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Publisher's Summary

"This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian." (Publishers Weekly)

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival. 

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck - enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother - meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane. 

Instead, she got Em. 

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials and has no qualms using them as a leash - and a lash. And Em has secrets, too....

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies - missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations - drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler that calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive - she must confront the ghosts in her own head. 

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

©2019 Caitlin Starling (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

Featured Article: The Best Sci-Fi Horror Audiobooks of All Time


Sci-fi and horror are two genres that just make sense together. Swap haunted mansions for abandoned space ships, ghosts for virus-created zombies and experiments gone wrong, and the eerie darkness of the woods for the deep vastness of space, and it’s easy to see why these two genres make for a classic, thrilling combination. Here are our picks for some of the best sci-fi horror audiobooks of all time.

What listeners say about The Luminous Dead

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Don't Trust the Description.

I love The Martian and enjoyed the Area X books. This is not those. At first, it's very promising, delivering an intriguing setting and interesting description of futuristic cave exploration tech suits. But that's the peak. The rest of the book is interpersonal drama between its only two characters, with the main one self-sabotaging things at every turn. If you like stories about middle school girls fighting over walkie-talkies, you might enjoy this.

33 people found this helpful

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Not The Martian, Not Claustrophobic

I listened to this more than a month ago but didn’t write a review at the time because I felt it would have been too harsh. After a month, I still consider this to be the worst audiobook I have listed to from Audible. The best I can summarize is it features two codependent personalities, one a sociopath and one a masochist, who fall in love while considering the other to be either disposable or a murderer. I listened to the whole thing thinking there had to be a final moment of justice to make the journey worthwhile. SPOILER ALERT: There wasn’t. Sorry to give such a poor review of an author's efforts but I’d really like you to save your credits for almost anything else.

19 people found this helpful

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Decent but frustrating

The story was good enough to keep me listening until the end, and the narration is quite good given kind of weak material.

The book is frustrating because it is somewhat like the Martian, except the characters have the emotional maturity of drunk adolescents and respond to every adversity with some combination of panic, recrimination, and suicidal impulses.

Characters oscillate between love, hate, contempt, distrust, trust, respect, despair, you name it. Huge minute-by-minute swings that seem arbitrary and disappear as quickly as they appeared.

It’s a good premise for a book, but it’s not a great book.

15 people found this helpful

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parents issues galore

the entire book is two people crying about parental issues. not worth wasting 15 hours listening to

9 people found this helpful

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Not what I expected, liked it anyways

I was warned off this book by friend who knew I didn't particularly enjoy (understatement) slow-burn horror. However, the cover was interesting (I was down for some hand-shaped submersibles! .... I realized a quarter of the way in that that wasn't a hand shaped submersible) and Adenrele Ojo did a decent job with the narration sample that I listened to, so I decided to step outside my comfort zone.

I liked The Luminous Dead. I didn't love it, but I admired the fact that Starling could still easily hook me and pull me through a story that I found to be not the least bit scary and filled with a romance angle that had me wanting to reach into the book and slap some sense into Gyre.

In less talented hands, I would have DNFed this book partway through. In Starling's, I was left yelling at the book: "It ain't love, honey. Put your hormones away. That b*tch is crazy! You can get laid once you're away from her!" (There might have been more expletives involved.)

I don't object to unhealthy relationships portrayed in text, though. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it has to portray perfect romances. I do hope, however, that no one reads this and thinks "Oh, how romantic!"... Because it's not.

The idea for The Luminous Dead is simple yet effective. Stick a person so deep in a cave that they might as well be on another planet (regardless of the fact that they actually are on another planet in the story), give them access to only one person - have them realize early on that the persona was crazy and play with the story from there.

I felt like as the book got further along there was so much more attention on the developing "relationship" than the fact that Gyre was pretty much constantly in a life threatening situation. So I absolutely loved it when some of the horror elements finally came into play.


