Ty Arthur’s ‘Empty’ an enjoyable space drama filled with action-packed moments
Plot is a bit light on emotional color, but it doesn't take much away from story, regardless
In his debut novel, Great Falls-based writer Ty Arthur packs as much action into his plot as humanly possible, which makes the story sing throughout.
He also starts with a bang, literally, writing, “The image of circling stars faded as a blinding flash of yellow light pierced Reeve’s slowly opening eyelids.”
It captures your attention and makes you intrigued to find out more. As the story starts to unfold, we come to find out exactly what’s behind this inciting incident. The first chapter ends with nothing going too well for Mr. Reeve, who may or may not have been put into this dangerous situation by the ship’s research priest Lanza, who’s first words he utters are, “You are a poor vessel, and unfit for our needs. Your frame has been rejected.”
The chapter ends with Lanza leaving Reeve, possibly to die, we can only assume, in the worship corridor, which he seals before leaving for good.
The story continues into chapter two with the main protagonist, a Mr. Hansen, being sent from a nearby ship to investigate what happened on the Thorne vessel.
Without giving away any more of the plot, I will say that the start of the second chapter sets the scene of outer space quite well. Arthur writes, “There’s a crushing silence when moving through the void of space. The night’s sky paints a false picture of the cosmos, giving the impression that reality is filled with objects and phenomena. Truthfully it’s more empty than full.”
Hansen faces this enormousness that is space while aboard the Thorne, which he’s left to wander alone and not sure of what he may find in there. It’s haunting to read.
However, as Hansen approaches the Thorne in chapter three, we get to one of my first issues I had with the story.
Up to that point we’re unsure as to why Hansen’s been asked to board the ship other than his superior officer commanded him to do so. Hansen isn’t quite sure, either, as he states, “Giddy at the prospect of seeing the Thorne up close, even if he had no idea why his fortunes had suddenly reversed, the Junior Engineer strode towards the nearest gravity lift at a near-run, as though a Servo might approach at any moment with new orders pulling him away.”
I suppose the thought here was that Hansen isn’t going onto the ship realizing that he’s on a rescue mission, and that by some circumstance he may or may not discover Reeve. I won’t give away what happens in that regard, but, to me, it’s a little less exciting knowing that the protagonist just falls into the conflict he’s about to face. Maybe you may think otherwise, but to me, I’m more the type of reader who prefers conflict that’s between two forces fully aware of what the nature of their differing goals are. Think of an old western where the bad guy says, “there’s not enough room in this town for the both of us.”
The way Arthur uses active words and keeps things moving almost throughout the whole book, is what makes this choice of conflict easier to forgive here. From the words he uses to the scenes he sets, it’s all very set on making sure you’re not resting on your laurels.
What’s interesting is that before reading this book, I was listening to a sci-fi novel, “The Eye of Argon” by Jim Theis. It’s often considered one of the worst, but much-beloved, fantasy novels ever written. I couldn’t help but notice how much more action Arthur packed into “Empty” vs. “The Eye of Argon,” in which there at times will be three or four chapters where literally nothing happens.
I’m also not trying to compare the two books, other than I had recently come across both of them and was struck by their variance in structures.
Another small bit of nitpicking I may offer up with “Empty” is that in a way there were certain points where I wished I could have gotten more of an internal look into the characters, particularly Reeve and Hansen. What was Reeve feeling on an emotional level when he found himself sealed into the worship corridor? With Hansen, other than contempt for his superior, Mr. Planck, how did the emptiness of the universe make him feel?
To be fair, Arthur doesn’t leave those questions totally unanswered, but, I think it could’ve been done more effectively if instead of telling us how Hansen was feeling, he tried a bit more to show us.
For example, toward the end of the third chapter, he writes, “Marveling at the vast empty expanse between each point of light, Hansen felt those darker thoughts creeping in again. Humanity never should have come out here among all this Stygian blackness between the stars.”
Now, I should first mention that the prose isn’t the problem here, it’s that we’re being told what Hansen is feeling in a very eloquent way — but we’re still being told it vs. being shown it.
Maybe if this paragraph instead read something like, “Marveling at the vast empty expanse between each point of light, Hansen held back the urge to reach for the knife in his back pocket and slit his wrists before getting any further into the Stygian blackness that has corrupted men much more sturdy, much more emotionally stable than he. He did his best to control these urges, however, because he understood the magnitude of the situation in which he saw himself.”
Now, you may be thinking to yourself — “But Jake, how can he have a lot of stellar action, as you state, and need more showing vs. telling?”
To that I’d say that what this book does well, real well, in fact, is moving the plot along and making the characters move in ways that make you feel like you’re reading an action movie. It’s a skill in which I wish I could bring more to my own writing and have to tip my cap to Mr. Arthur for doing well.
Where it could use some more showing over telling is when it comes to exploring the emotional impact these characters are experiencing.
One could simply say, “it’s not that type of book and doing that would make it a different story,” and let that be that. For me, though, I tend to find myself more connected to characters who have emotional baggage and real, noticeable flaws that they must overcome in addition to the antagonists.
At any rate, though, these complaints are rather minor looking at the overall picture. The story keeps you interested throughout, and it ends in a satisfying way, so with that, if you’re looking for a well-written story set in the vastness of outer space, check out Ty Arhur’s “Empty.”
You can get it for free on Kindle, or purchase a paperback for $7.99 on Amazon here. When he’s not writing fiction, Arthur also writes heavy metal and gaming articles for MetalUnderground.com and GameSkinny. “Empty” is published by Mirror Matter Press out of Kyle, Tx., the sister organization of Sinister Grin Press.