Four couples embarking on a one-way starship expedition aim to colonize a distant world—if their own psychoses and betrayals don’t kill them first.
A European project on a future Earth—beset by disasters and in danger of becoming uninhabitable—institutes a one-way, deep-space mission. Filled with automated systems, durable robots (humanoid and nonhumanoid), and hibernation capsules, an array of Repopulation, Expansion, Annexation Program ships is dispatched from the solar system, each headed for potentially habitable, faraway worlds. Aboard REAP crafts are couples of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, and science expertise, selected to breed and raise descendants in new outposts to preserve the human race. But the dark sides of the voyagers emerge early as REAP No. 23 launches. A high-caste Hindu genius turns out to be a sociopath who bribed his way on to the crew (“He used his broad smile and a transformed happy face frequently, as a tool, as a weapon, as a distraction”). His faithless trophy wife is having an affair with the cheerful Chinese-American captain. Another man, moody and alienated, starts giving in to the worst Islamic fundamentalist traits in his Persian ancestry. As Earth recedes forever, lust and selfish mania threaten the onboard minisociety with doom before a fraction of the journey is even completed. Perry, who wrote Between Love and Money (2007) as Martin Filson, spins a taut, resonant tale based on one of the most familiar tropes in sci-fi. The author tightens the screws of claustrophobia and suspense with aplomb and well-conceived characterizations, which are concerned just as much with matters of emotion (maybe more so) as with circuitry and astrophysics. When the narrative crosscuts to Earth, it turns into another, less urgent story entirely. The chronicle leapfrogs over thousands of tumultuous years—thanks to Einstein’s theory of relativity—while nations rise and decay and humanity loses, regains, and loses again concrete memories of REAP and its meaning. The author provides an afterword detailing the future history inferred in the plotline, and it leaves readers with a sense that much material remains to be mined from the rich universe Perry has persuasively imagined. But readers should come away satisfied with this 18,000-year journey all the same.
Vivid perils and well-realized characters and concepts fuel a space/time voyage.