The Lightless Trilogy: Supernova (Book)
Althea, the ship’s engineer and the last living human aboard, nearly gave her life to save Ananke from dangerous saboteurs, forging a bond as powerful as that between mother and daughter. Now she devotes herself completely to Ananke’s care. But teaching a thinking, feeling machine—perhaps the most dangerous force in the galaxy—to be human proves a monumental challenge. When Ananke decides to seek out Matthew Gale, the terrorist she regards as her father, Althea learns that some bonds are stronger than mortal minds can understand—or control.
Drawn back toward Earth by the quest, Althea and Ananke will find themselves in the thick of a violent revolution led by Matthew’s sister, the charismatic leader Constance, who will stop at nothing to bring down a tyrannical surveillance state. As the currents of past decisions and present desires come into stark collision, a new and fiery future is about to be born.
Supernova continues the hard science fiction story started with CA Higgins’ Lightless, in which revolution has turned into a civil war, and the sentient spaceship Ananke grows stronger and more willful. In short, this sequel steps things up a notch. Come inside to check out my review.
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with Lightless when I reviewed it last year upon its release. Not necessarily that it was a bad book, but the story featured many moving parts which never came to a satisfactory conclusion. It was very much a book that STARTED a story, leaving it open for the trilogy it’s planned to be. The problem, however, is that meant the book itself didn’t hold up well as a standalone story.
Aside from a few too many sci-fi cliches, the inability to truly stand on its own was my biggest problem with Lightless. Supernova has a similar issue, but the larger picture is finally coming into focus, and I found myself enjoying it much more than I was expecting.
Supernova picks up almost immediately after the events of Lightless and pushes the perspective into the solar system, rather than confining you aboard the unique spaceship, Ananke. It doesn't waste much time in recapping the events of the previous book either, so if you haven't caught up, you'll be good and lost. In a lot of ways, I prefer it to be that way, as it makes everything feel a bit more connected, and gives the previous book a little more punch to it.
The story of Supernova tackles the rebellion and ensuing civil war that was instigated at the end of Lightless. Where the events of the totalitarian regime (called The System) being attacked served as a side note in the first book, it takes precedence in Supernova. A number of flashbacks throughout the book manage to shed light on events taking place before the first book, shedding light on some of the mysteries left unsolved. From there, the story flips back and forth between Althea (the protagonist in the first book) who's still aboard the Ananke and trying to control the rogue AI of the ship she feels responsible for, and Constance the leader of the rebellion against the System.
Their stories are about as different as they come, but tell a similar story about trust, betrayal, and civil war. This dual narrative threw me for a loop a couple times, as the Ananke story doesn't seem to have much to do with the overall narrative for this trilogy at the moment. While a couple things intersect, the stories for each protagonist feel different enough to seem disconnected at times. While this isn't necessarily bad, I found myself plodding through the Ananke parts while waiting to get to the more interesting story of the war in the solar system.
This makes it tough to fully enjoy, as once again I feel like we're only getting part of the story. While Supernova does a solid job of providing a more coherent and complete story in and of itself, it is still very much a middle book in this trilogy. There are dangling plot threads, characters that seem important but just sort of drop off, and a cliffhanger of sorts that needs resolution. Even so, I'm able to see the bigger picture better than with the first book and think I appreciate Lightless much more now that I've finished Supernova. Something tells me by the end of the trilogy, I'll look back at Lightless as a lot of damn fun, but I would have preferred three great standalone novels with a connecting story, rather than three books that REQUIRE each other to be fun.
Of Science and Fiction
Much like Lightless before it, Supernova takes the "hard" sci-fi approach to it's story. Science plays a key part in the story, influencing everything from communication, to weapons, and even the dangers of traveling with a genuine black hole as your engine. As someone who grew up with old sci-fi tales from Heinlein and Asimov, I'm always happy to see these kinds of hard science fiction books.
The downside to this, however, is it makes for a slow read. Despite being one of the smaller books I've read in the last few months for reviews, Supernova also took me the longest to read. The pacing is tough to get through initially and while it evens out for the most part, those sections aboard the Ananke bring back the slowness and nearly pulled me out of the story every single time.
When the novel picks up the pace, however, it stands tall and portrays a riveting war story with it’s own twists and turns. The characters remain engaging and their journey brings about some interesting ideas on their own. While I’m still waiting to see what happens to all of them by the end of the trilogy, I can say I enjoyed learning more about them in Supernova than I did previously.