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Not Dark Yet

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

This book was disappointing, mainly because I had high expectations since it was among titles I got in a StoryBundle curated by Jeff VanderMeer. The problem is not its literary merits, since the prose is quite elegant and moving in several scenes. However, character development is minimal and the narrative is rambling and disconnected, with no resolution. It might have worked better if written in first person. We learn the main character's name, Brandon Minamoto, in the first sentence, then it is never mentioned again. Everyone else is identified when speaking, but it's only 'he said' or 'he did this or that' in reference to Brandon thereafter. The setting is vague and undefined. It has to be near future, but exactly how many years? There are mentions of climate change problems, a future war, but neither are explored as main themes. I can't tell you where this takes place either. Ms. Ellingsen is of mixed heritage, Korean and Norwegian, but where is this story set? Is it Europe, Asia, somewhere else? There are references to the western continent, the eastern continent, the southern continent, the 'coast', but no country or city names are given.

In the opening chapters Brandon arrives at a remote mountain cabin and meets several of his neighbors. Subsequent chapters are flashbacks to previous events, among them his military service and his employment as a photographer at a university. I'm not sure which one of those preceded the other. It's also puzzling why he moves to the cabin and why he has applied to be an astronaut for a Mars exploration mission. Neither NASA or the ESA, or any other national space program is mentioned, and nothing we learn about Brandon seems to indicate he is qualified for such a position in the first place. He suffers from a medical condition, also vague and undefined. Perhaps it's epilepsy, who knows? The way it is described I started to think it might be something supernatural in origin. He suffers through several different 'fits', at least twice at the cabin and once at his home apartment when he returns for a Christmas visit. Yet he undergoes thorough medical tests for the space mission and nothing abnormal is detected, or at least he isn't informed of it.

He refers to his fits as 'light-outs' rather than black-outs. He has a sense of a brightness growing within his body, or his mind. This is the only thing that kept me reading; I wanted to know what he was experiencing. Guess what? I still don't know, and I don't think Brandon does either. In the end, he is not accepted into the space program, not because of his medical condition, but because it has been suspended for lack of funds. He returns to the cabin, which has been damaged in a massive storm, along many other farms and residences, and most of his neighbors have moved away. What does he do then? I wish I could tell you, but I'm not sure even the author knows. Not recommended.


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