David V. Stewart first came to my attention by way of the YouTube algorithm. An independent author, he hosts a vlog channel that focuses on the art and business of writing, with frequent digressions into music and culture. A thoughtful speaker, he eschews the strum and drang of modern outrage culture and instead offers more deliberate discourses on whatever subject he chooses for the day. His ‘let’s read’ of the short works by Lovecraft contain solid analysis for newcomers, with a few new insights for the old Lovecraft hands, and his ongoing series analyzing the plot and structure of the Thomas Covenant chronicles have proven to be eye-opening for those of us who have always dismissed the series. Unfortunately, most of his written works fall into the Eastern fantasy subgenre – a setting that simply does not appeal to my western tastes. All of which left me eagerly anticipating the release of his latest work, Voices of the Void.
Something went wrong on a mining planet, and our narrator Andrew is the only one around with the means to investigate. He arrives planet-side to find the living and administrative quarters empty and abandoned, the only potential witness a small cleaner-bot more concerned with fulfilling her duties than helping Andrew rescue any of the former employees of the mining colony. A lone operator, he is aided by the usual weapons of war, and by psychic talents that serve as both help and liability. The slow burn of his investigation explodes into a hard-hitting run-and-gun gauntlet when the ravenous source of the troubles identifies Andrew as a threat to its plans.
The result is the sort of genre-mashing tale that uses its refusal to abide by marketing terms to great affect. What begins as a taut mystery with a strange side of psychologic horror smoothly blends into a monster shoot-’em-up with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian menace. The shifts in tone are all undercut by a dark foreboding, and all of them ratchet up both the threat and the stakes. By never committing to a singular vision, Stewart holds out the promise that literally anything could happen next, and that potential – even if never fulfilled – adds to the suspense of the latter portions of the work. He also plays his cards very close to his chest, mixing outright exposition while leaving the answers to significant questions unspoken or only lightly hinting at them. The worst of which occurs just prior to the big climax of the work, and it transforms the story from the usual example of its kind into something truly monstrous.
Voices of the Void runs toward the shorter end of the spectrum, a fact which serves as praise. Outside of the usual publishing channels, Stewart has no need to pad out the relatively straightforward plot with unnecessary B-plots or extraneous characters. The work is as long as it needs to be, and that is high praise in a market saturated with bloated works.
Of course, operating outside of the usual channels also leaves the work with a few of the usual self-publishing weaknesses. A few scattered homophones and run-on sentences might distract the more anal retentive readers, and several passages lack the necessary punch. But David’s word choices are effective at painting a setting steeped in a strange new kind of horror that harkens back to Lovecraft without falling into the cliched pitfalls that have snared so many other writers. You won’t find any tentacles, for instance, and the Big Bad at the center of the mystery owes more to the psychological end of the Lovecraftian mythos than the rubber-suited creature feature end.
If you’re a fan of dark horror or mil-sf, and you can accept a little chocolate in your peanut butter, so to speak, give it a shot. It’s the right mix of old and new, and David V. Stewart shows a lot of promise for bigger and better things. If Voices of the Void is any indication, the man has a lot to offer the world of self-publishing, and I’ll be looking for his next title with considerable anticipation.