Thursday, May 2, 2019

"The Luminous Dead"

Caitlin Starling is a writer and spreadsheet-wrangler who lives near Portland, Oregon. Equipped with an anthropology degree and an unhealthy interest in the dark and macabre, she writes horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface.

Starling applied the Page 69 Test to The Luminous Dead and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gyre was just about to turn away from the shaft when she made out a faint, familiar bump in the rock.

That’s a bolt, she thought, quickly followed by, No, can’t be. The simulation her helmet provided didn’t allow for the glint of light on metal, so maybe it was just a small stone wedged in a crevice. She squinted and moved closer to that edge of the shaft, but it was so far above her that she couldn’t hope to reach it without an actual climb.

Still, if it was a bolt, then there were probably others farther up the shaft. Em probably already knew about the shaft, in that case. So why hadn’t she mentioned it? If it went up to the surface, or even close, it could cut this initial staging time in half.

Maybe it wasn’t that simple. Or maybe Em didn’t know about it at all.

Maybe this was why the cache was missing.
This back-and-forth, paranoid uncertainty is the heart of The Luminous Dead. Gyre is alone in a daunting, dangerous, unsettling cave system, with only Em to keep her company -- from a distance, over her comm line, and from a position of omniscience (supposedly) and power (definitely). But what Gyre sees isn’t always what Em claims to see, and sometimes, when Em isn’t around, Gyre’s mind spools out terrifying possibilities.

After all, if Em is lying about one thing, what else could she be lying about?

And if Em doesn’t know everything, what else could she be wrong about?

Gyre is the only person directly experiencing her environment, and she’s also the reader’s only way into the story. We have to rely on her experience (seen here in how thoroughly she goes through the alternatives - prepare for a lot of technical caving passages!) and her understanding of just what is going on around her. But even that is shaky ground, leaving the reader to question Gyre’s reality.

All that is certain -- for Gyre, for Em, and for the reader -- is that the path is long and dark… and something isn’t right.
Visit Caitlin Starling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue