CELESTIAL by Bill   Lace


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A family’s earthbound trip from Uranus is beset with danger in Lace’s (Tears of Esperanza, 2012) sci-fi novel.

Chief Amma Janko runs Belvedere, a “thermal aerostat,” or airship, in the skies above Uranus. It serves as a base for energy company Magma, which harvests helium-3 for Earth’s fusion reactors. It’s also meant a lot of hard work and late nights away from her husband, Kurtic, a pilot; their 17-year-old daughter, Phoebe; and their 12-year-old son, Dag. As the novel opens, a catastrophe happens: Kurtic’s vessel is lost in an accident. Three months afterward, Dag is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, although Dr. Rosenbaum believes that the condition doesn’t stem from Kurtic’s death but from a sabbatical home four years ago, when the boy became panicked by Earth’s vastness. Belvedere doesn’t have the resources to help him, necessitating another trip to Earth, this time on Magma Tanker 16. Along the way, problems arise with Dag’s medications, leading to scary episodes; Phoebe’s adolescent rebelliousness also causes difficulty, as does Magma’s bean-counting bureaucracy. But the worst trouble arises when they pick up a pair of very dangerous passengers from Titan who are devoted to “purity of body and mind from the adulterations of technology.” To save her family, Amma must draw on her faith in Kurtic’s love and her fierce maternal protectiveness. Lace provides a lived-in, believable world, skillfully integrating technical descriptions into the narrative: “The utilitarian tug...snapped on safety tethers, dialed up its variable-thrust rockets, and plucked us from the cradle extended from the dock.” As imaginatively conceived as the future society is, though, it’s still shown to retain sexist elements of the present: “we were women in a man’s world.” Overall, the characters are well-rounded with assets and weaknesses that contribute to the plot, which follows a strong overall trajectory toward Amma’s acceptance of “something miraculous.” However, some of the novel’s elements feel repetitious (such as the adjustments of Dag’s medication), which can slow the story’s momentum at times.

A complex and involving space adventure with a strong emotional center.

ISBN: 978-1-79230-048-6
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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