In Siemsen’s (The Opal, 2013, etc.) sci-fi novel, scientists embark on a long-distance, one-way voyage—and encounter disaster.
Minerva “Minnie” Sotiras is one of a small group of Earth scientists who’ve devoted their lives to studying the indigenous inhabitants of the planet Epsilon C from the orbital safety of their spaceship. The aliens have formed two polarized civilizations: the Hynka, a brutal, warlike people who live on one side of the planet, and the Threck (Minnie’s specialty), a peaceful, advanced people who live on the other half. Siemsen skillfully sketches in the basic interpersonal dynamics between Minnie and her shipmates, and then kicks off the main plot: a catastrophe renders the ship uninhabitable and sends its occupants fleeing into space in escape pods. As ill luck would have it, the pod containing Minnie and the ship’s captain lands in Hynka territory, and the story rapidly and expertly unfolds into a classic tale of alien survival and adaptation. Siemsen does a seamless job of blending the tech-speak of hard sci-fi and the exotica of alien worlds; the story’s technology is internally consistent and very well-explained, and the bizarre, terrifying animal life-forms of Epsilon C are vividly realized. Best of all, his well-drawn characters are emotionally resonant. Minnie, in particular, is a heroine to root for; she constantly strives to overcome not only the limitations of salvaged equipment, but also her own preconceptions about her colleagues and the natives of Epsilon C. The author has carefully worked out every detail of his story, and manages to infuse a genuine sense of urgency and humanity into a basic, clichéd plot. The action alternates steadily, building to a series of climaxes that, although predictable, are tense and satisfying; the tale also has an appealing sarcastic undertone. Readers of last year’s surprise sci-fi hit, Andy Weir’s The Martian, will find the same great blend of technology and storytelling here.
A highly recommended, character-driven sci-fi novel in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein.