The Luminous Dead

The Luminous Dead

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be...

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Title:The Luminous Dead
Author:Caitlin Starling
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Luminous Dead Reviews

  • Emily

    like if the martian and annihilation got freaky in a cave with queer women!!!

  • carol.

    Totally Unauthorized Review*

    It was very good, just the sort of read I wanted. Read it if you enjoy survival stories, or caving, or psychological mysteries where people are unreliable, conflicted, and determined. 

    I read for three reasons:

    --A certain unnamed good friend strongly suggested it after reading it. Here's how she sold it: "It takes stones of steel to write a full novel with only two characters and a cave for the setting. So far, it's done very, very well."

    --I confused Caitlin Starling w

    Totally Unauthorized Review*

    It was very good, just the sort of read I wanted. Read it if you enjoy survival stories, or caving, or psychological mysteries where people are unreliable, conflicted, and determined. 

    I read for three reasons:

    --A certain unnamed good friend strongly suggested it after reading it. Here's how she sold it: "It takes stones of steel to write a full novel with only two characters and a cave for the setting. So far, it's done very, very well."

    --I confused Caitlin Starling with Caitlin Kiernan, who also has a effed up book I want to read (

    ).

    --The darker, the better. 

    Like

    it could have played on fundamental fears--in this case, claustrophobia--but somehow, through the writing, I was only riveted. Except for the water scenes. Those were scary. In some ways, it is like

    , only with a main character who is far less well-adjusted and funny. I'd say character-building is the clear strength of this book.

    Do not read the GR book blurb, as it does give far too much away, including one plot point that happens two-thirds of the way in. I read an early copy--hopefully very early--so I look forward to re-reading a print copy that might have even more polish. Just for me--for heaven's sake, do not read the spoilers if you intend to read--

    That said, the end result was a one-two gut punch. Absolutely wow.

    *Black market ARC. Oh, you didn't know there was such a thing? There is, my friend, and the stories around them are sordid.**

    **

    ***

    ***On the up side, I don't have to put anything in about thanks to the publisher, or totally honest review, or unbiased opinions, or any of that other legalese baloney.

  • Fiona

    The blurb compares The Luminous Dead to The Martian, Gravity, and Annihilation. The first two are fine, if the only criteria is "lone person in space-ish survival situation", which is to say not that similar at all. Annihilation is closer for the overall feel of unease, and lack of trust even the protagonist can place in their own perception. But really, The Luminous Dead is something that doesn't entirely fit the mold of what came before - it's something entirely original, and even a bit daring

    The blurb compares The Luminous Dead to The Martian, Gravity, and Annihilation. The first two are fine, if the only criteria is "lone person in space-ish survival situation", which is to say not that similar at all. Annihilation is closer for the overall feel of unease, and lack of trust even the protagonist can place in their own perception. But really, The Luminous Dead is something that doesn't entirely fit the mold of what came before - it's something entirely original, and even a bit daring.

    Gyre Price is a woman desperate to be anywhere but stuck on this planet, working for peanuts and getting nowhere. And by the age of 22, she's done it - she's here, working a job considered so dangerous (but compensated accordingly) that cavers usually retire after 2, maybe 3, expeditions. And her only link back to the surface world is the lone voice in her headset, Em - and it's clear that Em isn't just prioritising Gyre's life.

    Now I'm not a fan of small spaces. Caves, with all that weight pressing down from above? No, thank you! But oddly, that didn't bother me at all. No, where I started to get uneasy was the suit. Cavers wear a suit that plugs directly in (following surgical modifications) to digestive systems, and completely encloses the person within. There's no moving your hand up the sleeve to wipe your face, either - these are small, completely fitted suits. Add to that the absolutely brilliantly escalating unease (the writing really is so good), and before long I was easily as paranoid as Gyre. Possibly more so.

    I really enjoyed this book. It had me on edge from maybe 10% onwards, and caring so much about Gyre that I couldn't put it down until I know if she'd be ok. I still found it thoroughly unsettling, but I was there with her the whole way - it really is some brilliant writing from Caitlin Starling. I look forward to reading more from her.

  • Justine

    Very close to a 4 star read for me.

    This is a great pick if you like survival stories with the edge of a pschological thriller. It's well written and easy to follow even if you know nothing at all about climbing and cave diving (me, I know only a little).

    Coincidentally, I recently read an interesting story in National Geographic about the role of cave divers in the rescue of a boys soccer team from Thailand, who were trapped in a cave for days. It is a different story than the book (obviously) bu

    Very close to a 4 star read for me.

    This is a great pick if you like survival stories with the edge of a pschological thriller. It's well written and easy to follow even if you know nothing at all about climbing and cave diving (me, I know only a little).

    Coincidentally, I recently read an interesting story in National Geographic about the role of cave divers in the rescue of a boys soccer team from Thailand, who were trapped in a cave for days. It is a different story than the book (obviously) but it did give me some context and a little background, which made The Luminous Dead an even better read.

    For those who are interested, here's the link to the NG story:

  • Tammie

    The Luminous Dead, a science fiction/horror book, was a solid 4 stars.

    The book centers around main character Gyre, a caver, who is desperate to earn money to find her missing mother. Gyre is hired by a private mining company to map mineral deposits in a cave off planet and thus the story begins.

    The Luminous Dead is a very creepy read, especially as Gyre starts her solo expedition exploring the cave. Gyre only has one line of communication and that’s through Em, her monitor. Em is a woman who h

    The Luminous Dead, a science fiction/horror book, was a solid 4 stars.

    The book centers around main character Gyre, a caver, who is desperate to earn money to find her missing mother. Gyre is hired by a private mining company to map mineral deposits in a cave off planet and thus the story begins.

    The Luminous Dead is a very creepy read, especially as Gyre starts her solo expedition exploring the cave. Gyre only has one line of communication and that’s through Em, her monitor. Em is a woman who has a lot of power over Gyre-she is her only source of communication, is able to control her suit and even give injections remotely. As equipment is found missing, routes suddenly changed and dead cavers bodies found throughout the cave-Gyre starts to wonder what her mission is. Both women are hiding important information but they must rely on each other to get what they each want so desperately.

    The Luminous Dead is very well-written and a highly atmospheric read. Recommended to fans that enjoy science fiction/horror books. Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  • Amy Imogene Reads

    4 stars

    What an unexpected find! Technically a science fiction novel,

    reads like

    Also, lots of caves. Caves on caves.

    ★★★★★

    ★★★★

    ★★★

    ★★★ 1/2

    ★★★★ 1/2

    For those who like to blend their mystery/thriller with the speculative, it's an almost pitch-perfect entry into the niche

    4 stars

    What an unexpected find! Technically a science fiction novel,

    reads like

    Also, lots of caves. Caves on caves.

    ★★★★★

    ★★★★

    ★★★

    ★★★ 1/2

    ★★★★ 1/2

    For those who like to blend their mystery/thriller with the speculative, it's an almost pitch-perfect entry into the niche.

    follows the underground cave mission of Gyre, the protagonist, as she works under contract for a company exploring one of the many caves on the planet. Gyre's suit comes with a 24/7 communication link to a handler above ground. Her handler, Em, appears to have hidden motivations regarding the mission and things don't always go as planned.

    Cue the suspense.

    We've got Em on the comm link, but it's mainly just this solo woman in the dark trying to survive and get to the last/deepest cave point to complete the mission.

    . Gyre's mission is to travel between six Camps that Em and previous caving teams have managed to establish in the caves and get to the final marker.

    Considering the limited setting, limited dialogue, and repetitive scenery, the pacing is great.

    Gyre's trip down into the belly of the beast is gripping and filled with many moments of psychological problems and survivalist dilemmas.

