"The Darkness Outside Us" review
Title: The Darkness Outside Us
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Subgenre: Science fiction, Romance, Thriller
2021 Bingo squares: First person, Mystery, Published in 2021, Genre mashup (hm), First contact (maaaaaaaaaybe? if you do count it then it would be hm), Nonbinary character (also a stretch)
Recommended if: pretty much just unconditionally recommended. This is an amazing space thriller mystery with philosophical themes and an adorable romance.
Not recommended if: you want a cozy romance. This is mostly a thriller/mystery.
The Darkness Outside Us from its cover looks like a young adult romance set in space. And indeed it is set in space, its protagonists are young adults, and it does have a fairly significant romance subplot. But do not think for a minute that this incredible novel is anything other than a science fiction thriller/mystery written for adults with all of the what-if? philosophical questioning requisite of any classic you can think of.
Hundreds of years in the future, there are only two countries left on Earth - and one incredibly rich corporation. Ambrose Cusk is the son of the Chairperson of Cusk Corporation, and a spacefarer aboard the Combined Endeavor representing both the corporation and Fédération (roughly the “western” side of the Cold War). Aboard the ship with him, and confined to a separate set of quarters, is Kodiak Celius, representing Dimokratía (roughly Russia/China), and Ambrose’s natural enemy. Controlling everything is an AI, with the voice of Ambrose’s mother.
Ambrose’s sister Minerva has been broadcasting a distress call from Saturn’s moon Titan, where she had previously traveled to begin a new human colony. Ambrose and Kodiak are on a mission to rescue her, and they need to cooperate in order to do so. At least Ambrose thinks so; Kodiak seems less sure.
But then things start to get a bit…weird. Why is it so hard to reach Mission Control? And why is the AI so good at knowing precisely when Mission Control will be reachable? And why does the AI keep…pausing so much?
What starts out as a slow build-up of tension quickly becomes a cannot-put-it-down novel that you must finish in a single sitting. The suspense, the emotion, and everything about this story is beautiful. I cannot recommend it enough.
Mini spoilers about the qualified bingo squares after the image
- The “First Contact” is with an alien plant that they find on an asteroid, not sentient life. Not sure if this should count
- The nonbinary character is only present in flashbacks, where they have a couple dialogue lines