One particular scene had me grinning with sheer appreciation. Striving that hard to get your wish is always going to backfire spectacularly, isn't it?

Overall,while I can't say that The Luminous Dead was my cup of tea, I did enjoy it. I think Caitlin Starling is a talented writer and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next.

5 people found this helpful

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  • TS
  • 02-16-20

Great narrator, horrible story

I can't believe how slow this book is. I feel like it took hours to even get to the point and then once it got there I didn't even care. The narrator was great, she breathed life into an otherwise horribly boring story.

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Too long

Should have been much shorter. Repetitiously repetitious, with many chapters essentially the same as one another.

2 people found this helpful

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Not for everyone but perfect for me

Some things to know going into this book: it has a slow-pace and a heavy, isolated atmosphere. It is character-driven and essentially only has two characters, who are messy and flawed. It’s a slice-of-life, if your life happens to involve dangerous and sketchy caving expeditions on another planet.

These are all things I absolutely loved. I loved seeing Gyre and Em develop both as individuals and in relation to one another. I loved that I felt curious for the majority of the book. I loved the tension of having an unrealizable narrator. I LOVED Gyre’s caving suit, which (other than the background planetary discussions) is the primary sci-fi focus. If these are all things you might also love, I highly recommend checking out this book.

2 people found this helpful

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Not worth the credit

The only part of this book that is sci-fi is it’s setting. You could quite literally set it in Mordor or your backyard and nothing about the story would change. The protagonist self sabotages at every opportunity and the moments when you think the horror is about to set in the author completely glosses over it and outright refuses to engage. This book is 14 hours of bland lifeless trash. Don’t even bother.

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The indefinitely long boring cave is a metaphor.

The entire story drug on three times aso g as it needed to, in a dull, lifeless dezcribed cave. Protagonist spends the whole time sabotaging herself, and causing almost all of her problems.

Despite the premise, it's just two people in drab, lifeless bath water sci fi arguing with eachother and being shitty.

It goes on forever, repeating the same lines of thinking, over and over again with very little variation. Perhaps the poorly described cave as a metaphor for the story as a whole.

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  • Simon
  • 04-03-19

Oozing Claustrophobia

This is definitely not one for anyone with a fear of confined spaces. This is tightly packed, a woman, Gyre, alone in the often cramped tunnels of a massive and largely uncharted cave system. Alone in a tight, mechanical suit essential for keeping her alive but most importantly alone in her own mind as fear and paranoia mount. It's also a very tight book in that there are only two main characters to all intents and purposes as Gyre proceeds only with the company of her remote handler Em. There is a fair amount of detail about caving albeit with a certain level of sci-fi embellishment in terms of equipment.

There is plenty to like, the slow burn of increasing paranoia, the uncertainty about whether Gyre is alone in the cave system for long periods is sometimes well done. However, the publisher's suggestion that this has the 'intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity' doesn't do it any favours. The Luminous Dead takes its time, it delves deep into Gyre's feelings and emotions and holds no fears of repetition. It explores the ongoing relationship between Gyre and Em, two women seemingly poles apart and with literally miles of rock separating them who discover that they have similar drives and obsessions but also crucial differences. Anyone imagining hordes of zombies from the book title is going to be disappointed.

In some ways given the very restricted character set Adenrele Ojo's narration skills were not put to the sternest test. I thought she did a good job even if she isn't the most interesting to listen to during the narrative parts. I thought she really came into her own though during the dialogue and particularly the emotional or stressful scenes.

So, in all, I found this went on just a bit too long to really grab me. There was considerable repetitive thinking developing layers and resolving emotional issues from each of the women's lives, a voyage of discovery for both of them. For my personal tastes, I think the book could have been edited down a little but it will clearly depend on how much each reader feels they are invested in the characters. As I said the blurb talked about this having the drive of 'The Martian' and 'Gravity' but this really isn't what it delivers. For me, too much of the book was spent on fairly repetitive internal monologues and discussions while Gyre and Em moved in seemingly ever-decreasing circles. The ending while also dragged out a little bit more than necessary I probably enjoyed the most but I have to confess I was a little relieved to get there.

