A lone astronaut pilots a vast ice-shelf through deep space in a tugship shaped like a Palaeolithic hand-axe. Lake is in for the long-haul, a one-way ticket to Proxima B, an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri – a journey that has lasted nearly two decades of his life already. It’s enough to drive anyone mad, or to drugs.
Stuck in geostationary orbit around its destination the arkship Ithaka has broken off contact. Within its ten vast biomes it contains a cross-section of Earth’s species, plant-life and habitats … all slowly dying of drought, which Lake’s precious cargo will alleviate.
If it isn’t destroyed first.
Alone for years, with only old memory-clips of his life on Earth to keep him company, until one day while out on routine survey across the ice, Lake collides with a creature and finds himself caught in a deadly game of survival.
On the bleak ice-moon of Europa, watched over by the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a survey is about to commence, exploring the subterranean oceans beneath its frozen exterior. The Ultima Thule is the state-of-the-art Galileo class submersible to be commanded by a select crew of scientists. Searching for alien life, the crew find more than they bargained for…
Within a white room two observers scrutinise the lone survivor of a vital mission…
As realities shift and slide, the fate of humanity hinges on the outcome.
What will survive of us?
Black Box, a dark SF thriller about the consequences of exploration of the Solar System and beyond. A desperate mission to find water – and the possibility of life – on one of Jupiter’s moons, is set against a backdrop of a dying Earth. It explores notions of consciousness – both human and non-human – and challenges the anthropocentric view of the universe. If we were to encounter extra-terrestrial life would we even be able to register its presence, if it was so ‘other’?
Lake opened the sno-cat airlock and stepped outside, his field of vision suddenly filling with a white almost featureless foreground and a deep black sky. With an easy jump he landed softly on the ice, his boots making no sound. He collected his bulky sample case from the external hatch and closed the lock.
By his side a floating cube moved, shifting planes of light.
Inside his helmet, in contrast to the austere silence around him, Chinese death metal thrashed out, fed directly to his brain via his Binditm, an Ace of Spade design implanted by his right temple.
He selected a spot in the compact ice – extending the sample line demarcated by the marker-flags frozen stiffly in permanent salute, and set about taking an ice sample.
His moves were assured; rendered elegant, almost, by the buoyancy of the low gravity.
Through his thick gloves he slowly managed to operate the opening mechanism and initiate the core sampler, its drill extending into the ice. His hands seemed to remember what to do.
But when he stopped to think, his mind went blank.
The scene felt familiar and alien at the same time. Déjà vu, within a dream.
While he watched the titanium bit do its work, gouging into the skull-like texture of the ice, Lake stopped to take in his surroundings for a moment, to stop his head from spinning. A pain behind his temples, as though it was his cranium being trepanned.
Being alive felt like a tight-rope walk, a balancing act over a void.
You could get across if you didn’t look down.
Through his boots, he could feel the vibration of the drill.
To his side stood the rhomboid chassis of the sno-cat with its wide caterpillar tracks, its bright orange paint job incongruous against the cool blues of the vast snowscape around – its three connected cabs blinking with lights and bristling with antennae, sensors and safety equipment, insectoid.
He arched his back to look up.
Stars, beyond reckoning. The universe shaken into new patterns. Constellations, rendered unfamiliar.
And stretching out around him as far as the eye could see.
A chunk of ice the size of Iceland being pulled through space by his tug, five hours back across the berg.
What a place to end up.
Lake scryed the blackness for meaning, contemplating his fate. Could he have known it, by reading the stars better? Could he have discerned the trajectory of his life from them, triangulated his destiny?
What strange geometries guide us, he thought.
The sampler finished its drilling and began to extract the cylinder of ice, which exuded from the head like a stool. Lake unclipped this and packed it carefully in the silver tube of the flask.
Here was history, on ice.
A timeline, preserved in crystal. Each band was a century, a blip of human history: resource wars, leaps of technology, year zeros, anniversaries, regimes, peacetimes, unions, rifts, wastelands, the resurgence…
Lake looked out across the endless ice scape, framed by the black.
No matter how many times he stared, he could never get it to mean anything. It was just ice. Stupid, fucking ice. His albatross, his millstone. Whatever the fuck they were. No, scratch the poetic. Just ice. Three trillion tonnes of it, like a whole crummy ice age. His responsibility, his burden, to lug.
