A to Z Reviews: “The Butcher of Darkside Hover,” by Jonathan Sean Lyster

A to Z Reviews: “The Butcher of Darkside Hover,” by Jonathan Sean Lyster

A to Z Reviews

Jonathan Sean Lyster only has two published stories, the first appeared in 2020 and the second, “The Butcher of Darkside Hover,” appeared in the  October 2022 issue of Analog. There is a strong resonance between “The Butcher of Darkside Hover” and the classic story “The Cold Equations,”  by Tom Godwin.

The story is set on a base located on the farside of the moon, although as the story progresses, it becomes clear that it is actually in orbit over the farside of the moon, which is one of the issues with the story. Lyster slowly provides details of his world, but never fully and in a manner that means the reader is putting together the pieces to get an idea of what his world looks like. The process means that the reader’s perception is constantly changing regarding the setting when it should be more focused on the problem presented for the characters and their solution.

Cover by sdecoret

Told in flashback, one of the survivors when a supply ship damaged the station is telling someone the story of how one of the members of the team received the titular nickname. Aside from the suggestion that the listener call her by that nickname, the majority of the story focuses on the tale of survival rather than the nickname, which, of course, is eventually revealed, in more detail than Lyster offers about the setting. The eventual explanation is not as expected, but it is also anticlimactic.

Another of the problems with “The Butcher of Darkside  Hover” is that although Lyster sets up the problem with the number of people the shuttle can hold from  the point of view of the capacity of the craft, he also notes limitations of the shuttle’s  life support system. While his  solution takes the former restriction  into account, it ignores the latter, which is, arguably, more important.

Just as “The Cold Equations” is a story of survival in the harsh environment of space where the physical laws of the universe rule, so, too, must the characters of Darkside Hover deal with those same absolutes. Rather than being the story of the survival or death of two individuals, Lyster offers the potential death of several people stationed at the base. In the short four pages, he isn’t really able to build up many distinguishing or sympathetic details for any of his characters which undercuts the tension of the situation.

“The Butcher of Darkside Hover” could easily be expanded to make it more than just a story of a character’s nickname by filling in details and giving the characters more backstory to make the reader care about them more. As the story stands, it is an entertaining story, but one which offers more potential than it achieves.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a twenty-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for eight years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference six times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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