What Neither Star Nor Sun Shall Waken by Ryan Notch

What Neither Star Nor Sun Shall Waken by Ryan NotchCombining the certainties of astronavigation with the subjectivity of human perception, Notch builds fear of the unknown without straying into the unknowable.

The U.S.S Cairo is hit by a meteor, sending it spinning towards Europa. Too damaged to avoid the collision and lacking the time to make repairs, Conrad Gibson and his navigator, Jack Edwards, brace for impact. They are the first men on Europa, but they might not be alone.

The opening paragraphs successfully combine plausible science and engineering with realistic conversation, providing a sense of depth to the crash without the excessive detail that can bog down some science-fiction.

This focus on the tangible gives way to more speculative elements as the story progresses. However, the horror comes from limited resources and confusing data rather than an overt rejection of the laws of physics, allowing the reader to make their own judgement on what the real situation is.

Set entirely in the cabin of a two-person space craft on a hostile planet, the entire story has a feeling of claustrophobia; an effect Notch builds by reducing the experience of the rest of the world to patchy sensor data.

This work is very definitely a short story. While Notch makes good use of both casual references to larger events and implication to show a wider world, the plot is a moment in a person’s life. Therefore readers who enjoy sweeping vistas and clear results might find the narrative unsatisfying.

Gibson makes a solid protagonist: his background as a space pilot on small craft makes it entirely plausible he holds it together when trapped on Europa; yet, doesn’t make him immune to the incomprehensible, allowing him to struggle in the face of what might be on Europa.

However – although Notch does an excellent job of showing Gibson’s experiences and feelings – Gibson’s isolation for large parts of the story removes the opportunity for other reactions to events, threatening the doubt over what is real that Notch builds.

Overall, I enjoyed this story greatly. I recommend it to readers looking for a brief interlude of science-fiction horror.

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