    There are several bodily-function mentions in this, as the high-tech suit Gyre is wearing has adapted sections of Gyre's body to leave no trace in the caves. If you don't like discussions of body parts, fair warning.

    Between both Em and Gyre, there is too much of a focus on their mistrust for each other. Gyre flip-flops many times on trusting Em, not trusting Em, etc. This concept would have been completely fine, but the motivations and proof for this flip-flopping went back and forth. It wasn’t for me—I was here for the caves.

    Recommended reading for anyone who enjoys cave exploration, speculative/horror elements, survival tales, LGBT+, and pulse-pounding intimate science fiction.

    ***

    Original notes: Joke’s on me for reading this by myself at night. Loved it anyway. Review to come!

  • ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Well... Half the time Gyre is mad at Em, or blaming Em, or wondering at how she doesn't feel like blaming Em. What's with all the blame?

    Em... Her being blamed during half the book for a number of disastrous expeditions, makes little sense. Yes, she has some (un)specific goals but don't all mining companies in the book? How come that looking for Em's goals is any worse that plain old ore mining? Felt like the author needed some psychological suspense vehicle and this is what got used as such. Wel

    Well... Half the time Gyre is mad at Em, or blaming Em, or wondering at how she doesn't feel like blaming Em. What's with all the blame?

    Em... Her being blamed during half the book for a number of disastrous expeditions, makes little sense. Yes, she has some (un)specific goals but don't all mining companies in the book? How come that looking for Em's goals is any worse that plain old ore mining? Felt like the author needed some psychological suspense vehicle and this is what got used as such. Well, it wasn't suspenseful, just read immature.

    Gyre, she's the worst employee of the decade. She bickers with her employer. Keeps entertaining thoughts of siccing some authority at Em for some half-baked notion of Em endangering her employees on purpose (though, it's clear that if people keep dying on the surface expeditions, they will do so at higher rates on more difficult expeditions). Gyre even gets angry at Em for being professional during one of their crises:

    Q:

    “I’m terrified!” Em shot back, and there it was; the stress turned into anger, turned into something honest. “But as far as I see it, I have two options: one, break down and stop being able to help you, or two, be a fucking professional.”

    God, that was refreshing. (c)

    Em is close to being the employer from horror film.

    The girls... their discussions get the all-time low like this:

    Q:

    “Stop being so nice,” Gyre added. ...

    “I thought you wanted me to be afraid. Or to be talking to you.” (c)

    And Gyre... I can't stand her:

    Q:

    The tears were already there, waiting. “I don’t want to do anything for you right now,” she whispered, but she sank to her knees all the same. The last thing she wanted was to serve at Em’s will, but at the same time, it was such an easy win. Follow the command, feed her growling, taut stomach. If she followed every command Em laid out, wouldn’t it take her out of here? (c) At this point I'm like: Yes, Gyre, maybe you do need to follow your guide and employer advice.

    Add to that all maudlin, at-length, guilt-trip discussions of both girls' family issues...

    And some totally maudlin interactions:

    Q:

    “I almost lost you,” Em murmured.

    “You still might.”

    Em’s expression was stricken... (c) Come ooon. You were just whining on about how 27 other people dies on this gal's missions. Just make up your mind if Em's a kitty or a tiger already, will you? BTW where are the other 25 bodies?

    And, of course, these gals feel the need to get all mushy:

    Q:

    “If I’d lost you,” Em whispered, “I don’t know that I could have gone on.” (c)

    The good points of this book are that original world, the whole concept of cave expeditioning, Tunnellers who swim through rocks... Etc. Excellent read but one that could have made even more stellar.

    Q:

    The suit was her new skin, filled with sensors and support functions, dampening her heat and strengthening her already powerful muscles with an articulated exoskeleton designed to keep climbing as natural as possible. She wouldn’t even remove her helmet to eat or sleep. Her large intestine had been rerouted to collect waste for easy removal and a feeding tube had been implanted through her abdominal wall ten days ago. A port on the outside of her suit would connect to nutrition canisters. All liquid waste would be recycled by the suit. (c) Sounds painful.

