With Earth's resources on the verge of exhaustion and worldwide civil war imminent, we looked to the stars for answers. Beneath the surface of lifeless planets, we found all the resources we could ever consume.
Stellan Lund is chief security officer aboard the Atlas, a carrier. Life on a carrier is peaceful. As long as the Atlas' crew does its job, the New Earth Council leaves them alone. The only risk is an occasional case of black madness, a mental-break condition that is thought to be caused by extended deep space travel. It's a small risk to take for freedom.
But then Adelynn Skinner, an agent of the New Earth Council, boards and orders the Atlas to uncharted territory where a dying planet with unidentified material waits. It could be the key to ending New Earth's civil war—or it could end civilization as they know it. They will break protocol and mine the planet before its red giant star consumes it because some risks are worth taking.
Stellan isn't about to let Skinner jeopardize the Atlas or its crew, but with mounting disturbances and rising concern over the black madness, Stellan struggles just to hold the ship together.
When an accident exposes some of the crew to the alien material, reports of black madness escalate. But something about these cases is different—and it seems to be spreading.
Combining character-rich storytelling, a dynamic plot, dystopian themes, and suspense that builds into an avalanche, Carrier follows Stellan Lund as he discovers he carries the fate of a world and that sacrificing whatever remains of his soul may be necessary to survive. Carrier is an action-packed, horrifying contemplation of what it means to be human and heroic, ultimately investigating how the most beautiful human traits may lead to the destruction of all that we hold dear.
Because some risks are worth taking. What would you risk to survive?
Timothy Johnson is a writer and editor living outside Washington, D.C., where he recently earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. His published writing includes the novels The Pillars of Dawn and Carrier as well as short fiction from Gamut, Haven Speculative, Deracine Magazine, Crystal Lake Publishing, and Inked in Gray Press. He was editor-in-chief of Phoebe Journal of Literature and Art, and in 2021, he was an Alan Cheuse Center Fellow and a Pushcart Award nominee for his story, “I Am Emergent.” He is a member of the Horror Writers Association. Nothing frightens him more than the future, so he writes about it in hopes he is wrong.
Carrier by Timothy Johnson Is a mysterious thriller set against the backdrop of space travel. It centres on the crew of the Atlas and glances at their lives, their history and their reasons for signing up to be the crew on a ship that travels hundreds of miles away from the planet Earth. Everyone on board the Atlas is looking to escape something; whether it be the new totalitarian regime on Earth or the decisions they made in a past life, for everyone on board the Atlas, this is their home. Everything changes when a secret agent for New Earth’s Council comes on board and orders them to the edges of space to obtain a mysterious material from a dying planet. When they do the haven that was the Atlas becomes anything but, and some difficult decisions need to be made.
What author Timothy Johnson has crafted here is superb. Carrier blends together mystery, suspense, horror and science fiction into this energetic tale that pulled me in and did not disappoint. Johnson created such a vivid world on board the Atlas that at every turn and twist in the story I was at the edge of my seat and felt fully immersed. There are a few characters we get to hear from and they are just as expertly rendered in the book as the storyline that you feel like they are about to jump off the page and start a conversation with you.
Johnson strives to pack in as much detail and imagery as possible into every scene and every interaction, which is sometimes detrimental to the storyline. Johnson’s tendency to load up on descriptives can sometimes bog the reader down and slows the progress of the plot. The book is also heavy with symbology which at times is woven seamlessly into the story and other times sticks out like a sore thumb, but if you are a fan of mysteries with a touch of science fiction and romantic turmoil this is the book for you.
My greatest hope for this book is that it be turned into a movie pronto, because it is beautifully set up for an adaptation and is a story that desperately needs to be up on the big screen.
People use the phrase "world building" too much. It's annoying. Every novel nowadays is "world building" because it's not set in a real place, or a real time, or it's in space, or whatever. That phrase should be saved for books which truly reinvent an entire existence, encapsulated and separate from the reality which we know. New languages, new cultures, new idioms, new subtleties and gestures and ways of life.
Timothy Johnson does not partake in world building with Carrier. But he does something that can be even better. He constrains, confines both the characters and his reader with not a world, but a world within a world. He takes humans, creatures who are known for their deep sense of exploration and need for physical freedom, and he restricts them to a designated location wherein there is practically no escape, no release.
