In this debut sci-fi novel, researchers desperately work to protect Earth from a planet-munching entity.
On June 20, 2014, Samantha “Sam” Monroe, a research scientist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, gets an alert, the first one she’s heard in six years of working there. Amazingly enough, this one seems to be legitimate and coming from Pluto. Sam immediately calls her superior at SETI, Jennifer Epstein, a senior research scientist, and soon a team of astronomers worldwide assembles to investigate the signal thoroughly. If it truly represents first contact with an alien civilization, it could be “the greatest discovery in the history of mankind.” But humanity might not have long to appreciate this discovery because a huge, massive object or ship methodically consumes Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus and appears to be headed toward Earth—due to arrive in 10 years. Attacking this “Leviathan” won’t work, not even a direct hit from the entire world’s combined nuclear missiles. The best option involves diverting the object, but how to accomplish this? The SETI team allies with scientists, governments, and the Elon Musk–like Muzikayise “Muzie” Khulu, CEO of Khulu Global in South Africa, who has enormous resources. They build and launch a rover, and communication is established with the sender of the beacon, an artificial intelligence. Despite efforts to calm the populace, apocalyptic movements have gained currency and spread panic, leading to dangerous armed resistance to the scientists’ work. Can the joint mission to save the planet succeed before it’s too late?
In his series opener, Williams offers a wealth of well-informed, highly technical, and scientific details that will captivate fans of hard sci-fi. He takes readers step by step through the mission’s reasoning, methods, and machines, as in this excerpt from a description of an advanced spacecraft: “The four rigid, right triangle-shaped polyimide radiation fins were not retractable and were forty meters long, all of which were mounted to the cylindrical structure by way of a series of trusses that ran the length of the craft, made of titanium and tungsten. The four fins also connected to each other with taut titanium cables every ten meters on their outer edges.” Less technically minded readers may find the going slow, but a strong thread through the novel is humanity’s reactions to this epochal event. The author does a nice job of evoking the complexity of responses. Muzie, for example, sees that “a possible existential threat like this can bring untold benefits to the world if we can resolve the problem” and recognize ways to exploit it for power and gain. A slenderer but still important thread involves relationships, as when Sam and Jennifer slowly fall in love. The book’s possible solution to the threat isn’t terribly dramatic by the usual blow-it-up-extravaganza standard but has the virtue of being realistic and leaving room for further development.
When apocalyptic disaster looms, humanity turns to science and technology in this well-crafted tale.