In this sci-fi adventure novel, an interplanetary probe heading for Pluto reveals that part of the solar system is missing.
In Donovan’s debut, a provincial president of the United States relegates space exploration to the back burner when he orders draconian budget cuts to NASA. Fortunately, Jake Conrad, who heads up the New Horizons project, is allowed to see his mission through to fruition—an interplanetary probe two years out from a rendezvous with Pluto. Good thing, too, as Conrad’s team discovers an incredible anomaly in the Kuiper Belt on the outskirts of the solar system: The dwarf planet Eris and its satellite, Dysnomia, seem to be gone. The team soon discovers that the two planets have joined together to form an alien spacecraft, which aims to harvest the entire solar system, including Earth. The novel follows a diverse group of nine people as they’re brought together in an effort to save mankind. Donovan introduces each in his or her own chapter, creating sympathetic, three-dimensional characters without bogging down the narrative. Each is dissatisfied with their present-day life and yearning for more, and the New Horizons discovery provides each with their life’s calling. Along the way, three of the protagonists—Kate Runningfox, an intern for the Kuiper Belt Research Team; Mike Spence, a former Shuttle Commander, and Cecilia Behl, a microbiologist—ultimately help the aliens’ highly advanced artificial intelligence communicate with the people of Earth. Donovan’s prose is crisp, and the novel’s pacing is sharp, but there are a few occasions where the narrative stumbles. For example, some of her characters’ disdain for religion makes for some forced-sounding dialogue (“That’s what’s so great about this country. You have the freedom to handle this however you want. But what you don’t have is the right to force your views on me!”). At one point, an antimatter explosion creates a mile-wide crater in Texas, the government explains it away as a uranium “accident,” and, somehow, it only lasts a month in the news cycle. However, the overall story is so intriguing that readers are likely to shrug off any incredulity.
A fast-paced, thoughtful adventure likely to please sci-fi fans.