#SciFiMonth Audiobook Review: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (October 15, 2019)
Length: 3 hrs and 36 mins
Narrator: Adrian Tchaikovsky
I confess, I haven’t always had much luck with novellas, even when it comes to those by favorite authors, but I ended up really enjoying this one. For me, it was simply the right mix of humor and horror. Take the witty, smart-alecky narrative style of The Martian and combine it creepy, dread-inducing atmosphere of Alien, and you’d probably end up with something like Walking to Aldebaran. One wouldn’t think that would work so well, but it did.
The book takes us inside the head of our protagonist, astronaut Gary Rendell. And us, we are Toto. Don’t ask. All you have to know is that our man Gary has been on his own for a long time, long enough for him to start going a little stir-crazy, hoping to find another living soul to call friend. They wouldn’t even need to human. At this point, Gary is beyond caring about such trivialities, for you see, he’s trapped on a giant alien artefact that was found drifting at the edge of our solar system, following a disaster that killed the rest of his crewmates. Now he’s lost, frightened and alone, wandering aimlessly through the cold dark tunnels of the megalith.
Gary had thought he was lucky when he was chosen to be part of the exploration team, after a space probe sent back images from the Oort Cloud showing a strange alien rock which was nicknamed “The Frog God” because of its uncanny resemblance to the amphibious animal. But now that he’s in this mess, he can’t help but look back on the past and examine the chain of events which has led him here. And maybe it’s the shadows playing tricks with his eyes, or the fact he’s losing his mind from being so lonely and terrified, but over the course of all this walking, he’s seen and experienced some pretty weird shit. Not to mention, perhaps he’s not so alone in these Crypts after all, though whatever horrible thing is out there, he’s not so sure he wants to meet it.
Hands down, my favorite thing about Walking to Aldebaran was the voice of protagonist. There’s no question that Gary Rendell’s humorous accounting of his journey added much enjoyment to the book, but there’s also another side to it. You know the saying “you gotta laugh or you’ll cry” or ever hear of people cracking jokes as a fear response? There’s definitely an underlying element of this at play in the narrative, and rather than breaking me out of the immersion, the humor actually worked to further emphasize the sheer horror of the situation in which Gary has found himself.
I also liked how the overall story unfolded. For such a short book, there’s quite a lot to unpack. From Gary’s experience in the Crypts to the events that led up to the discovery of the Frog God and how the exploration team came to be on the alien artefact, everything is covered here in a way that balances pacing and the amount of detail being doled out. Adrian Tchaikovsky takes care not to overwhelm the reader with information, nor does he want to push us too far over the edge when it comes to the terror and intensity of the atmosphere. Each time before the plot can veer too far in one direction, he reels things back to build interest in another area, so that we get to cover a lot of ground while moving at a fast clip. Flashback scenes and memories were also done well in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention away from what’s happening in the here and now.
Also, the ending—which I will not go into, because no spoilers here—was one hell of a dark twist, and I never thought I’d be saying this but it might have single-handedly solidified Walking to Aldebaran as one of my favorites by the author, right behind Children of Time. Granted, so far I’ve only read a relatively small sample of his massive bibliography, but this one felt pretty special to me, which is all the more impressive considering how picky I am when it comes to novellas.
Bottom line, I found Walking to Aldebaran to equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and ultimately very rewarding. Of course, I can see it not being to everyone’s tastes, given the narrative tone of the protagonist, but if you don’t mind a bit of lightness with your horror and an interesting approach to the unreliable narrator, I would give this a try. I also don’t recommend novellas too often, but once in a while an exception will come along, and this one I believe would be an excellent introduction to Adrian Tchaikovsky because it’s a wonderful showcase of his talents as a storyteller, if you’ve ever been curious about his work.
Audiobook Comments: It seems I’ve been having all kinds of luck with author-narrated audiobooks lately, because this was Adrian Tchaikovsky gave a superb performance on this one. I also think it worked especially well given the character of Gary Rendell. Tchaikovsky, being his creator, knew exactly how to deliver his protagonist’s narration, right down to the little details like tone and cadence, making this one an awesome listen all around.