12 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • john morley-smith
  • 10-27-20

annoying narrator

can't get past the first chapter the narrator's voice is too annoying with repetitive inflection on every sentence

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • MJ
  • 05-18-22

Boring

Boring, annoying & nothing new. I don't like leaving negative reviews but this is simply a poor book

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Edward
  • 04-09-22

Worth a go.

So firstly this isn't the worst thing iv read/listened to, but it's certainly not the best either. Atmospheric and tense in places but I found that tension being ruined by a rather unlikable character. (trying to avoid spoilers). It's worth a go but considering I searched for horror and this came up, horror it is not.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • SKELTER
  • 02-26-22

Very disappointing

I expected a sci-fi/horror story, boy was I wrong. How this author fails at both sci-fi and horror is beyond me, given the story is set underground on an alien planet. The greatest failure though is the absolute lack of any sense of claustrophobia, quite remarkable.
Best way to describe this book? A meandering conversation while strolling through a cave for no good reason.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • michael harrop
  • 12-16-21

tough job

the premise was strong the execution somewhat solid but its always a struggle with such a small cast to keep it energetic and compelling especially with a genre of sci-fi horror. the narrators performance was excellent. the lo-fi sci fi had it's moments and the horror lacked

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Thomas
  • 06-23-21

Great narration of underwhelming material.

The first two hours of this book were incredible. I loved the characterisation, the tension, and the narration, but, I then felt that nothing really happened for the next ten hours.
That wouldn't even be a problem, either, but the issue here is that the story is SO repetitive. It's not just that nothing happens, it's that the same exact nothing happens over and over again.
I was so disappointed with this one, but, you may enjoy it,.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Cleric
  • 08-12-20

Boring nothingness that isn’t horror or sci fi

Endless description of essentially caves are dark and scary. Boring plodding back from point a to point b back to point a. Definitely not horror and barely sci Fi - could just as easily be set on a cave system on earth. Horrendous book, avoid at all costs

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr Martin
  • 06-30-19

Simply boring!

Constantly whining, unlikable characters and hardly any real drama or suspense. I stuck with it until the half way point and finally gave up. No audible credit is worth suffering this dross for one more minute.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-14-22

Different but good

Was not what I expected, I was expecting more about the cave creatures, saying that I really enjoyed it. You could really feel the connections made between the characters. Great portrayal of feelings/emotions. Great narration. Would recommend the book

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-30-22

not my type of book

very repetitive... sometimes boring... sometime annoying...definitely not my type of book. Extremely descriptive!!! Gyre is emotionally dysregulated and has some kind of reactive attachment.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David Gowers
  • 06-03-21

Utterly enthralling

I could hardly stop listening to this one. It was superb, and I genuinely felt every ounce of terror and confusion that Gyre felt when she was cut off from Em. Fantastic writing from Ms Starling, and wonderful performance by Ms Ojo.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • AliceVD
  • 05-24-21

5 stars

Think gothic in space. Think a haunted house in another planet's unexplored caves. It's character-driven and psychologically paced. It's not for everyone but, damn, it works for me!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-01-20

Best Thriller/Horror Story

I loved the overall story. The details of the sci-fi world made it so interesting to listen to. The voice actor realllly bring this story to life. I don’t think I would of enjoyed it as much if I just read the book myself. She does an amazing job of voice all the characters and puts so much emotion into it. Absolutely fantastic story and dramatic reading.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Rob
  • 08-27-20

Not for guys

I thought I was getting a sci fi thriller, what I got was hours of 'I love you, I hate you'. I hope I never meet anyone as messed up as these two characters.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-04-20

Great concepts weighed down by doughy writing.

Ojo has a beautiful voice, but like many narrators, falls into a distracting singsong rhythm.