Higgins has a B.A. in Physics, and it shows in her envisioning of far-future technology. She doesn't invent anything new here, but her world is connected in ways you don't often get in sci-fi work. Every technology we experience is the descendant of tech we have and understand today, and the theoretical advances she has made have a nice, grounded feel to them, making the technology accessible and letting the story be more about the people living with and inside the technology like any techno thriller set in the near future, rather than at the far-flung expansion of the human race throughout the solar system. This makes the biggest issue of sci-fi - the ‘that’s so crazy I can’t relate to the people in this story” - very muted, and the characters feel familiar to people we all know and understand today.
This is very much a story about the will of the individual against the ubiquitous "System," which looks very much like what the current surveillance state may look like down the road with all activities being recorded and analyzed at all times. When a secret project is intercepted by a couple of very good thieves, everything gets set in motion. The characters on the whole are not the strongest, and some are more useful as plot devices than anything else. The nice thing is that these characters tend to be the men, while the female characters get more time having agency. Even the dashing thief/revolutionary pales in comparison to the techie who wants nothing more than to understand her ship and code. Placing all of these people against the System (who even those who wish to protect it find stifling) hones in on the “man vs. society” format.
By the time we get to the big reveal, the plot's moving quickly enough that it can be hard to fully internalize what the message is. In fact, I sat for a day or so mulling things over before sitting down to write, but the connections Higgins draws are very high level and fantastically interesting. I wish I could share my thoughts without spoiling, but I think that if you give it the time, this novel can impact you in a very cool way. (Without spilling the beans, when you find out the ship’s purpose, think of the word “system” as a physicist would, and let the metaphor fly.)
Higgins has an easy-to-read style that belies the thoughtful deliberation in her narrative, drawing you into a tale where truth relies heavily on your point of view and every motive is suspect. A psychological ride on spaceships sailing through the dark, the characters are not the only ones who find their world changed by the final act of Lightless.
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