If you’ve seen the reviews I’ve posted this week (if you haven’t, fear not: catch my review of The Man With No Name here, and my review of The Demon here), you’ll know that whether it’s a story that builds mystery or a superheroesque tale of a masked vigilante, I’m a big fan of Tanweer Dar’s cyberpunk stories, and appreciate the diversity of tales he writes under that broad genre. Dar’s In the Heart of the Void again offers something different. While its world—or, more accurately, universe—touches upon cyberpunk themes, instead, this tells a claustrophobic story set in deep space.
In my review of The Demon, I commented about the debt it owes to Batman. Much like that book, In the Heart of the Void also has a debt to pay, this time to Ridley Scott’s Alien. And where that other book feels like a film, this novella brings the same filmic sensibility to it, feeling like it belongs in the echelons of late 1970s space horror. Should the author ever sell the film rights to this book, it would be a great thing for cinema. While this book’s concept is familiar, as it tells the story of a ship marooned in space, finding itself under attack by an alien force, the author presents an original story that works brilliantly on its own merits. The book features familiar tropes (not just to Alien, but any story focused on a nigh-unstoppable enemy) that readers will find comfort in, but unveils them in a fashion that feels like the author putting his stamp on the genre. And without spoiling anything, In the Heart of the Void’s ending is wonderful, closing the story on a more satisfying note than Alien ever could.
The author’s choice of words throughout In the Heart of the Void not only makes it feel as though it belongs on the big screen, but adds to the tension. The writing is infused with mystery, particularly in relation to the threat. As important as the words Tar uses in this book are, the words that he doesn’t use are equally as important. Despite playing a prominent role throughout the book, the threat is unveiled slowly, with very little to describe it throughout its majority. It is revealed slowly as the novella builds towards its climax. The prose conveys the sense of isolation its characters feel in space, and further, the claustrophobia that comes with being captive in a confined space with others as an unknown threat looms.
Throughout In the Heart of the Void, Tar writes in an engaging style that is easy to follow. It’s clean and crisp, and provides all the information the reader needs at the given time, without ever feeling over or underwritten. Given its horror elements, the pacing is often slow, taking a deliberate approach to building suspense and a sense of foreboding. Where the book’s pace increases in the more exciting moments, it flows wonderfully, ensuring the action sings. At no point do the book’s changes of pace feel jarring; they fit together in service of the novella.
As I have mentioned in my reviews of Tar’s other works, the author has a talent for writing for the length of the book. He doesn’t try to cram too much into In the Heart of the Void, and likewise, he doesn’t stretch too little story out throughout its page count. At an estimated 126 pages on Kindle, the novella is not a particularly long story. However, the story about a crew trapped on their ship provides enough space for him to tell an intriguing story and fill it with the requisite thrilling moments, while also exploring its cast of characters.
In the Heart of the Void presents a large cast of characters for a book of this size. The story’s ship, the “Alice Springs” (presumably not named after the Australian town), features a crew of eight. The book handily opens with a profile of the Alice Springs and each of these characters. Not only is this a handy reference, and shorthand for telling the reader who these characters are, it also serves as a fun introduction to the world and its characters. While some of these characters are explored more than others, each one is a joy to read, adding to the overall story.
As much of a joy as these characters are to follow on their own merits, their interactions elevate them all. The chemistry between these characters is palpable, with the group feeling like they know each other well, with shared experiences behind them. The dialogue throughout In the Heart of the Void is snappy, but more importantly, it rings true. The characters bounce off one another with a level of comfort, with conversations—including where they provide exposition—flowing freely and engaging the reader. These characters all sound distinct from one another as they deal with the story’s events.
If you’re a fan of Alien, or any story that builds suspense around a physical and psychological threat, In the Heart of the Void delivers. It features many familiar tropes its readers will know, and delivers them in a constantly entertaining fashion. While not a cyberpunk novel, fans of the genre will no doubt enjoy the themes present in the world’s backdrop. With its wonderful characters and engaging style, Into the Heart of the Void is a brilliant package.
The metallic ringing was familiar, but she couldn’t remember why. As she moved deeper into the duct, it grew louder.
Although far less unnerving than the eyes which had been staring at her only moments ago, Minh’s heart was pounding in her chest. The sound was like the archaic ringing of bells: a harbinger of doom.
Her breathing grew shallow, and the ensign felt as if the oxygen was disappearing in the air around her. Every breath was a labour, and she struggled to focus as her vision blurred.In the Heart of the Void, Chapter 12
In the Heart of the Void was purchased for the purpose of an honest review.
In the Heart of the Void is available in paperback and on Kindle, exclusive to Amazon.
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