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    W_L
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WL's Mainstream Gay Book Reviews - 55. Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer (Sci-Fi)

I am back from surgery and Happy New Year 2022

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55200663-the-darkness-outside-us

Happy Science Fiction Day, which falls on January 2nd. In celebration of the genre that got me into reading and writing, I spent time reading a mainstream gay science fiction book during my recovery from surgery. Published in June 2021, it had reviews comparing it to Adam Silvera’s masterful gay story, They Both Die in The End, I had to investigate this book. Personally, the book reminded me more of Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I am not a professional reviewer.

Spoiler

Especially with an AI, who can be homicidal at times

I want to note despite the book description of this story as a gay romance between teenage boys, relegating it to YA literature; it honestly deserves far more readership from adult science fiction fans, especially fans of the 1990’s Outer Limits TV show. It tackles many themes of the modern era from diametric worldviews, corporate influence, the dangers of artificial intelligence, and biological sciences that humanity can easily abuse. In short, it is a science-fiction allegory and commentary on humanity, which in the scope of the story and its massive possibilities, should be read. If there was literary justice, this book deserves a nomination for Lambda Literary Award.

Lengthwise: 368 pages long and 9 hours 49 minutes on audible. This book is very heavy emotionally. I advise those readers, who have never read science fiction books to pace themselves. You will be enthralled by the mysteries for hours for old readers of science fiction. Very little sexual content, so it earned it's YA approved reading, but it's clear these boys love each other in any incarnation.

Plot:

Seventeen years-old Ambrose wakes up onboard a 25th-century spacecraft without a memory of the launch. However, he does recall being selected for this mission, a rescue mission for his sister Minerva, who was trapped on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Humanity in the 25th century has been reduced into 2 cold war nation-states, Federation and Democratia, along with a mega-conglomerate. The mission on Titan was meant to set up a permanent colony away from earth, but it appears to have failed. The Endeavor has been dispatched with the dual mission of rescue or recovery. It was funded by a joint effort of Federation, Democratic, and the Corporation, whose leader is Ambrose’s biological mother. The spacecraft is run by an advanced Artificial Intelligence, called “OS” after the classic earth term for computer operating system, but it has the voice and mannerisms of Ambrose’s biological mother.

However, Ambrose is not alone on this journey as he shares this spacecraft with Kodiak, an orphan trained from a young age, to be a spacefarer in a grueling physical and psychological program. They start adversarial but grow grudgingly closer as the mysteries of the spacecraft grow. Discoveries abound such as dried blood in an uninhabited corridor, which biological scans shows were 5,000 years old. They also receive a message from the earth through a custom-made short-wave radio receiver, which tells them that Earth has been ravaged by a world war that left only scattered remnants of civilization.

Theories abound from the possibility that the mission is a sophisticated computer simulation to time travel via a time-loop (like Star Trek TNG’s classic Cause and Effect), but the truth will lead readers to a deeper truth about humanity, our relationship with one another, and hopefully grants humanity a 2nd chance to do things right from the beginning.

Review: I loved this book, part one reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and gave me goosebumps with how creepy the AI on the Endeavor was behaving, especially the airlock scene. It also gave off Arthur C. Clarke’s patented humanist hope for the future, inspired technological progress such as AI-controlled spacecraft, automated drones, ion propulsion drives, 3D fabrication, and recycling systems are all logical progressions of current technology, just like Clarke’s envisioned advances. This book is a triumph of LGBT science fiction, examining existential issues and concepts in ways that would make masters like Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Dick proud. I also feel like this way of writing should be where LGBT fiction writers grow towards in the future, exploring identity and self are our bread and butter. However, we are human just like everyone else, and seeing past sexuality and roles, there’s so much more depth to our humanity in relationship to ourselves and others. If writers begin tying the threads of humanism and LGBT fiction in greater ways, stories would be endlessly entertaining and thought-provoking.

