Adrian Tchaikovsky, Walking to Aldebaran, Rebellion Publishing, 2019.
Good day, and welcome to your annual review of a Tchaikovsky story (and I haven't even read yet Children of Ruin...)!
This latest offering is a dark and compelling scifi novella that will take you into a maze full of monsters...
Gary Rendell is an astronaut. With his crew, he goes to explore a strange, massive artifact found just out of the Oort Cloud, at the edge of our solar system. But when they enter it, everything goes wrong and Rendell finds himself alone in an alien maze.
Walking to Aldebaran is told in the first person: Gary Rendell, alone, lost in the maze, talks to an imaginary audience he calls Toto, to tell his story.
It is a dark story, where everything that could go wrong went wrong. Yet, it's difficult not to feel drawn by Gary who has a gallow humour as he walks the corridors of the maze. Obviously, you'll have the rug pulled from under your feet, as you can often expect in a Tchaikovsky story.
Gary's wandering is fascinating for many reasons. First because he meets other aliens, lost in the maze too. In a sense, it could be a first contact story: the other aliens are often briefly glimpsed but hint in a tantalising way at a much wider universe. It is not 2001, though. The maze may lead you to Aldebaran, but in the end, wouldn't you want to come back home first? The aliens can be allies, food or monsters to slay. But who isn't a monster in this place?
It's also fascinating because the maze itself is. It is both terrifying and awe inspiring. There are very strong hints of Theseus and the Minotaur, unless Gary is Icarus, trying to escape the maze? I also particularly enjoyed the idea of the maze itself, which leads to different places. But, on the other hand, the aim of a maze is to lead you to its centre, isn't it?
(Yes, that'll be four questions in two paragraphs, but it's because I'm trying not to spoiler you while hinting at all the goodness!)
Gary's story goes back and forth, alternating between telling us how he ended up here and his survival day-to-day. The tragedy unfolds slowly but surely, until a shocking ending. We are undeniably in scifi, but we are also in horror.
Walking to Aldebaran is another evidence to why I consider Tchaikovsky to be one of our best scifi writers at the moment. It is wonderfully inventive. The intertext gives incredible depth to the story, and because it harks back to myths, it rejuvenates the questions about humanity these myths have always asked. Finally, it's a great read, written with deceptive ease and a compelling voice.
If you haven't read any story by Tchaikovsky but you are wary of Children of Time because of the spiders, then this one will be a great entry point in his work. And you'll probably give a try to the spiders afterwards!
All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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