Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Solaris, ebook, £4.72
Review by Megan Leigh @m_leigh_g
Tchaikovsky is an accomplished writer of genre fiction and one who does especially well in the realm of science fiction. And while Children of Time was an exceptional piece of science fiction, I haven’t always gelled with his work. I struggled with the pacing of the Echoes of the Fall series but found Dogs of War great fun. So in which camp does Walking to Aldebaran fit?
The novella is told in the first person by a British astronaut, Gary Rendell. Rendell is a member of the crew sent to investigate a strange alien artefact (‘Frog God’) that scientists believe to be a kind of wormhole gateway, with the possibility of inhabitable planets on the other side. But disaster strikes soon after the party enter the artefact. Rendell survives the initial attack but is left alone, wandering the endless tunnels within the artefact.
One of Tchaikovsky’s strengths is creating distinct, believable characters with unique voices. Rendell has a very specific way of speaking/thinking and the conversational, informal tone carries the reader through with speed. His situation allows for a confused, potentially inaccurate recounting of events that feels very real. Is he confused or is he deliberately masking the truth? Whatever the reason, Rendell makes for a compelling p.o.v. narrator.
From the first pages of Walking to Aldebaran, the reader is on the back foot. The mystery is immediate and compelling, relentlessly pulling you forward to discover the Frog God’s secrets. Like with many mysteries, the novella comes with a twist – one I didn’t see coming.
The trouble is, the story’s narrative worth is too dependent on the twist. In place of plot, we have mystery, in place of depth we have a twist. It all felt a bit too Lost for me, but then again, that show had a lot of fans. Not a lot actually happens in the novella, and no, that isn’t down to word count. I find this a problem in a lot of ‘road trip’ narratives, which Walking to Aldebaran effective is. And while the ultimate twist leads to growth and change, there is little emotional growth or depth to Rendell’s character. We get little to no insight into his mind outside his immediate surroundings, making him rather unidimensional.
While Tchaikovsky’s prose is as enjoyable to read as ever, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by this novella. He is capable of so much more. Without a greater depth of character or interactions with others, Rendell doesn’t manage to hold the narrative together on his own.
Verdict: Walking to Aldebaran is a passable short story stretched to novella length. Without the twist, it would barely be a story at all and no story should rely solely on a twist to make it work.