An experienced astronaut and an untested young scientist lead a mission to the solar system’s outer reaches—where a mysterious force interferes with deep-space probes—in this novel.
In the near future, Ed Walker is an abrasive but courageous veteran NASA astronaut who manages—barely—to survive and save his crew from the harrowing end of the glitch-ridden International Space Station. Meanwhile, on the ground, young academic David Holmes is far ahead of his peers in determining that old, outward-bound space probes that reach the rim of the solar system are simply being plucked out of existence by some inexplicable force. Despite the seemingly incompatible personalities and the age gaps of the two men, an Elon Musk-like, internet/free energy billionaire with political connections forces them together to spearhead the government/private sector expedition of the Helios, a revolutionary, antimatter-powered spaceship headed out beyond the planets. The pioneering joint operation is to pave the way for human colonization, away from an Earth wracked by Sino-American wars and Islamic terror attacks toward the promise of other star systems—and perhaps to confront the ominous force that is causing the disappearance of unmanned NASA hardware. Peterson (Paradox 2, 2018, etc.) manages to satisfy (albeit in unequal measures at times) sci-fi fans of both the Arthur C. Clarke cosmic-wow variety and the more techno-minded aerospace yarn-spinners of yesteryear such as Frank G. Slaughter and Martin Caidin with their launchpad melodramas. This series opener’s middle passages sag under earthbound training exercises, plasma physics jargon, and crusty Ed’s bottomless supply of astronaut gossip about Alan Shepard and Sally Ride and his nostalgia for the lost Gemini era, when men were men and had the right stuff. But when the plot finally reaches the unknown void beyond Pluto, the payoff goes into macro-cosmic territory, the stuff of Carl Sagan’s finale to Contact—but far more bitter than that scientist/speculator’s ultimate optimism. Two other crew members, both women, register as lesser blips on the narrative’s radar, and Ed’s estranged, nagging wife fearfully demonstrates why a retirement-age pilot ace would face enigmatic and hostile aliens billions of miles away rather than go on a marital date night. A nonfiction essay-cum-bibliography by Peterson concludes the book.
A sometimes-stirring space trek tale, with intriguing science and dark matter along the way.