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Lightless by C.A. Higgins
Cover Artist: Based on images by LingHK / Shutterstock and Jupiter / Shutterstock
Review by Gayle Surrette
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553394429
Date: 22 September 2015 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Twitter / Show Official Info /

The story begins, as all stories should, with a Part 1 and a statement of the Zeroeth Law of Thermodynamics. Each succeeding Part of the book is started with another of these laws. It seems in some ways as you are reading to be interesting and science-y but not necessarily germane to the story -- until you begin to think of story as following these progressive laws.

The Laws of Thermodynamics:
0 - If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are also in thermal equilibrium with each other.

1 - The amount of work done in one direction is the same as the amount of heat transferred in the other, or, the internal energy of an isolated system is constant.

2 - The entropy (or chaos, or disorder) of an isolated system may never decrease.

3 - The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature of the system approaches zero.
The Ananke is an research vessel -- new and experimental in design. It has a highly sophisticated computer system that runs many of the ships operations in a semi-independent manner. While the system is not considered an A.I., it seems almost as if it could be with a bit of ability to generate its own code and time. Because of the ability of the ship's computer to take over many tasks that normally require crew, the Ananke only has three crewmembers: Domitian (Captain), Althea, and Gagnon.

The world they inhabit is run by the System. The System has cameras everywhere for the safety of its citizens. So, everyone is watched at all times -- all of the cameras on Ananke send copies of their files back to the System in order to be sure that the crew are safe and no one is doing anything they shouldn't. People who step out of the boundaries of what the System believes is proper behavior are either punished or retrained. With a government like this overseeing the inhabited solar system, it comes as a surprise that anyone could manage to instigate a revolution, but the System is battling a determined group of terrorists led by Mallt-y-Nos.

From the first few pages we get an indication of the governments spying on its citizens even on a research vessel out in the uninhabited regions of the solar system. We learn even more when Althea finds some strange code where it shouldn't be when she feels the ship isn't quite acting right. This discovery leads to finding that two men have managed to get onboard without previously being detected and that shouldn't happen. In fact, it shouldn't be possible.

Reporting these intruders to System, they are told that a government investigator is on her way to interrogate them. They are believed to be connected to Mallt-y-Nos and the investigator believes this could be her big break, leading to a significant promotion.

After the investigator arrives, computer problems persists, causing faults to appear throughout the ship, and in varying systems. Althea feels she's just dealing with the symptoms and suspects that the intruders have done something to the ship's computer.

Most of the tension builds as the investigator focuses on her agenda, overriding the concerns of the ship's computer expert. Meanwhile, Althea is fighting to keep the ship functioning at a level that allows the crew and the investigator to survive -- often doing this essential task against the express orders of the investigator who overrides the command of the captain.

The Laws of Thermodynamics seems to apply to these two systems and to third system that has been developing as the first two are trying to achieve balance. The ending is both a surprise in some ways and inevitable in others.

Higgins has written a truly engrossing story with minimal characters in an isolated setting. In many ways, it felt like an English country house party murder mystery without the frou-frou. There's not a lot of action, but there is a lot of tension which slowly builds to the climax, and which some might say produced more of a whimper than a bang -- but does leave the door open to a sequel.

Overall, it's a tension filled plot with some interesting characters and plenty of opportunity for readers to catch on to some of the background stuff that's going on and being missed by the characters. Well worth your time if you like thought-provoking plotlines with some interesting characters in difficult situations.

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