The Scourge Between Stars is the debut sci-fi horror by Ness Brown, an astrophysics graduate student and former astronomy instructor. Earth has become uninhabitable due to the unmitigated environmental damage of modern human civilization, and repairing the damage to Earth has been deemed too difficult compared to establishing civilization elsewhere. However, an attempt to colonize a faraway planet has also proved unsuccessful. Now the starship Calypso is headed back to Earth in a final effort to save the last of humanity.
Jacklyn Albright is the acting captain of Calypso, filling the role vacated by her incapacitated father, who remains locked in his quarters, unresponsive to the needs of the crew. Jacklyn is left to face an increasingly dire situation with insufficient food and a growing threat of mutiny. But a new and harrowing threat arises when crew members are found murdered in gruesome fashion, purportedly by a hostile alien on board the ship.
The emergence of this sinister lifeform is a scientific breakthrough, the first proof of extraterrestrial life and therefore worthy of study. However, it is also a menace to everyone aboard the Calypso spacecraft, so the crew must debate about whether the alien should be destroyed or preserved for scientific posterity.
Jacklyn Albright is an outstanding character who endeavors to provide steady and capable leadership in a role abdicated by her reticent father. The rest of the crew make for a great supporting cast, especially the android Watson, whose loyalties operate in a gray area.
Ness Brown’s writing is compulsively readable, and their fast-paced plot kept me flipping through the pages of this short novel. The Scourge Between Stars is a well-written debut, despite several awkward word choices scattered throughout the novel which could be polished with a bit of additional editing.
Notwithstanding the strong cast of characters, The Scourge Between Stars is fundamentally a plot-driven novel. Unfortunately, the plot itself is largely a retelling of the classic space horror Alien, with Jacklyn Albright playing the role of Ellen Ripley. In that sense, The Scourge Between Stars is quite predictable, complete with the initial discovery of alien eggs and the one-by-one gorefest of weary crew members returning to Earth. The main plot twist near the end of the novel would also benefit from further development.
While I enjoyed the characters and the setup of The Scourge Between Stars, the horror elements were not developed well enough to leave a lasting impression. The novel would have benefitted from being more thoroughly fleshed out, with emphasis on providing greater deviation from the familiar plot points of Alien.
Nevertheless, fans of space horror will find much to enjoy in The Scourge Between Stars as Jacklyn leads the crew of the Calypso against an existential extraterrestrial threat. Ness Brown shows promise with their debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from this talented new author.