Ever since I read Dogs of War and Children of Time, I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s an exceptional writer who comfortably flits between fantasy and sci-fi, and uses his interest in zoology and evolution to develop fascinating ideas (thanks to this review of recently published The Doors of Eden, I now know he is a trained zoologist).
I haven’t yet featured Tchaikovsky on my blog, so I thought I’d write up a quick review of Walking to Aldebaran which I listened to again yesterday. I don’t usually enjoy audiobooks, but this one is narrated by the author himself, who does a great job, and it’s less than four hours long, perfect for keeping me company while I clean and cook!
Walking to Aldebaran is a Kafkaesque sci-fi novella woven together with Lovecraftian horror, British humour and, mostly, Tchaikovsky’s signature bio-weirdness.
“I think I used to talk to you because it kept me sane, but we’ve rather moved past that stage in the relationship, don’t you think?”
Gary is an astronaut with regrets. He wasn’t expecting there to be quite so much ‘getting lost and eating corpses’. After his mission to the mysterious alien artefact respectfully dubbed the Frog God goes wrong, Gary finds himself lost in the labyrinthine passages of the Crypts within. Starved of human contact, adequately oxygenated air, and anything even resembling human food, he wanders the corridors, interacting with other alien travellers with varying degrees of success. Gary recounts his misfortunes to the imaginary Toto – the reader – as he attempts to survive long enough to locate the rest of his expedition team.
While the plot of Walking to Aldebaran is relatively straightforward, it’s a fantastic work of imagination that goes to some weird and wonderful places, with the protagonist being ‘Oz-d’ in Space (terrible pun but I’m keeping it). I loved Gary’s witty, somewhat resigned narration, and the absurd things that happen to him inside the Crypts. There is more than one scene where I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or gasp in horror.
With the novella format becoming more widely consumed, I’ve seen a complaint coming from some SFF readers that they are often left wanting more, or that the story was never fully realised within the restricted word count. However, Walking to Aldebaran is a self-contained story with a depth of imagination and a satisfying conclusion that work perfectly in this format.
If you’ve struggled to find a SFF novella that works for you, or if you’ve not yet given them a chance, I highly recommend checking out Tchaikovsky’s Walking to Aldebaran, Made Things and The Expert System’s Brother.