In this debut sci-fi novel, a world already facing nuclear devastation may be under threat from an unexplained space phenomenon.
In 2066, U.S. President Antoinette Proust has a potential crisis on her hands. Numerous regions around the globe are participating in nuclear activity, an outright violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Unfortunately, the problem is considerably graver than nuclear testing. Mossad agents Hannah Rabin and David Strauss have recently uncovered evidence of more than 50 black market transactions involving sales of atomic bombs. This indicates that unknown terrorist groups worldwide could be in possession of 50 nuclear weapons. Around the same time, an observatory in Chile notices missing star clusters and a strange void of darkness suddenly appearing in space. This phenomenon, which the United States eventually dubs Tilly, shares traits with a black hole, though scientists immediately debunk that possibility. Even if no one can identify it, it’s only 240,000 miles from the planet and, therefore, a probable danger. Tilly’s gravity, for one, appears potent enough to “swallow light,” and that level of power would be catastrophic if the singularity moves closer to Earth. Meanwhile, the president, anticipating terrorist strikes around the world, considers relinquishing America’s current isolationism and returning to foreign intervention. She soon learns of Tilly, which renowned astrophysicist Dean Peterson and others are debating at NASA headquarters. A theory on what Tilly is, based on a similar marvel in 1914, may lead to a solution regarding the impending threat of nuclear disaster.
Meckfessel takes an unusual but engrossing multigenre approach to the narrative. It begins as an espionage story: Hannah and David are on assignment to infiltrate dubious art dealer Josef Doubhani, who’s actually Amir al Suhenaddin, a chemical weapons supplier. The tale even highlights the agents’ relationship, as the two lovers make plans to leave Mossad. The action then abruptly shifts to an orbital space station and later introduces myriad additional characters, such as Nambuko, a man leading a band of travelers to Ethiopia. Though jarring at first, the ensuing abundance of character perspectives proves advantageous, helping to maintain a consistently brisk momentum. For example, theoretical discussions of Tilly unfold in multiple short scenes that don’t slow down the tale. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s ample dialogue, but the author illustrates the ongoing tension via description; at one point, the only activities in a room at NASA are a typing keyboard, someone pacing, and a tapping pen. Some characters and subplots are a mystery in terms of their connection to the main thread. But each of these has a payoff, including Nambuko as well as Theresa Judge, whose seemingly modest civil rights movement has a serious impact in America. Considering all that the book accommodates—several characters’ backstories; details of the future world; and the startling decision of how to handle Tilly—it’s relatively short. Meckfessel wisely leaves the ending of his concise novel wide open.
An assortment of intriguing characters and subplots neatly packed into a memorable cautionary tale.