Dark Space is an ominous space opera set primarily on the mining world of Araldis where the main character, Baronessa Mira Fedor was raised. After fleeing back to her home planet to avoid a gene-transfer that would rob her of a rare talent for flying biozoons (organic pilot ships), Mira is among the survivors of a system-wide invasion by body-fluid-sucking aliens.
The setting in Dark Space consists of a number of planets in the Orion system inhabited primarily by humans and humanoids (called “humanesques”). Earth is never mentioned, but there are obvious influences such as the pseudo-Italian language and certain customs indicative of various Earth cultures. The Aristo women, for example, wear concealing “fellalas” which seem like the Islamic abaya overgarment. An author note at the beginning reads “I have taken extreme liberties with the Italian language. Please do not look for grammatical accuracy — you will not find it. This is the far, far future!”
The foreign/made-up words used throughout Dark Space are in keeping with the setting, but make it difficult to understand what is going on at times. There are techno-babble words like “mag-beam”, “res-shift”, “moud”, “preserv-field” and “catoplasma” ; and pseudo-Italian words like “studium”, “nobile”, “cavaliere”, “ragazza”, “speranza”, “sorella” and “bambini”. Even halfway through the novel there are new words appearing in sentences with no explanation of their meaning. Marianne shows instead of telling the reader what is going on, to enhance immersion. When context doesn’t make it obvious what certain words mean, it is best just to keep reading. Eventually the reader has a general idea of what the words mean without being explicitly told. This is artful storytelling, but can be frustrating at times.
Another artful storytelling technique is the use of oxymorons. On page 253, for example, intergalactic vagabond Jo-Jo rasterovich is forced to take a philosophy course to remain in a good spying position in Scolar space. Marianne writes from his point of view, “The agony and ecstasy of it all went on for several weeks...” an oxymoron that fits nicely with the sadomasochistic character of Jo-Jo.
Many of the characters in Dark Space are sexually deranged in one way or another. There’s Trin, the son of the Principe (ruler of the aristocrats in their part of space), who has problems performing without the aid of “bravura” until he meets a ginko (alien) with mottled skin-folds and gills. Then there’s Tekton, a character set apart from most of the others, but closely tied to the events that unfold on Araldis. Intelligent and ambitious, Tekton engages in sex with various beings throughout his travels, mostly to curry favour. And Jo-Jo Rasterovich, who has nightmares about the wobbling thighs of one sexual encounter, enjoys being walked on by an alien with spines in her feet...
With her sexuality unmentioned for most of the novel, Mira stands apart as the most appealing of the four main characters. Honest, fair-minded and hard-working (especially for an aristo), Mira charts the turbulent territory of Dark Space, giving the reader a voice to anticipate rather than despise. Marianne de Pierres pulls no punches—the selfishness of some characters extends to unnecessary and brutal killings that shock Mira as much as the reader. But in this climate of dark motives and vicious acts of violence, Mira is revealed as a diamond in the rough. The four characters trade turns in the novel until the final chapter, which has seen the darkness of Mira’s world turn to chaos...
Chaos Space is the name of the second book in the series. I look forward to reading it. But that’s a topic for another blog.
To buy Dark Space or read articles about writing by Marianne de Pierres, visit her website: