Nichols' debut novel is a tense tale of an astronaut's return to Earth after nine years away and her struggles both to rejoin her former life and to solve the mystery of her own survival.
Catherine Wells was part of a six-person team, the first humans to land on another planet outside of Earth’s solar system. Unfortunately, only she has returned—three years late, long after the whole crew was assumed dead—and she can't explain either her missing team or anything that happened on the planet itself due to amnesia. NASA wants answers, especially because a second mission is scheduled for the same planet, and the determined Cal Morganson is given the job of finding them—either through evidence on the ship or through Catherine. Catherine struggles to remember what happened and to process her trauma, survivor's guilt, and long solitude. Her family welcomes her home, but her little girl is now entering college, and her husband was about to remarry. Catherine's fight to reclaim her life grows harder when she begins experiencing hyperviolent urges and blackouts—and finds herself waking up in restricted areas. After a disastrous brush with attempted self-medication via alcohol, Catherine realizes this isn't a problem she can solve on her own. But can she trust the skeptical and hostile Cal? And even if she can, will NASA's administration accept the truth behind Catherine's missing time and what really happened on the fateful mission? The parallel arcs of Catherine's psychological misery and her painful relationship with her family alongside her struggle with the destructive force inside her make for a suspenseful read—even if the pacing of the resolution seems a little too pat and workmanlike.
A strong premise and evocative psychological elements outweigh the story's occasional problems, making this a welcome SF debut.