FROM WITHIN, A DARKNESS by Ray Adams (BOOK REVIEW)
“Attend the soul and keep the watch, as from within, a darkness comes”
An avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy since his early years, Ray Adams has yearned to be a writer since childhood. A passion for political and philosophical debate, as well as the arts in all its forms, and a strong personal interest in mental health issues, shapes the worlds he is bringing to life in his sci-fi.
Ray Adams also writes under his real name, James Kinsley, having published his novella ‘Playtime’s Over’ in 2021, and collection ‘Greyskin’ in 2023. You can find Kinsley on Instagram @unclekins.
Ray Adams’ From Within, A Darkness, is a cocktail of classic science fiction tropes, thrilling momentum, as well as established and relatable character relationships. These relationships include a cat (Biscuits) who sometimes appears and concerns people. This novella is energetic and engaging, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Having devoured Adams’ non-scifi works (under his name, James Kinsley), I was not sure what to expect. Sometimes, when a writer genre-jumps it can cause disruptions or disorientate the narrative, however, this did not happen. From Within, A Darkness, read as fluently and consistently as any other good piece of Sci-fi, and I was hooked from page one.
‘He was just happy to drink in the eerie alien beauty of the cave they had excavated.’
The novel is set on the mining ship Longwater, ‘part of VelstandCorps’ mining fleet. Over half a mile long, with a crew of five, plus a security team of four’ (not including the animal-esc characters who are also on board). The task of the ship and crew is to mine material from large rocks, asteroids and gather various other scrap or minerals that they find out in space. They spend weeks or months gathering material and sending it back to VelstandCorp until they have made quota, only then can they head home. The crew have all been constructed as shadows of themselves. Adams has written them as individuals who have certainly spent too much time alone, out in space, and the isolation of their jobs is clearly taking its toll, especially on the Captain, Grosjean.
‘A man-made parasite, preying on the lifeless to swell the coffers of its corporate masters.’
The crew are heading to their next target, “A three-hundred-mile-long rock floating in space; no life, no atmosphere, just an amalgamated lump of assorted minerals and ore,” accompanied by security detail (hired in specially) along side their genetically modified ‘partners,’ – The Betas.
The Betas, to me, come across in the classic ‘genetically engineered hybrid slave / worker’ constructed from animals. That being said, Adams has created a modified being that goes against the usual uplifted animal tropes. Uplift, in Sci-Fi, is generally a developmental process to transform a certain species of animals into more intelligent beings by other, already-intelligent beings. This is usually accomplished by cultural, technological, or evolutional interventions like genetic engineering, or body modifications. The earliest (and perhaps most well known) appearance of the concept is in HG Wells’ The Island of Doctor Morea (1896), and the common theme (particularly concerning nonhuman animals) seems to be uplifting the nonhuman animals’ intelligence, capacity for activity / knowledge or giving the creature the ability to speak clearly and with human language. We see examples of this littered throughout fiction, from Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dogs of War’, Adam Roberts’ ‘Bête’ to Paulo Bacigalupi’s ‘Ship Breaker,’ Non-human animal’s have been genetically manipulated into something ‘more intelligent,’ or capable.
However, Adams’ Betas, whilst they are on brand as being a Bioform / augment or bêtes of these other texts, are not ‘quite’ what one would expect. Whilst some of the humans appear to see the Betas as more than human:
“They’re more than animals, Garbold,” Kemah persisted. “The genetic engineering used to make pliable, the implants… Their intelligence has been raised beyond the point where we can think of them as just animals…”
The fact they are named Betas implies that they are viewed as, and therefor perceived to be, second or lesser than. Within other Uplift fiction, whilst the modified nonhuman animals’ intelligence, abilities or language capabilities may differ slightly to the humans for various reasons, it is quite uncommon for them to be portrayed in this almost comical way. The almost unique portrayal of Adams’ Betas gives these creatures an unexpected authenticity that makes them slightly more believable than a Gorilla hybrid who speaks flawless English might seem.
“So where was its handler?” “Its handler? It’s not a dog. Its partner had just stopped in the latrine…”
Uplift Fiction isn’t the only class Sci-Fi trope that Adams plays with. For anyone who has seen the 1997 film ‘Event Horizon,’ or Doctor Who fans there may be some flickers of familiarity. Ancient unexplained writing appearing on human skin, endless and disorientating scenes running through tenuous corridors that maze throughout the narrative, ominous evil entities that seem to be ruining everything, and nonhuman creatures who act as a ‘Basic Slave Race,’ like the Ood (Doctor who: Series 2 Episode 8, The Impossible Planet and, Series 2 Episode 9 The Satan Pit).
“Framed by the eerie green light, stripped of his humanity, he looked undead. An animated corpse returning home on instinct.”
Whilst these tropes have been seen before, Adams’ ability to revitalise a renew these elements is one of the things I really enjoyed in this narrative. Adams’ even alludes to Arthur C Clark’s 2001 Space Odessey with the editions of a big slab of rock:
“In front of the ship stood a huge monolithic slab of black rock, its surface smooth and reflective.”
Rather than responding to something so unusual alien and majestic with awe and power and mesmerisation, Adams’ responds to such an occurrence with an element of realistic humour and disbelief:
“What? You can’t open a door, you know.” […] “Not with a mystery door in the middle of a damned asteroid! We don’t know what’s behind there, but if it is anything alive enough to respond to knocking, I sure as hell don’t want it to answer.”
Every page of From Within, A Darkness challenges what we think of as ‘Science Fiction tropes’ or typical Sci-Fi. By alluding to other fictions, writers and powerfully familiar imagery, Adams’ draws you into the narrative with certain expectations and presumptions that end up being entirely wrong. Adams’ is a trickster, building up your expectations based on your previous experience with Science Fiction, giving you a new experience like nothing else you have read. Adams’ / Kinglsey continues to impress me, and I hope this writer gets the recognition he truly deserves.
From Within, A Darkness is available now on Amazon