Haunted by the screams of the men he murdered, ex-Marine medic Riff Khora is serving a life sentence on board a prison ship. Seeking more punishment for his crime, he strikes a deal with the corrupt Captain Vidal—an exchange of pleasure and pain—and forges a new life leading the team that surveys space wreckage for salvage.
Ship engineer Zed Jakobsen’s psychometric abilities make prison a sentence worse than death, and the barrage of emotional stimuli is an unending torment. His only regret is that he didn’t kill the monster who sent him to prison, and only a glimmer of hope to escape a judgment he doesn’t deserve keeps him clinging to a brutal existence.
When they board derelict ship Pandora and discover a lone survivor, the hell of prison life plunges into abject horror. An epidemic of violence and insanity consumes their ship, driving the crew to murder and destruction. Mutual need draws Riff and Zed together, and their bond gives them the strength to fight a reality they cannot trust. But Vidal possesses the only means of escape from the nightmare, and he’s not letting anyone leave alive.
I love, love, love science fiction done this way. Pandora is gritty, dark, and horrifying in all the right ways. Riff is an extremely complex character, a masochist with a penchant for punishment, which dovetails into the desires of the sadistic a-hole of the first order who runs the prison ship Riff is incarcerated on. It’s one day after another, existing but not living, until Zed Jakobsen arrives.
See, there’s something going on between Riff and Zed, even when there isn’t anything actually happening. Of course, the captain is quick to judge harshly, and he’s not the forgiving type. That’s why Riff can’t care about anyone else, even if he did feel he deserved to, even when he wants to know more about Zed and what is really going on with him.
But that’s not the only mystery. When Riff’s team is sent to a derelict ship, the strange gets stranger, and things go straight to hell. Literally. The prison ship falls to whatever took out the crew of the derelict, and Riff has to decide if he should submit to the life he’s come to accept as his due for the sins of his past or make a break and help the people who need him the most—Zed included. And, oh… by the way, figure out what in the heck is happening so no one else who doesn’t deserve to die gets turned into bloody bits.
Like I said… gritty and horrifying. Marguerite Labbe’s brand of scifi is amazing in all its darkness. I’d love to see more!