Into the Black: Odyssey One
Evan Currie, read by Benjamin Darcie
Brilliance Audio, 2012
Evan Currie’s military science fiction space opera novel Into the Black: Odyssey One, originally self-published, was released by Amazon’s new imprint 47north back in March. The novel centers around the exploration crew of the titular Odyssey One, Earth’s first interstellar spaceship, as they embark on the first manned journey beyond the bounds of the Milky Way. The discovery of the new Transition Drive and the creation of the Odyssey One finally saw the end to a decades long war. Of course it isn’t long into this journey that the Odyssey stumbles into a new and more dangerous threat, and that is where the novel’s story truly kicks off.
Into the Black is very traditional sort of military science fiction that definitely falls in line with it brothers and sisters in the military sci-fi/space opera genres. You have a humanity that has grown achingly familiar with war that, when faced with peace, must struggle to find something to do with the droves of soldiers it has left on its hands. Similarly you are also given a society with no experience with the organisational structure necessary for deep space travel. As a result unlike many other novels with a similar premise Into the Black reveals a ship whose crew is still growing used to the unique difficulties of a military force operating in deep space. This would be a fascinating aspect on its own but Currie uses it only as a background element to the more overt notions of duty and honor that drive the rest of the plot forward.
In a bit of an eye-rolling coincidence the crew of the Odyssey are quick to encounter a race of alien humanoids whose society has strayed far from the violent and war-like tendencies of humans. Thus there are many moments in Into the Black where our various human characters are forced to toll the virtues of service and the willingness to do violence in order to protect the greater good. Unfortunately, all these monologues are precisely that: monologues. The reaction to humanity’s violent tendencies is never given more than a cursory examination and the perspective of these aliens, their belief structure and social customs, are mostly glossed over in the name action and excitement.
To be completely fair all of that still manages to remain an entertaining and engaging read but there are many bits of information and hints that Currie drops which could have been used to give the novel a more well-rounded feel as well as some greater depth. This comes to fore especially when you meet the mysterious and enigmatic “Central” during a scene which offers the most engaging discussion in the entire novel and marks one of the few moments when the military fades to background in favor of the science fiction. This instance is fleeting and it isn’t long before readers are thrust back into the action once more.
The characters of Into the Black are defined by what they do rather than who they are. In the end we are left with a group of characters that are all too similar to feel completely unique. There are flashes here and there of potential but again Currie backs away from those moments in keeping the plot pushing forward. Other than their roles aboard the Odyssey or elsewhere there is very little to help differentiate characters from one another. Truth be told with as large a cast as the novel has there is just too little time spent behind the eyes of any single character to really get a handle on them beyond the basics.
While the elements of Into the Black might be familiar, while the characters feel underdeveloped and while the argument regarding the military’s essential role in fighting for the greater good is particularly one-sided that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this novel. Thanks in part to Currie’s solid prose and Benjamin Darcie’s solid narration I was able to enjoy this novel for what it is. The sparks of creativity the Currie manages to achieve throughout the novel kept me pushing forwards and the mysteries he poses over the course of the novel will keep me coming back for future volumes.