the end of 2001, pretty much anything by Phillip K Dick, and Keith Brooke’s The Accord (I first used the phrase recommending this book). Anyway, The Lonely Dark: it’s a story about two ‘Cerenauts’ whose consciousness is uploaded into an interstellar spaceship, to control its workings and look after the rest of the crew, who are all frozen for the voyage.
Warom sets herself a challenge here, writing about two minds who are divorced from their physical bodies – the ship is now their shared ‘body’. It’s a testament to the clarity of the prose that these sections of the story don’t fall flat with so little that is recognisably ‘human’ to describe. Warom fleshes out (pun intended) the tale with flashbacks of Ingmar and Yuri’s lives prior to their interstellar journey…
Some of these flashbacks relate to the reason human consciousness is being used to pilot the spacecraft in the first place: because a previous attempt at intergalactic travel using an Artificial Intelligence known as Danai ended in disaster, with all the hibernated crew ejected into space and the AI itself screaming into the void… (see what I meant about 'headfuck'?). The causes of the disaster are unknown, and as Ingmar's journey continues it becomes apparent that what was waiting in the darkness for Danai might be waiting for her… and that the darkness it waits in might be as much inner as outer.
An original and compelling horror sci-fi meditation on isolation and consciousness, The Lonely Dark is full of memorable and creepy moments. The novella length is perfect for its experimental and unconventional approach. Definitely recommended.