And it is terrifying.
Space, the huge, empty, vast vacuum which surrounds the characters is not the final frontier, it is the dirt which surrounds their coffin. And the coffin? The ship which they are on. From the very beginning of the book, Johnson makes it clear that the transport ship which his characters are on is their world. Not just because it's the place where they live, where they work, but because it has a deeper meaning to each of them. Some of the characters show a love and affection for this lumbering behemoth the way they would for a car that has taken them away from the pains of past lives, allowed them to move along and find something new in life. For others, the ship is a representative of their own solitude, how they've never been able to truly connect with others, though they are constantly surrounded. Never is there a simplistic character in Carrier, but instead all who appear before the reader are fleshed out people, all with backstories sometimes told and sometimes not. And for each of them, the ship, their mission, whatever and whichever, is a metaphor for who they are, what they love, or what they fear.
Symbolism seems to be an important thing for Johnson. In Carrier, nothing is one-toned or exists solely for the purpose of moving the story forward. Everything has meaning, is a physical representation of an emotional state for one of the characters. And because Johnson populates his novel with so many of these characters, the scenes depicted, the spaces created take on a sense of realism that not many authors can find. It's like walking through a room filled with trinkets gathered by the most nostalgic of us, labeled with the story that the owner thinks of whenever they see it. And since those threads are so tightly sewn, the characters are able to interact in a way which seems more than natural, it's familial.
Johnson's writing style isn't one of crisp sharpness. That's not to say that it's slovenly or lazy; each word is picked for a reason, and plays a part in a grander scheme. He tells the story through prose, by allowing the inner workings of the characters to be presented. He takes what's happening and shows it to the reader by opening up his characters' minds, by letting us crawl inside their bodies and feeling things the way the character feels them. There's more than one section where very little 'action' happens, because what's more important is the happenings inside of his protagonist's mind, or heart, or soul, and each of those things is yanked out and given to the reader to explore as they see fit. Grazing over the narrative of Carrier would be an injustice to it. This book calls out for full attention, for a deeper, analytical examination of what's going on and what the things presented may really mean.
Carrier is not a kick in the door guns a-blazing kind of book. It's a fuse, long and winding. And it isn't until it nears the end that you realize the tinderbox it is moving towards for the inevitable explosion is your own personal investment in the characters.
He doesn't build a world. He grows people... and then ruthlessly takes them away.
This book was relatively long, it doesn't seem that way by page number, but overall it is a little long in the sense that it does set up what is going on and there is a lot of conversation. That conversation while it does not detract from the story line and in many instances it adds to the story line. While this is a science fiction, it does border on horror and there are some situations where it very much more horror rather than just traditional science fiction. I overall enjoyed the book and I enjoy the author's writing style for the most part.
There’s plenty to like about Carrier. Let’s start with something simple: if you liked the Dead Space video games, read this book. If you’ve read Brian Evenson’s novelisation Dead Space: Martyr, read this book too if you want to see similar ideas done with a lot more depth and authorial skill. If you haven’t read the Dead Space books, don’t bother. Read Carrier instead. It has the build up and climax to satisfy anyone who liked the carnage and eeriness of walking Isaac up and down the Ishimura with an arsenal of weapons, but with the addition of characters you as the reader should feel like rooting for a whole lot more.
The protagonist Stellan has plenty about him to make him engaging and encourage you to root for him. Carrier’s biggest strength is that it draws on flashback scenes and backstory so effectively that not only do the characters become realistic people but the scenes set in the past are in many ways as engaging as those set in the present. In a world where many writers are encouraged to keep backstory to a minimum and ground things in the present, it was nice to see a book that was unafraid of making the past equally important. If anything I would have liked even more about the background and the setup behind New Earth and further world building. Info-dumps are kept pretty concise in Carrier and Timothy Johnson as the author most likely did a fair amount of cutting and chose what was important quite carefully, but some things felt a little bit unexplored to me (no details to avoid spoilers.)
