The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
TITLE: The Luminous Dead
AUTHOR: Caitlin Starling
PUBLISHER: Harper Voyager
LENGTH: 352 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s).
THE LUMINOUS DEAD is dense, claustrophobic, atmospheric horror, dripping with details. It builds a miasma of uncertainty by describing what the MC thinks happened then sometimes admitting that she was wrong, rarely revealing if her guide was mistaken too. The first half lingers on meticulous detail of the path through the caves, so that later we will know why a missing cache is worthy of terror, why the thought of pressing on towards one camp or returning to another elicits a silent scream. It tells in pieces a small and personal history of death underground, the dependence on the only voice around, helplessness when chance, mistrust, and technological failure cause breaches in connection.
I’m finding that I really like this kind of quiet horror. Books where most of the story is just explaining literally what’s happening, but the horror is in what should be happening but isn’t, shouldn’t be happening but is, and the precariousness of having to trust other people about one’s own body, in contexts where it is difficult to control whether or not boundaries will be respected. It understands that gaslighting is isolating and terrifying, and the terror is in being almost sure, wrong once, right once, and then never again being quite certain of what’s really happening. Hallucinogenic substances, involuntarily ingested, may be involved, in various times and manners.
I love this for many of the same reasons that I love Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The settings are very different, but they have many tendrils of horror in common. If you like sci-fi and liked Mexican Gothic, you'll probably like this (and if you like The Luminous Dead and like aesthetic non-sci-fi horror, you'll probably like Mexican Gothic).
CW for mental illness, claustrophobia, drug use (non-consensual), excrement, gaslighting, toxic relationship, grief, loss of limb, body modification/surgery, medical content, death of parent, death.