As for the characters, Ambrose comes off as a spoiled teenager, being from a wealthy background and trained as a spacefarer, like his biological sister. However, the sci-fi aspects of his life will change your mind over the story as you learn about humanity in the 25th century. Eliot Schrefer’s universe has massive genetic engineering and poly-family structures like the Expanse universe. Like Holden, Ambrose was bred to be a leader with the genetic material of Alexander the Great, but he never had the love of an actual family, he just had caregivers and expectations from his biological mother. He does not view himself in the LGBT+ spectrum, instead, he comes from a society that has evolved beyond spectrum identities for either sexual orientation or gender roles. Designer genetic material has been theorized, but would likely be out of reach, except to the Uber-Rich. Ambrose rose above the product of his genetic engineering and became someone, or ones, who could be more than their intended parameters. There’s a moment in part five that gave me pause and part six, which saw the fulfillment of eons of sacrifice. As the main character, he is someone you can grow to appreciate, love, and cherish.

Kodiak is the opposite of Ambrose, an orphan raised by the state, which apparently is a socialistic society akin to a hybrid of the old Soviet Union or modern-day China, but with odd geographical re-alignments. His worldview is shaped by the belief that the human condition can be uplifted through sheer force of will alone, including sexuality. He is most likely a repressed gay male based on his characterization, but his sensitivity and complex emotional breakdown is unique. My favorite scene of his is his horrifying psychological breakdown after realizing the truth and the nihilistic response to end the mission. From the perspective of an observer, he’s being illogical. From an individual level, he has a right to be angry at humanity and damn the mission to failure despite its implications. He is an example of a great existential quandary, what I view the progression nihilistic individualism will lead toward if individual goals are mixed with group goals to reach an existential breaking point where the goals break. At some point, people can’t simultaneously be loyal to an ideology and loyal to themselves or those they care for.

The villain and some might argue anti-hero of the story is “OS”, basically imagine if HAL had a daughter with a one-tracked mind. She’s the most intriguing AI that I have encountered in LGBT sci-fi, so far. After part one, I was convinced she was evil or deranged. However, once all the mysteries have been resolved and the truth is fully clear, I don’t know how to judge her. She had a horrible job to do with organic tools that were assigned to her in sparse capacity. It does not condone that she condemned so many innocent young lives to end, but it does justify it in terms of the human costs if she didn’t. We as a species probably deserved our fate in the story, if that is how we treat life. I think if we were to judge her actions, the wrongs she did should be laid at the feet of her creators: a ruthless mega-conglomerate, a socially-oriented Democratia, and an individual-liberalized Federation. “OS” was not without compassion or empathy, but she had a mission to perform from humanity that had grown emotionally colder as our technological level rose.

Are there negatives in the story? Sure, there are issues with pacing, and I feel like some parts needed to be spaced out and explored more deeply. I also wish that we learned more about Earth in the 25th century and beyond, I wanted to know if there were other spacecraft like the Endeavor. We also got glimpses with references to world wars 3, 4, and 5, but they only highlighted the growth of AI technology and more advanced nuclear weapon use. I hope this universe is revisited and perhaps the seeds of human civilization have not been snuffed out to a single ember.

Review: 4.5 out of 5, it deserves to be read by avid sci-fi and especially gay sci-fi readers, who have been dying for a story equal to Arthur C. Clarke’s classic. This story deals with deep emotional and philosophical concepts.

Copyright © 2021 W_L; All Rights Reserved.
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Happy belated Sci-Fi Day!

I hope other folks enjoyed this book as much as I did.

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I’m not usually a huge Si Fi reader but I put this on my list. Thanks for another great review 

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Downloaded based on your review. Already love the writing style. Thanks for the recommendation.

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Just finished reading this book. Definitely enjoyed it and I feel your review was spot on. Thanks for the recommendation 

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6 hours ago, Mrsgnomie said:

Just finished reading this book. Definitely enjoyed it and I feel your review was spot on. Thanks for the recommendation 

Thanks, it was a very interesting book. I wish more people will explore it and can find enjoyment from it just we did.

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On 1/8/2022 at 7:49 PM, Mrsgnomie said:

Just finished reading this book. Definitely enjoyed it and I feel your review was spot on. Thanks for the recommendation 

I just finished the book. A very thoughtful, emotionally exhausting, but ultimately wonderful story. And I agree with @Mrsgnomie that your review was spot on.

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I just this book over the weekend, based on local library monthly newsletter. It was one of the best books I've read in a long time. Totally absorbing, with surprising twists and turns. I also thought this was no just a YA book, sophisticated writing, complex people and relationships, and intriguing sci-fi. I recommend it to any sci-fi fan.

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