Tim Johnson has a skill with descriptive language and comparison. The atmosphere on the ship Atlas is all there for the reader to enjoy thanks to this, and a number of situations are rendered all the more believable thanks to the perceptive and inventive comparisons in the narrative. Where Carrier falls slightly short of the mark, in my opinion, is that there is a little too much soul-searching during the later action stages. By that point, I felt like I understood the characters and just wanted them to get on with everything rather than being reflective, or having reflection handed to me by the author as well. This is where the description and the profoundness started to weigh the narrative down a little too much, but up until the last third of the book I liked how all that added to the depth.
If you enjoy having a certain measure of ‘sympathy for the devil,’ then one particular character (no name, no spoilers) and this book in general is probably for you. Your perception of many characters is Carrier will most likely change at some point - even the people with redeeming features become questionable in one way or another. Tim Johnson pulls this off with some nice slight-of-hand. Sympathy for people who might (arguably) have done the wrong thing is very much in the ballpark here. On a second read, certain scenes will read differently, and there is some beautiful subtext that you will probably detect the first time around but the narrative will most likely still fool you. This is, in my opinion, one of the marks of a good author. Plus the emphasis is on the fiction rather than the science, and this is accomplished through the focus on character/people.
I wrestled with whether this should be a three star review or four for a while, and what it came down to is that there’s a certain amount of predictability about Carrier. It’s the kind of story I’ve seen before, and it conforms to a lot of sci-fi conventions and a certain amount of predictability even though it’s well written and has the kind of character depth and reflection that I like. I found an exciting story here with lots of action, but nothing new. I got a certain amount of wow-effect from some great one-liners and some descriptive passages that made me admittedly jealous of the author, but the book as a whole didn’t blow me away. I did enjoy the ride though, and when the action really kicked off I was sitting and reading for a good few hours to get it finished. It’s a fast read and easy to take in but there’s enough to make you think as well.
Best thing I can say: this is a debut novel, and most debut novelists often don’t do as well as this. If you’re looking for new talent to give yourself a break from big and familiar names in sci-fi/horror, check this book out.
I did enjoy reading The Carrier and I felt a familiarity with the setting that I imagine I've developed from my love of dead space 1 and 2. As a result of that familiar I'm worried my enjoyment may have been stifled. The ship is beautiful. it's design and aesthetic really appeal to my love of a well designed craft. It felt like a home and a working vessel and the characters all treated it as such and with appropriate reverence. Each of the characters were interesting and the shifting POV kept the pace up but at times worked against the tension. I didn't feel I had to know the exact fate of some characters and the extensive detail only added a small tension without major substance. I'm a sucker for technical detail and would have loved a little more about the light drive and the general workings of the ship. maybe details of how the inertia problem was solved or the artificial gravity. All in all an enjoyable zombie story with a reasonably open ended conclusion. Room for follow up but also for extensive prequel material covering the unification and Stellan's time with the corps.
I'd happily read more in this universe even about characters I've not yet met.
Ok let me start by saying that this is one of the best "first books" I've read from a new author. I gave it three stars but that's pretty high for a first book for me. It has many of the hallmarks of a first book such as being overly descriptive, filled with more exposition than dialog or action, and massive back stories.
Where it is different from most first books is that it is rich in world building. It's better edited than 95% of the first books I read, although some run on sentences in the first 50 pages could be revised for the better.
Zombies in space. What's not to love about that?
Characters are well developed, maybe too much at times but that's not a real literary crime.
The setting is great and it really comes to life in the story.
Great first attempt. If I were the editor I'd pare it back a bit but that's the only real negative thing I can say about it. Hope to see more from this author.
But that doesn't really do it justice. (And to be fair, the word "zombies" is never used in the book.)
What the author has done here is created a complex world of three dimensional characters, a multi-layered plot, and enough twists and turns that even a jaded reader like me couldn't figure out what was going to happen next. Just when you think you're reading a sci-fi novel, it slowly becomes a horror novel. And then you're so invested in the characters, that when bad stuff starts happening, you actually care! (And how many novels can you say that about these days?) Brilliant craftsmanship.
If you're a fan of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (the newer version), the first ALIEN, EVENT HORIZON, and any other sci-fi story that kept you on the edge of your seat, this book is for you.