Genre: Cosmic Horror
Gary Rendell is lost in an alien labyrinth. he’s lost the exit, his friends, and quite possibly his mind…
I’m not really a fan of horror. Don’t get me wrong, a spooky story around a campfire is exactly my idea of a good time, but the genre itself? Less so. that being said, SF has a strong line of horror running through it. From the Xenomorphs of Alien to the vomit zombies of The Expanse, there’s a lot of space to be scared of. Walking to Aldebaran is a scary story, and that’s largely because of how plausible it is.
Split into two narratives divided only by a thinning time distance, we have both Gary Rendell lost in a maze, and the story of how he came to be there. The fact that we know from early on how one of those stories ends does nothing to lessen the drama.
Tchaikovsky’s view of the later twenty-first century is as bleak as it is likely. A world riven by the threat of nuclear annihilation, and by race wars and persecution. A shattering of global unity on a massive scale. Were it not for the arrival of the Frog God (we’ll get to that) it’s likely humanity would have torn itself apart. Even with the events of the book, there’s little hope for continued teamwork.
Gary Rendell himself is a likeable fellow, like so many protagonists are. Not the best at anything, but good at his job when he needs to be, he’s as close to an everyman figure as an astronaut from the future can be. It’s this sense of familiarity, and the happy rationality he offers the reader, that makes his spiral into madness so effective. Even as he is pushed further by the alien nature of the labyrinth, it’s hard not to sympathise with him.
Now. The Frog God. This is one of the many names given to the labyrinth in question, and the only one that sticks. It’s a massive, exostellar artefact that defies any attempt to define it. Possibly a spaceship, possibly a weapon, possibly a portal network. It’s the sort of unknown and unknowable object that harks back to some of the greatest of SF works. Because despite its forward-looking nature and its modern trappings, this is very much a traditional tale. Man against environment, taken to the extremes of space.
Unusually, for both a horror story and a novella, Walking to Aldearan has a satisfying ending. At least by my standards. I won’t spoil the details, but it brings the story to a thematic and logical conclusion. It may not be the happy ending you hope for, but what would you expect from a horror story?
While I believe Tchaikovsky is at his strongest with longer works, there can be no doubt he’s also producing some of the best and most thought-provoking novellas out there today. So whether you’re a fan of author, format, or genre, this is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
(The hardback itself is currently limited to 1000 signed copies and is quite pricy for its length, but I imagine there is an ebook available if you do not wish to make such an investment. if you’re a collector though, the quality of the hardback is definitely worth the price.)