    Q:

    “Walking is the most expeditious way to work off the epinephrine injection, caver.” (с)

    Q:

    If you had the skill for it, then why wouldn’t you trade a little bit of bodily autonomy for enough money to feed your family or to start a new life? (c)

    Q:

    “In case you’re trapped, and cut off from me, there are . . . kill switches built into the suit. In case there’s no way out.” (c)

    Q:

    Luck had seen her born on this godforsaken rock, chance had led to her mother running away, pure providence had kept her from snapping her legs as a kid.

    Luck might let her finish this, for good. (c)

  • Nick T. Borrelli

    I want to begin this review by pointing out the fact that I'm a sucker for books with this kind of theme. The plot of THE LUMINOUS DEAD is one that takes place on a planet rich in mineral deposits and a "caver" is exploring one such location while also possibly being stalked deep within the bowels of said cave. Anything that involves some sort of exploration on a distant planet or an archaeological angle and I'm usually all in. So when I had the opportunity to receive an advance reader copy of t

    I want to begin this review by pointing out the fact that I'm a sucker for books with this kind of theme. The plot of THE LUMINOUS DEAD is one that takes place on a planet rich in mineral deposits and a "caver" is exploring one such location while also possibly being stalked deep within the bowels of said cave. Anything that involves some sort of exploration on a distant planet or an archaeological angle and I'm usually all in. So when I had the opportunity to receive an advance reader copy of the book from the publisher, I couldn't download it fast enough. I hadn't previously heard of the author Caitlin Starling before and this is apparently her first novel, so I was excited to see how this story would unfold. I had seen the comparisons to The Martian in that the story is told mainly through internal dialogue and conversation with only one other main character who serves as "mission control" of the expedition. You don't see too many books use this type of narrative device, so I was intrigued to get started. Now on to the book and my subsequent thoughts about it.

    The main character in THE LUMINOUS DEAD is Gyre, a caver who signs a contract with a private mining company for what she believes is just another expedition to gather valuable ore deposits. Gyre is not totally forthcoming about her background and motive when she signs on with the company, which is to score a quick payday so that she can keep looking for her mother who abandoned her years ago. Gyre has been obsessed with finding out what happened to her mother and she sees this job as nothing more than a means to fund her continuing efforts going forward. What Gyre doesn't know yet is that her contractor and only lifeline to the outside world Em has motivations of her own that aren't simply mining for ore. Gyre and Em are connected via a communication device located inside Gyre's suit where Em can also monitor every aspect of Gyre's physical health. Their relationship starts out as a combative one as Gyre suspects that Em may be hiding something from her and not being completely honest about the job that she has been asked to do. It turns out that Gyre's suspicions are not entirely unfounded when she is able to access a video from her suit that shows a previous mining party who experience an incredible tragedy while exploring the same cave that Gyre is now embedded deep within. When Gyre lashes out at Em and threatens to quit and turn back, Em is forced to reveal that her parents were the ones in the video along with a few others. Something terrible happened to the party that Em has been struggling to discover the answer to. It turns out that she has sent dozens of other cavers on the same mission as Gyre with most of them dying in the treacherous tunnels trying vainly to reach the area where Em's parents were last documented to be alive. As Em continues to open up about what happened to her parents and their family business, her relationship with Gyre starts to change. It begins to become one of mutual understanding as they both are in similar situations: trying to find answers to missing family members. It also becomes a borderline romantic relationship of sorts. Eventually things really start to change as Gyre both sees and hears signs that she may not be alone inside the cave. Could it possibly be someone from the original doomed crew? Em's mother? Or could it be something far far worse that is now stalking Gyre as she tries to survive and find a way out of what could be her ultimate resting place?

