First published back in May of 2016, British author Duncan P. Bradshaw’s novel ‘Prime Directive’ offered up a tasty slice of sci-fi/horror.

DLS Synopsis:
The Mars Pathfinder mission began on 30 May 2021.  Their goal was to set up a base camp on Mars, then test out a number of science projects and equipment, so future missions would know what to expect.  They’d spend two hundred and thirty days on Mars itself, before the crew of the Venturer spacecraft would then pack up and head back home.

There were six astronauts in total on the mission.  The crew consisted of two pilots – the Russian Nikolai Tonev, and the German Sabina Kreuz, who was also the medic.  There was also the engineer Charles Humphries from Great Britain, along with the two botanists – Sanjay Gupta from India, and Mei Qiao Zhang from China.  Finally, there was Dana Fischerman, the geologist.

Dana and Mei’s objective was a simple one.  They wanted to bring back definitive proof of life on Mars.  Early on in the expedition, Mei had found a new microbe, one that had lain dormant, hidden away under the surface of Mars for thousands of years.  However, Dana hadn’t enjoyed any such success.  Their time on Mars was creeping to a close now, but so far, Dana had found little more than a few smelly red rock samples.

For Dana, the past seven and a half months on Mars had gone from being a slight frustration to something akin to a personal affront.  Her anger had turned to her co-workers, causing a growing hostility in their close-knit quarters.

With time running out, Dana decides to go on a solo excursion to the Galle crater, located a hundred kilometres from their base camp.  However, what Dana finds in the darkened bowels of the crater edge, is enough to not only jeopardise the entire mission, but to also threaten the annihilation of everyone back on Earth…

DLS Review:
Man, if you like sci-fi/horror then this one is an absolute must read.  Think ‘The Thing’ (1982) meets ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) in all the best possible ways.  I’ll admit, the cover didn’t make me think “fast-paced, action-packed sci-fi/horror”.  Nor does it give off the vibe of a story bubbling over with adrenaline-pumping horror violence.  Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Bradshaw serves up.  And with big fuck off helpings too!

The initial few chapters are dedicated to the all-important setting of the scene, establishing the characters and generally getting the plot underway.  Bradshaw’s writing alone makes these initial chapters a joy to read in themselves.  The banter-rich dialogue, sprinkled with comical jesting and simmering frustrations makes it even more entertaining.

However, it’s when Dana goes off on her solo exploration to the Galle crater when things really start to get interesting.  In fact, almost immediately the story seems to shift into a completely different set of gears.  Suddenly we have a rising undercurrent of tension that carries you along, all the way to the end of the tale.

Where before, in those early chapters, the novel felt firmly in the camp of science-fiction, now we start edging further and further into the depths of grisly dark body horror.  There’s also plenty of mystery thrown in, which accompanies the unveiling of the otherworldly threat.  Bradshaw purposefully leads us along with this strange mystery, dropping small explanatory breadcrumbs along the way.  However, it’s not until we come close to the tale’s end, when the final pieces of the puzzle are revealed and slotted into place.

Interestingly, Bradshaw never really settles on one principal protagonist.  Initially you’re led to believe Dana will be the main one you’ll be rooting for.  Then her snappy, heavy-PMT attitude starts pushing you away.  From then on, you’ll try to jump onto any number of characters to root for, but as soon as you do, they each bite the dust.

The sheer unpredictability in the novel is undoubtedly one of its key strengths.  It keeps you guessing, questioning and pondering.  The bad-guy in the whole ordeal, a HAL type of psychotic computer drone, plays a spectacular role.  It’s cold, uncaring, ruthless drive is terrifying.  It’s voice and dialogue, delivered to absolute chilling perfection.

The novel has a lot less comedy in it than Bradshaw’s usual bizarro-style offerings.  There are moments when a few cheeky jokes creep into the tale, however, it’s not exactly a gag-rich melee of lunacy like you may otherwise be expecting.

All in all, what you get with ‘Prime Directive’ is one absolute killer sci-fi/horror that not so much steals from many of the genre classics, but instead pays homage to them.  It’s the sort of tale you just love to settle down and plough through.  The writing is excellent.  The narrative, streamlined, solid and neat.  And the characters just pull it all together…especially the unpredictability of when the next one will be dispatched in some delightfully gruesome manner.

Love it, Bradshaw you multiple-genre master.  Just love it.

The novel runs for a total of 137 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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