Review: The Scourge Between the Stars – Ness Brown

Review: The Scourge Between the Stars – Ness BrownThe Scourge Between Stars
by Ness Brown
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: April 4, 2023
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Ness Brown's The Scourge Between Stars is a tense, claustrophobic sci-fi/horror blend set aboard a doomed generation ship harboring something terrible within its walls.

As acting captain of the starship Calypso, Jacklyn Albright is responsible for keeping the last of humanity alive as they limp back to Earth from their forebears’ failed colony on a distant planet.

Faced with constant threats of starvation and destruction in the treacherous minefield of interstellar space, Jacklyn's crew has reached their breaking point. As unrest begins to spread throughout the ship’s Wards, a new threat emerges, picking off crew members in grim, bloody fashion.

Jacklyn and her team must hunt down the ship’s unknown intruder if they have any hope of making it back to their solar system alive.

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4 stars icon Horror scifi icon

From the moment I saw that cover, I have been dying to get my hands on this book. Yes, please give me all the bad-ass women in space!

“Please. Don’t open the door.”

Two hundred years ago, the Calypso and the rest of the Goddess Flotilla left a ravaged Earth behind, setting out for Proxima b and a new future. Several decades ago, their descendants finally accepted that life there was not sustainable and reboarded their ships to head back to Earth. The Calypso is the only thing Jacklyn has ever known. But a series of engagements – mysterious attacks from unknown sources – have caused a great deal of damage to the ship and many of the others have gone silent. Of course there’s the usual worries about rations work hours, but when a new threat suddenly appears, Jacklyn is thrust into command. With no one to lean on but an unsettling android, can Jacklyn deal with the numerous threats facing the Calypso before their time runs out?

“Jacklyn was the last Albright left. While that was still the case, she had to do what she could.”

Jacklyn is the acting captain of the Calypso and, to put it mildly, she’s doing her best but still feels like she’s falling short. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot as it’s best experienced for yourself, but one of the characters she interacts with the most is Watson, an android created by the extraordinarily creepy Otto. Watson may be their best hope of getting home but she’s also unsettling for ways that Jacklyn doesn’t want to think about too much. And when the alien is discovered, she’s Jacklyn’s staunch backup. The relationship between the two of them, between an AI and a human, with several other layers of emotion and trauma on top was one of the best parts of the novella for me.

It’s a fast-paced plot, one that sucks you in and keeps you there until the last pages. As the reader, we know what the crew will eventually find and what Jacklyn will have to deal with. There’s a good amount of suspense built up around that as things around the ship (the possibility of starvation, a mutiny) build to the big alien reveal. With that being said, there’s quite a bit of elements brought in – Jacklyn’s grief, her relationship with Watson, the engagements, the aliens themselves, a hint of sapphic romance – for a novella, and it probably could’ve benefited from either a little less of them or more word count. The ending is blatant deus ex machina but by that point I was too invested in Jacklyn to care.

I’ve seen a lot of others comparing it to Alien and I can certainly see why. There’s the kickass female main character, the murderous alien, an android, and some of that same feeling of being hunted. There are certainly bits that are reminiscent of it but there’s enough to make this a wholly different story. If you like Alien, will you like this, though? Of course!

“In the dark, Watson’s eyes were luminous and eerie as the full moon Jacklyn had seen in pictures. “The Centauri gave him what he deserved.”

Overall, a great debut space horror perfect for fans of Alien and a new author that I’ll definitely be watching! I’m hoping for a full-length novel next!

Content notes: View Spoiler »

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