A billionaire enlists a noted ex-advertising man to promote space tourism for a public that, in light of a recent UFO sighting, may be a bit wary in this sci-fi-infused sequel.
Convincing the world that a man named Sebastian was the Messiah reborn was just another gig for Mal Thomas. But now he’s famous, with his resultant book a best-seller that has turned him into an “accidental spiritual guru” approached by random strangers. He catches the eye of Huw Hudson, CEO of Space Rider, who aspires to provide outer space tours. Space tourism could be a reality in a matter of years, but a phenomenon in Mthatha, South Africa—unexplained lights and a rugby ball shape—may prove a detriment. Hudson wants Mal to allay any of the public’s potential fears of contact with an alien species. But FBI Special Agent Chloe Swift sees reason to distrust the CEO: she’s unofficially investigating the disappearance of Italian cold fusion physicist Aldo Totti. The physicist vanished while vacationing in Florida but he may have visited Hudson’s Brazilian facility. Mal heads to Mthatha to talk to the town residents, and he and Swift soon deduce that the reputed UFO may have been a hoax, part of a coverup to conceal Hudson’s true agenda. Much of Holden’s (Sea of Doubt, 2016, etc.) story plays like a compelling mystery: the puzzling lights, the missing scientist, and later someone’s kidnapping. The sci-fi elements are minimal but absorbing, especially once whatever Hudson has at his facility is revealed. Mal is a likable, fully developed protagonist who recognizes his faults. He acknowledges that Hudson could be manipulating him, simply because Mal has previously succumbed to similar maneuvering. Mal also observes situations as a sci-fi fan (he’s an admitted Trekkie), though the deft descriptions fortunately don’t rely on pop-culture references. For example, he may anticipate the USS Enterprise for a craft’s cockpit but recounts instead an atypical “cavernous interior.” The eventual diverting foray into sci-fi territory is a revelation for Mal, both as an extraordinary event and a personal experience.
An understated genre tale that should engage readers with its smart, lighthearted tone.