    My first feeling about THE LUMINOUS DEAD was that the story is of a style that I like based on similar novels that I've previously read, one being The Descent by Jeff Long. Admittedly that one didn't take place on another planet, but the feel of it was much the same initially and the cave exploration aspect was as well. There were a few things that I really liked about this book. One being the mystery behind what happened to Em's parents and also Gyre's mother. I thought that was handled deftly as well as the additional mystery of whether what was also present in the cave was a person or a monster of some kind. The suspense of these two questions kept me wanting to read further. The characters of Gyre and Em were well done with both of them having their own demons driving them to find out what happened to lost loved ones. I didn't mind the fact that there was only a two-person dialogue for the entire book either, but at times it did get a little draggy for long stretches as the dialogues were quite frequent and went off on some lengthy tangents. This is ultimately where I found myself not being as into the book as I could have otherwise. For me the book seemed to take a long time to develop and for about the first 70% of it all we really get are conversations that sometimes are relevant to the story and sometimes not. I definitely enjoy when a story builds slowly to a crescendo, but I thought that this one took a little more time than most to get going. When the climax happens, it does so with a bang and it is very satisfying, but unfortunately the journey to get there is fraught with long periods of not much happening. So I have to say that I liked THE LUMINOUS DEAD, but fell just short of loving it. That being said, others may have a vastly different opinion and you should give this one a try if you enjoy books with cave exploration and mysterious things that go bump in the dark. In the end it was a solid book that I think offers a good enough amount for readers to enjoy. But you'll have to wait until April of next year to purchase it as that is when it is slated for release in the U.S.

  • Chris Berko

    A solid four star read for me, if somewhat repetitive, until the end which was sort of a disappointment, so I have to give it a three. I haven't read the Martian so can't speak knowledgeably about that comparison and the only way it reminded me of Annihilation was the underwhelming conclusion. The author does do a lot with only two characters, one only being a voice and a face on a screen, and there were truly frightening and claustrophobic moments it just didn't all come together for me like I

    A solid four star read for me, if somewhat repetitive, until the end which was sort of a disappointment, so I have to give it a three. I haven't read the Martian so can't speak knowledgeably about that comparison and the only way it reminded me of Annihilation was the underwhelming conclusion. The author does do a lot with only two characters, one only being a voice and a face on a screen, and there were truly frightening and claustrophobic moments it just didn't all come together for me like I had been hoping. I almost never say this about books, but it would make a good movie.

  • Mogsy (MMOGC)

    2.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling is a story about two women who have more in common than either of them would like to admit, but by the time they realize how much they mean to each other, it might already be too late. Gyre was only a little girl when her mother abandoned her, leaving only a vague note with an invitation to her daughter to come find her when she is ready. Now twenty-two years old, our protagonist has

    2.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling is a story about two women who have more in common than either of them would like to admit, but by the time they realize how much they mean to each other, it might already be too late. Gyre was only a little girl when her mother abandoned her, leaving only a vague note with an invitation to her daughter to come find her when she is ready. Now twenty-two years old, our protagonist has finally decided it is time. But first, she’ll need to make enough money to get off her backwater planet and begin her search, and to do that, she has forged her credentials and work history in order to sign on to a dangerous mining operation known to pay its cavers extremely well.

    Given how much she was offered for the job, Gyre expected to be assisted by team of specialists and scientists, but instead, she finds herself alone in the deep, dark tunnels of the planet with only a single overworked individual on the surface remotely monitoring all her life support and suit controls. Introducing herself as Em, her handler is secretive and uncommunicative in her lofty position of authority, which immediately sets off Gyre’s dislike and mistrust of her. But very soon, as the mission becomes increasingly difficult and treacherous, the two of them have to learn to work together and let each other in, because only then can they save one another and put the ghosts of their pasts to rest.

    I was torn between like and dislike for this book, and it kills me to have to give this one anything less than 3 stars because it had its moments. However, there were simply too many other things about it that left me feeling disenchanted and utterly frustrated, making it hard to justify a higher rating. The truth is, I probably would have enjoyed the story a lot more had it been presented in a shorter, less repetitive and more condensed form, but as it is, I felt that too many pages were devoted to pointless back-and-forth or were squandered by following our characters as they—quite literally in some cases—walked around in circles.

