Icarus Incident by Nathan Hart

Mr. Hart’s novella aims to scratch that itch for old school science fiction in the vein of movies like Total Recall and Outland. The story is a straightforward plot concerning a mining outpost riddled with suspicious accidents that conveniently arise whenever a miner is close to getting a payday for seven years of work. The story carries on to its logical conclusion from there.

Icarus Incident is the sort of novella that relies on building tension and explosively releasing it in bursts of action instead of taking the reader through the twists and turns of a carefully constructed plot. That’s certainly not a bad thing (I myself am a fan of anything that involves my favorite Austrian in space shooting things), but in this instance the author fails to build the tension that’s critical for his story to succeed.

The single greatest issue is Mr. Hart’s reliance on telling the reader what the characters are thinking. Instead of showing us a character is nervous through ticks, beads of sweat, rapid glances between security guards, or racing heart rates, the author outright says one of the characters is looking to the other one nervously. It’s not engaging, and in a story where the tension does all of the work it’s a critical shortcoming.

Additionally, the reader gets enough snippets of each character’s inner monologue that there’s no sense of mystery. I was rarely left wondering what someone was going to do or how they were going to do it. Instead, I spent the novella waiting for what I expected to happen to happen. I felt like I knew the characters, but not in the sense that I’d learned about them and developed an attachment over the course of the story. It was more like they’d sat down, rattled off their resumes, then awkwardly ducked out of the office.

The villain is a stock character, worthy of passive loathing and of having his face kicked in by a gorilla with bowling balls taped to its feet, but again, the author gives away too much. About a third of the way into the story there is a scene in which the villain explicitly outlines his motivations, what he aims to do, and how he’s going to do it. It further reduced the tension because the reader knows exactly what’s going to happen.

There’s never a question of what the villain will do next, and besides being an archetype of the evil corporate type, he comes across as a bit flat and stupid. To be fair, the stupid part is entertaining, but he also lacks a henchman that really creates a sense of dread in the reader. The henchman is competent, of course, but he never moves beyond a guy in a suit that happens to roll up his sleeves and whip out a shotgun once.

A good villain is as important, if not more than, the main character in this sort of story. It would have been more effective if the villain only appeared through his henchmen and at the very end of the story. Also, when a villainous henchman shows up in this kind of novella, bad things should happen. The reader should, like when watching the intro of Inglourious Basterds, dread what the evil bastard is going to do.

The last issue is the action. Since there isn’t much tension, the action tends to fall flat. When there is a fight or crisis, it’s a quick tussle that has little meaning. There’s no attachment to the characters, so the reader is never particularly concerned about what happens to anyone. The villains aren’t terribly compelling, so although they deserve horrific deaths, I never felt that fire in my heart that makes me want to leap into the book and smack the ever living crap out of them.

To make a story like this work, the author needed to invest the reader in the main character, the villains, and ratchet up the tension so that the reader is on the edge of his or her seat. None of those things ever quite came together, and it’s unfortunate.

I do believe the writer put a good faith effort into this work, and it’s a type of fiction that I’d like to see more of, the kind of thing that’s fun to crack for an hour and nod in approval as an action hero beats the snot out of people that deserve it. There’s potential in the writing, and I’d like to see Mr. Hart take another crack at this sort of story. Icarus Incident, however, never becomes the story he or the reader wants it to be.

Without a compelling protagonist, villain, or sense of tension that makes the action scenes the frantic release they should be, Icarus Incident doesn’t succeed as the story it’s meant to be. The author has potential, but he wasn’t able to realize it in this instance.

If you want to check out a copy (it’s only 99 cents, a low cost to take a gander) you can pick one up from Amazon here.