Book Review: Obscura by Joe Hart

Obscura by Joe Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publishing Date: May 2018

I wanted to read this because I'm a sucker for space station stories and I wasn't disappointed. The pace was well done and the multiple mysteries are laid out very well. As if missions to Mars aren't fraught enough, we have Dr. Gillian Ryan, a lead neural researcher along for the trip. She specializes in Losian's disease, a neuro-degenerative disease that causes rapid memory loss, rage outbursts and ultimately, death. It's claimed her husband, Kent and ails her daughter, Carrie. Her grief hampers her but it's her opioid addiction that's really what should have excluded her from this trip. The fate of the mission is given by interspersed snippets of interviews given in its aftermath, so a bit of the tension is bled away knowing Discovery VI didn't go as planned, but it doesn't dim the drive to know exactly what went down.

Carson, a former boyfriend from college, arrives to offer her a once in a lifetime chance. His offer coincides with the day she finds out her research is losing its funding. If she goes on a mission to the UN space station to do research she'll have just about unlimited funding for her research (this is the same sort of offer extended to Drs. Grant & Sattler in Jurassic Park... and we all know how well that turned out). The research she's expected to undertake is on those who've been subjected to teleportation (the mechanism is really neat where the body is taken down to absolute zero making the atoms traceable and calculated at a fixed point so thereby able to be disassembled and moved from one place and reassembled in another) are changed by it and experience memory loss and other symptoms that are much like Losian's.

Gillian agrees to go along and along with her research assistant Birk, she's stashed a six month supply of her hydrocodone (Carson cleared it because every gram on payload needs to be accounted for) and she's up and away. It's not long before the lies told to get Gillian on the mission start showing themselves. For instance, she's not going to the UN station orbiting Earth. The real mission is to the space station orbiting Mars. A bit farther away, that. Carson and Tinsel were in on the lie but Mission Commander Easton was not. Additionally, they won't fill her in on all the details of the mission. Understandably, Gillian is not happy. Still, they aren't going to turn the ship around and return her to Earth either. She's in this for the long haul. Poor Birk's body has decided that it doesn't like space at all so while he's still stout of heart, his stomach isn't letting him do much more than remain close to the nearest commode. Stasis comes as a welcome sleep for him but Gillian refuses to be put under. She opts for being awake for the 106 day trip to Mars.

Before they even get to Mars' orbit, a crew member suffers a terrible death and Gillian is the prime suspect. She was the only person not in stasis. She also went through a very bad opioid withdrawal during the time everyone else was asleep. The hallucinations she was also having may or may not have been related to the drugs, the withdrawal or something sinister but elusive. Suspected or likely murderer or not, Gillian's still expected to do the work she was sent to do. And then things really get even more dangerous and frankly, creepy.

The culmination of story was well done. The answer to the teleportation sickness turned out to be obvious but was still revealed in an interesting way. This had me on edge right to the Epilogue (and this was a welcome one after all that had come before). This was just a compulsive read. I quite enjoyed Gillian & Birk characterisations and the way isolation, loss and addiction were expressed here. This is also the second book I've read this year set on space stations that plays with and asks interesting questions about our memories & their value to us. Like Chris Brookmyre's Places in the Darkness, this will stay on my mind for a while. And I know it's likely unseemly to ask this when this book hasn't actually debuted yet but... when's the sequel coming? Because you know.... that ending. Definitely recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Summary:  In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more—like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.

Merging thrilling science-fiction adventure with mind-bending psychological suspense, Wall Street Journalbestselling author Joe Hart explores both the vast mysteries of outer space and the even darker unknown that lies within ourselves.

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