    What’s more, I feel the publisher description has done the book a great disservice by comparing it to The Martian and Gravity, because the reality, as I found out, was much different. For one thing, the “intensive drive” that was promised was virtually non-existent. A heart-pounding thriller this was not, so don’t be expecting anything like The Descent. I just can’t emphasize enough the slowness of this book, even though, in all fairness, I have no doubt the measured pacing here was entirely intentional. The plot featured here is the kind that relies heavily on character development and relationship building, a process that understandably cannot be rushed.

    But back to my issues with the blurb: as you would recall, both Mark Watney and Ryan Stone in the respective tales of survival were quick-on-their-feet problem solvers who kept their cool and used their wits to apply their knowledge and resources available to them in order to overcome obstacles. In awe of their inventiveness and ability to find quick and clever ways to get out of tight spots, never once while watching them did I think to myself, “Wow, that was dumb.” Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Gyre, a recalcitrant, reckless and naïve protagonist who frequently and actively sabotaged her own chances of survival with her tunnel vision and less-than-intelligent decisions. That she never learned from any of her mistakes or the fact that the narrative fell back again and again into the same tiresome, infuriating patterns was simply another nail in the coffin. I mean, if you have reason to suspect your mental capabilities may be compromised, perhaps then you shouldn’t rely solely on your own impaired judgment? Sure, Em’s not perfect, but maybe trust that as mission control, she has at least some idea of what she’s talking about? But no, pretty much the entirety of this 400-page novel consisted of repeated variations of the following conversation:

    Gyre: “I’m going to go ahead now and do something stupid.”

    Em: “No, don’t do it, Gyre. That would be really stupid.”

    Gyre: “Fuck you! Just because you’re my boss doesn’t mean you can boss me around!”

    *Gyre goes ahead and does something really stupid*

    Gyre: “Well shit, I guess that really WAS stupid. I might have just doomed myself with my stupidity. Dammit Em, why didn’t you stop me?”

    Em: “You’re right, I really should have tried harder. I’m so sorry that I’m such a monster.”

    Gyre: “Damn right you are, and I’m not about to let this happen to anyone else. To do that, I’m going to go ahead now and do something stupid.”

    Em: “No, don’t do it, Gyre. That would be really stupid.”

    And on and on, ad nauseum. Granted, the first couple of times this exchange happened, it gave us great insight into the characters’ personalities and dynamic. However, tighter writing and more concise storytelling could have probably conveyed the same ideas in half as many pages. The F/F relationship was also not very satisfying, and considering so much of it was developed under mental and physical strain or was fueled by desperate need and duress, I just couldn’t see it as either healthy or sustainable. Furthermore, I was never convinced of Em’s true intentions of sending people down into those caves. The explanations given were so underwhelming, initially I thought they were a smoke screen to obscure the true reasons which would later be revealed, but nope, that was it.

    Still, I did mention the book had its moments. First of all, kudos to the author for pulling off what is essentially a novel featuring an extremely limited setting and only two characters. And while at no point did I personally find this “horror” novel scary or disturbing, Starling nevertheless did a fantastic job evoking an atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia, especially in the sections with the sumps. At times, the hopelessness of Gyre’s situation really got to me, not to mention how all the uncertainties had a way of messing with your head. Scenes of breathless action were few and far between, but whenever they cropped up, they were also well written and suspenseful. Plus, the tunnelers were pretty cool, though we didn’t get to see nearly as much of them as I would have liked.

    However, at the end of the day, the positives were still outweighed by the negatives, which greatly impacted my experience with this book. Namely, slow pacing and aggravating characters were my main issues, compounded with the possibility that my expectations had been set too high by the synopsis. That said, I don’t want to discourage anyone from checking out this novel if the story’s description calls to you, or if you this is something you might enjoy. Good luck, and happy caving.

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