I liked the concept of Deidre Gould’s Traveler in the Dark. I found the story engrossing, and it was hard to put down as life’s demands took away my precious reading time. I found the portrayal of the multi-generational surveyors and their initial reaction to the alien planet after a lifetime aboard a spacefaring habitat to be quite believable, and in line with expectations based on my studies of human behavior.
What I did find a little hard to swallow was the “villain.” In Traveler in the Dark, the villain is not really a person or a group of persons, but a thought. An idea. Albeit an extreme form of environmentalism, it’s presented in such a way that rings true to extremist behaviors. The reader is allowed an almost child-like naiveté through the actions of Issk’ath. The trope of an alien intelligence trying to understand humanity, and humanity’s distrust of that intelligence has been done many times, and I enjoyed Gould’s take on the subject.
The writing did suffer from a major issue though. The characters are briefly introduced by first and last name, referred to in dialog by other characters by first name (or nickname), and the author’s narration by last name. By the end of the book, I still had a hard time telling who was who. I found this handling of the names to be confusing, and not consistent with my experience as a sailor since most, if not all, space fiction is based on naval traditions and terms.
Considering my reviews in the past, I’d think that this book would be a four-star read, but for some reason, I just grokked this story. I’m eager to read more books in the series, but I’m afraid that they will pale in comparison. I’m not a fan of environmentalism novels—Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson have both killed a story by being too heavy handed on the environmentalism. I’m gonna go ahead and award five stars. The story is not without its flaws, but I think it’s a solid read.