VOYAGE by Stephen Baxter


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 Tom Clancy meets Tom Wolfe as newcomer Baxter crams a shifting cast of dozens into this obsessively researched revision of the American space program, the payoff for which is a manned landing on Mars. Back in the late '60s, with Kennedy dead and Nixon in the White House, the country's appetite for interplanetary exploration waned. The next step after the Apollo missions was a voyage to Mars, but NASA was pulled back. Baxter imagines what might have happened if Kennedy had lived and cajoled the nation into visiting the Red Planet. He anchors his relentlessly propulsive narrative on three characters: Gregory Dana, a scientist and concentration camp survivor who detests the German rocket scientists' affection for Big Science, preferring a more elegant (and less costly) route to Mars; Ralph Gershon, an African-American astronaut on the Mars missions; and Natalie York, a geologist who escapes two importunate lovers--one a nuclear rocket scientist, the other an astronaut--to make her awkward way Marsward. The story deftly incorporates the history of the actual Apollo missions, making the mission to Mars seem a natural outgrowth of the moon landings. Indeed, the mission ultimately ends up looking a lot like the Moon program: York, Gershon, and the third astronaut, mission commander Phil Stone, are stuffed into a rickety can for the long journey, then blasted into space. The author does a nice job of focusing on his three astronauts' individual experiences of the trip. Perhaps more dazzling than the voyage, though, is the imagined high tech that gets Americans to Mars. Baxter adroitly passes off science fiction as (detailed) science fact. Technophiles will find this endlessly appealing; sci-fi devotees will appreciate the sly Star Trek and 2001 references. For a little tragic juice, there's even a fair emulation of the Apollo 13 accident, though with decidedly different results. A wonderful, patriotic tale of lost possibility. Calling Ron Howard. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-105258-2
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996


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