HUMANITY LOST Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace gets lost in space.
Space can be scary. As TvTropes puts it, there is an ontological horror in the vastness of it, and the lack of ability to easily contact help. This is something that a variety of writers have played with, such as Poul Anderson in his novel Tau Zero. Here, we shall look at another work that makes space scary: Meghan Douglass’ novella Humanity Lost.

Some centuries in the future, the state of the human species is bleak. The astronauts of the ship Valhalla have been sent on a voyage to see if they can find any planet that could support humanity, as the species has treated its own homeworld so terribly. In this regard, it is not unlike Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Aurora, but with more obvious, added horror (as opposed to the subtle horror of feeling your love for the boundless wonder of the future be strangled in Robinson’s book).

The crew aboard the Valhalla is a small one. This is a choice that serves to hammer in the feeling of isolation-induced dread (after the past two years, don’t we all have that feeling?) that underpins the entire setting. These are people without a culture to take solace in, or communities to take refuge in. It is just them, their job, and the vast gulf of interstellar space.

There’s a particular dynamic that Douglass plays with a lot. TvTropes’ page on Space Isolation Horror puts it very well:
“There are a number of challenges associated with surviving in outer space: the current human need for oxygen, water, food, waste management, heating, as well as space's lack of gravity, being unable to hear what is going on outside, and other issues all make space life a difficult proposition. Any Casual Interstellar Travel drive requires an hour to "warm up" and is the most fragile thing on the ship. A single pebble travelling sufficiently quickly could kill you, or at least destroy one of those important life-support systems; these systems are either very-high-maintenance or require the use of an AI to keep everything under control. If you were to send a Distress Call, the nearest help would be a week away. And the interior of your spacecraft is designed to look as cold, clunky, mechanical, and minimalistic as possible — it might as well be a flashy Haunted House.

“And that's when things are working correctly.”

Things aboard the Valhalla start to break. Computers start to act oddly. Perhaps most unnervingly, people start to act oddly. Stranded in the final frontier, a place of which so little is known, the lack of knowledge of what’s going on is heightened all the more. This novella is a masterclass in making you feel really, really paranoid.

What makes this even more interesting is Douglass’ character work. You are confronted with several astronauts with different reasons for doing what they do. We have the stereotype of astronauts being patriotic, noble people who do things for love of science and country, like Buzz Aldrin or Yuri Gagarin. Douglass knows that this is simplistic, and subverts in several interesting ways. We will not be sending only our best into the cosmos.

Humanity Lost is an immensely disturbing, immensely satisfying science fiction horror novella that uses the best of both genres to deliver a satisfying conclusion. Fans of either will be well served.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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