A former astronaut and a plucky TV science reporter team up to expose a long-entrenched cabal.
Screenwriter Tigerman’s sprawling debut novel stretches back 30 years and makes countless quick cuts from (for starters) Texas to Australia, Antarctica, Ukraine, the moon, Mars, and multiple locations in Washington, DC. There, Angela Browning, reporter, host, and co-creator of the award-winning PBS series Science Horizon, receives a surprising package from an anonymous sender; it contains a CD-ROM with pictures of the surface of Mars, which resembles an ancient Egyptian landscape. When official government response to her inquiries proves suspiciously evasive, Angela and her producer Miriam Kresky contact Jake Deaver, maverick former astronaut and fervent Egyptologist. Their probing stirs up enough interest to merit nonstop FBI surveillance bleary-eyed agents Stottlemeyer and Markgrin. The rest of the complicated plot swirls all around them (N.B. Jake and Angela also become lovers.): Flashbacks from 1973 and 1993 pinpoint dicey moments in NASA’s missions to the moon and Mars, respectively, and one of Jake’s colleagues, Colonel Augie Blake, “the last man to walk on the moon,” now works for NASA. Uncertainty about his honesty with Jake adds some tension, while the accelerated melting of ice in Antarctica gives worry to Americans stationed there and some former Soviet scientists continue work on technology to counter SDI, though the Cold War is long over. Key answers rest with “odd bird” researcher Richard Eklund and colleagues, entrusted with a covert project called Mars Underground. The explanation of the Mars pictures comes to the reader in tiny pieces, and, surprisingly, it has serious ramifications for the presidency. There are amusing cameo appearances by Jimmy Carter and Neil Armstrong.
Tigerman impresses more by his ingenuity than his only serviceable prose. The latter, combined with breakneck cuts and jumps, works against reader interest and makes plot pretty hard to follow.