To another star.
His visor was tinted against the glare, a harsh sheen which seemed to want to personally needle him. Some sad souls might find this soothing, might enjoy the solitude, see it as some kind of romantic fucking delusion. But he was no poet. He just drilled, crossed and lugged ice. That was his job, or his sentence. Sometimes they felt like the same thing. An endless routine of brain melting boredom. The stars might change, infinitesimally, each day, but everything else was the same. The same fucking sno-cat. The same fucking sampler. The same fucking vista. Yes, the ice was sculpted by the strange processes of gravity and time into weird shapes – Hell, it was his own private Lunarheim. Marking the bore, Lake contemplated it as he got back in the sno-cat, followed by the glowing Q-bot, and set off on his round … driving across the vast ice-shelf.
Inside the cab of the sno-cat Lake’s shit was everywhere. He flung the digital clipboard on the passenger seat amid the detritus. Festering food pouches, rags, puzzling pieces of hard-ware and wiring, soggy tissues, phials, test samples… One day he’d get around to clearing it up. He was sure some life form could grow amongst the squalor otherwise, but hey, at least he would have some company.
‘Captain Lake, is there something I can be assistance with?’
The male voice made Lake nearly jump out of his skin.
He turned to see the pulsing cube, hovering in the back of the cab.
‘Jeez, you nearly gave me a fucking coronary!’
‘Your life-signs show a spike, but they are now normalizing.’
‘Thanks. And you are?’
The Q-bot seemed to blink. ‘Butler, sir. Is there a problem with your memory? Do you want me to run a neural scan?’
Lake shook his head. ‘No … that’s okay. Let’s get going.’
Fancy an author's tour of the National Space Centre? One of the rewards on offer for patrons of Black Box.
Splendid, enticing rewards await those who sign up to this mission to save planet Earth and pledge to support Black Box. Amongst the delights on offer are: original artwork of a character or setting of your choice from within the novel’s story-world; custom fiction based upon the…
Wanting to create a more atmospheric video to promote the novel, a couple of weeks ago I arranged to film in a remarkable location - a perfectly preserved nuclear bunker high in the Cotswolds, next to Broadway Tower. The bunker is part of the much-loved, ridiculously photogenic National Trust property - the highest point of the Cotswolds. It is one of a network of over a thousand monitoring stations…
An unusual, but insightful interview - pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy!
Blake And Wight . com Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews
Soup Of The Day with sci-fi author and poet Kevan Manwaring
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats…
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…
Is it me or am I the only one who finds it hard to separate Sci-Fi from soundtrack? It is almost impossible to think of the opening credits of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope without the adrenalin-surge of John Williams’ classic theme-tune blasted out to the backstory disappearing to its vanishing point (or Darth Vader and his stormtroopers without the Imperial march); the shock and awe of the…
In the vast silence of the black ocean a distant murmur disturbs aeons’ old sleep. Eyeless eyes seek the source, incensed at this invasion into its hermetic kingdom. A rumble, penetrating the ice-sheet – a ten-kilometre thick door no one had opened, until now. Suddenly a glow appears in the under-ice. A glowing red eye. Brighter and brighter – burning through the black. A seismic scream. The pain…
Commander Boone killed the engine on the skiddoo and gazed back at the base, a sense of pride filling her. The complex of hexagonal units resembled a carbon ring. The designers had coded into its architecture the building blocks of life. An apt structure for the Europa Survey Base and its search for life on Jupiter’s apparently bleakest of moons. For that to be a sustainable search the crew, vulnerable…
Some background behind writing the first draft of Black Box.
As I was up in Edinburgh doing research in the archives for a week I thought, what the hey, why not have a Highland fling? But instead of tossing the caber willy-nilly, so to speak, I decided my ‘fling’ would involve a 9-10 day solo writing retreat in a remote croft on the coast of Wester Ross. Boy, I know how to party! Actually, I…
Things may seem pretty bleak out there at the moment - geopolitical unrest, climate chaos, displaced populations - and threats are real not only to the peace and security of our families and communities but to the very existence of humankind as the dominant species upon this planet. It all feels like The Eighties: the sequel. It was back then, living in the shadow of the Cold War as a teenager, that…
These people are helping to fund Black Box.