The unexpected, unexplained destruction of Earth sends an experimental faster-than-light starship careening into the cosmos on a desperate mission to save what’s left of humanity.
As in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this kickoff to an interplanetary sci-fi series opens with the callous obliteration of Earth. But this debut novel isn’t a witty satire. The spacegoing humanity of 2339 has spent 100 years studying a mysterious mirror-surfaced “Monolith” (possibly a tribute here to Arthur C. Clarke) found on the Mars moon Phobos, transmitting terabytes of indecipherable information into deep space. In a cave on the red planet itself is the only form of nonhuman alien life ever discovered, “the Black,” an ancient, enigmatic, dangerous pool of organic ooze that devours anything that touches it, including people. Suddenly, shockingly, the Monolith beams a high-energy gamma stream directly at Earth, causing the planet to explode. Left on their own, remnants of humanity scattered on spacecraft and colonies throughout the solar system try to pull together to survive. Their one hope is the Agathon, a newly developed, experimental faster-than-light starship. The audacious, risky scheme involves taking the untested Agathon on a deep-space voyage to locate an Earth-like world on which to relocate survivors—and, if possible, solve the deadly riddle of the Monolith and the Black and what triggered the action against Earth. Chief among the ensemble of characters are Mars explorer/commander John Barrington, designated captain of the Agathon, and his daughter Carrie, both secretly products of accelerated evolution and sharing a telepathic link (they mourn Carrie’s mother, one of the Black’s first victims). While the naming of certain individuals after established sci-fi/fantasy characters suggests a pastiche, this volume offers nail-biting action and pacing that seldom flags. And the astronomical body count, which doesn’t spare key characters, adds a proper sense of jeopardy (as if the near-annihilation of Homo sapiens did not). The Irish author endows the alien component of the yarn with a genuine awe and mystery (at one point, a geologist says of the Black: “We don't know why the hell this ‘stuff’ has been sitting here for millions of years, when its purpose seems to be to absorb organic and inorganic substances on contact”). Weldon concludes the cosmic tale with a cliffhanger promising more revelations ahead.
A compelling sci-fi series that starts with a big bang.