Review: Obscura – Space Murders and the Persistence of Memory


Title: Obscura
Author: Joe Hart
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Genre(s): Thriller, Mystery, Science Fiction
Page Count: TBA

Rating: 6.0/10




A claustrophobic story of paranoia and murder in space that didn’t meet my expectations.

Obscura is set in the near future that’s more or less identical to our own, excepting a few advancements in technology and the appearance of a new neurological disorder called “Losians.” It is a severe form of dementia, and the affected not only experience memory loss, but also trance-states and outbursts of uncharacteristic anger. 

Dr. Gillian Ryan has lost her husband to it and her daughter is beginning to exhibit some of the more severe symptoms. So now she dedicates all her hours into researching a cure. Then, one day, she’s offered an interesting proposition from NASA. It turns out NASA has been developing teleportation devices in secret and their human testers have started exhibiting symptoms that eerily echo Losian’s. So Gillian is asked to join their space station as the lead researcher and get to the bottom of this mystery. As an incentive, they will provide funding for her research. But things don’t go at all like Gillian thought it would and, before she knows it, she’s embroiled in a murder investigation in which she is the main suspect.

This is the second thriller I’ve read this month that feature narrators with addiction problems. Obscura shares other similarities with Woman in the Window. The prose is simple and digestible. It’s feels very claustrophobic, there’s lots of isolation for the main character, and the narration is introspective. With Obscura, the spaceship sets the stage for paranoia and tension; reality begins to blur, and Gillian begins to question her sanity. I quite enjoyed these bits and found them genuinely creepy.

The science is, however, rather sparse. This is definitely more of a thriller/mystery set in a sciency environment with a scientist protagonist. I would have liked better details on how the teleporters worked, beyond “Meh, quantum computers.” A deeper exploration of Losian’s would also have been welcome.

The setting feels incredibly hazy and mundane. They’re in a glorified metal can for most of the book, sure, but it’s still a space ship/station from the (albeit, very near) future! And they get to go down to Mars! That’s pretty cool stuff, and I wanted to see some excitement and wonder seep into the narration. Instead, what I got was more or less along the lines of:

It was red, but not the bleeding color she’d seen from space. Up close it was muted, an orange-and-tan composite dotted with rocks. Past a house-size boulder twenty yards away was another biosphere half the dimensions of the one they stood in now, its rounded skin alabaster against the Martian landscape.

I mean, that’s not terribly awe-inspiring. This is her first close look at Mars but they may as well be in a bunker out in a random stretch of desert on Earth for all the lukewarm descriptions Gillian gives.

The big revelation at the end isn’t as revelatory as I wanted it to be, though the events that lead from it are pretty intense and crazy. The ending also feels abrupt, like the tension fizzled out just as it was building up to something big. Things get wrapped up too neatly and quickly, and the whole story feels…incomplete.

I also found it hard to connect with any of the characters apart from Gillian.

All in all, the story did not meet the expectations that I had from reading the summary. There were good moments and interesting ideas, interspersed with an uninspired setting, bland characters, and a disappointing finish.

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing an ARC.

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