Black Box is a science fiction novel from Kevan Manwaring. It is a text poised to be unleashed upon the world and I think it’s exactly the kind of story we need right now. Set against the backdrop of a dying Earth, the story manages to both square up to the disaster we are unleashing upon ourselves, while refusing to give up all hope. It is, in every possible way, a journey into utter darkness. As the story leads us to gaze into the abyss, it reminds us how brightly small lights can show at such times.
This is a very hard book to review without spoilers. Not least because the plot revolves around some serious uncertainties about what is real and what isn’t. Kevan handles this with absolute style, requiring you to read the story, aware that multiple explanations may exist. The story calls upon the reader to navigate between what they fear may be true and what they hope is happening, making you feel like you are an active participant – that you are the observer whose very act of observation might somehow change everything.
I spent the first third or so of the book lurching back and forth between possible explanations. In the middle third I really felt the pull of disparate realities, incompatible truths and ways of being and seeing. I spent the final third of the book trying, and failing to guess where it was going and wondering how on earth, or for that matter in space, the whole thing could possibly come together in a coherent way. It did. By the end I felt that my brain had been pounded to mush and my heart squeezed through a mangle. It is a story that will make you feel things.
What holds it all together, I think, is a fine thread of humour – dark humour often. Sometimes the humour is so self-conscious that it dissolves the forth wall and reminds you that you are engaging in a story, not a reality. As this is a story that is very much about navigating between possible stories, these moments of deliberate dislocation through humour have all kinds of effects. And of course the darkness is more effective when it’s not relentless. We can get used to anything. We can be ground down in misery. Laughter will keep you human and keenly feeling, which of course means the author can keep cranking up the intensity.
This is an incredibly imaginative book, full of surprises and strangeness. It explores what ‘alien’ means, and alongside that, what human means, at its best and worst. It asks ‘what of us will survive?’ a question not just for this piece of speculative writing, but for humanity as a whole. We are not yet obliged to plunge into the abyss, other options exist for us. Highly recommended.
Black Box is with Unbound and coming out via a subscription publishing method. What this means is that you can dive in now and put down the cash for a copy, and when enough people have done that, the book happens. Please do that thing if you can – this is a book that deserves to be out there. Hop over here and look at the options in the right hand column, and pick your level… https://unbound.com/books/black-box/