Saturday, 3 March 2018

Waking in Winter by Deborah Biancotti

Waking in Winter by Deborah Biancotti is a science fiction horror novella, which I would not have guessed from the cover. I actually procrastinated on reading this novella for quite a while because the cover gave me the impression of a very different type of book. I have previously read the short story collection Bad Power by the same author, which is quite different to Waking in Winter (and about superheroes).

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

The setting of this novella is an icy alien planet currently being explored and studied by scientists. The main character, Muir, is a pilot for an expedition in which there isn’t a good relationship between the science and support staff. One day, out flying a bit off her mandated survey route, Muir sees a giant mermaid buried under the ice. When one of her colleagues comes to check it out, he instead sees a giant lotus flour. Where Muir saw a missing hand, he saw a missing petal. What is the object beneath the ice? Why is part of it missing? Aliens? The story of the novella answers some of these questions while others remain ambiguous. As well as the story of the investigations of the artefact, we also get some background on Muir and the other characters, including why they’re on this alien planet in the first place.

The horror elements in this novella are fairly mild; it's creepy rather than gory. It's definitely more science fiction and a bit weird. Also, while the basic premise — humans studying a weird alien artefact — has been done before, it's the specific characters that Biancotti brings to Waking in Winter which really make it. I quite enjoyed reading this novella, especially since it was much more my kind of thing than the cover suggested it would be.

This is a character-driven story, with the reactions and coping mechanisms of the characters a main strength of the novella. I recommend Waking in Winter to fans of creepy science fiction and (light) horror. It's not a book for readers who only enjoy hard SF since it leans a lot on the non-scientific mystery elements of the discovery on the ice planet.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, PS Publishing
Series: no
Format read: ebook
Source: review copy courtesy of author

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