The space station Termagenti—hub of commerce, culture, and civilization—may be haunted. Dangerous power surges, inexplicable energy manifestations, and strange accidents plague the station. Even after generations of exploring deep space, humanity has yet to encounter another race, and yet, some believe that what is troubling the station may be an alien life form.
Jhinsei and his operations team crawl throughout the station, one of many close-knit working groups that keep Termagenti operational. After an unexplained and deadly mishap takes his team from him, Jhinsei finds himself—for lack of a better word—haunted by his dead teammates. In fact, they may not be alone in taking up residence in his brain. He may have picked up a ghost—an alien intelligence that is using him to flee its dying ship. As Jhinsei struggles to understand what is happening to his sanity, inquisitive and dangerous members of the station's managing oligarchy begin to take an increasingly focused interest in him.
Haunted by his past and the increasing urgent presence of another within his mind, Jhinsei flees the station for the nearby planet Ash, where he undertakes an exploration that will redefine friend, foe, self, and other. With Substrate Phantoms, Jessica Reisman offers an evocative and thought-provoking story of first contact, where who we are is questioned as much as who they might be.
"Jessica Reisman's Substrate Phantoms strikes me as a parsec-pioneering SF novel of the highest pedigree. It exists in a matrix of lucid far-future prose, to wit, fresh English with long-tomorrow noir twists. Every page discloses evolved or augmented human beings against the backdrop of a hermetically radical space station, Termagenti, or the dirt-rich gravity well of a partially terraformed planet called Ash.
Substrate Phantoms presents immemorial human acts in variations as strange as any 21st-century reader could imagine, but always in contexts emotionally resonant. I think it an out-and-out breakthrough, with mystical and sociological roots trailing back to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Indeed, true aficionados of humane hard SF will applaud Ms. Reisman for bequeathing them this beautiful tale of a heretofore uncreated tomorrow."
—Michael Bishop, author of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire
"A brainy beautiful space adventure that conjures wonder from the quotidian detail of everyday life, real longing for authentic community, and language as freshly vivid as the beautiful planets you once imagined—a book that lets you see nets of coruscating light in the darkness."
—Christopher Brow, author of Tropic of Kansas
"In Substrate Phantoms, Jessica Reisman brings us a tale that ensues after an alien derelict is towed to space station Termagenti and the Tiyo corporation takes possession of it. As Tiyo strips the derelict of a valuable new material, its alien intelligence seeks recognition through Jhinsei, a fragile ops worker suspected of sabotage by station police and dismissed as a "headcase" by coworkers. Substrate Phantoms evokes the stories and characters of CJ Cherryh and the social complexity of Maureen F. McHugh, ringing insightful twenty-first-century changes on classic sf tropes and questions. It's a sharp, fun read."
—L. Timmel Duchamp