Genre: Sci-Fi, Space Exploration
About The Book
In the year 2069, humanity’s last chance for peace is the first ever interstellar mission. A multi-national crew of the most talented scientists and pilots has been chosen based on their expertise and skill. The final spot aboard the craft is assigned as a prize in a global “BerthRight” lottery, and Leif Grettison is the “everyman volunteer” who won.
However, Leif isn’t really an “everyman.” He’s a helicopter paramedic, a lab tech and a former army ranger who fought in The Troubles – a decade plus war that brought the world to the brink of apocalypse. He’s the perfect brawn to the brains aboard the ship and quickly finds himself playing the role of security and handyman as the crew begins to fragment and divide by country, just as they had during the war.
Little is known about the world circling the distant star that is the target for the voyage and the journey will take almost fourteen years, Earth-time, each way. To deal with the unexpected, the crew has the finest equipment and the planners believe they have thought of everything. However, when you believe you have thought of everything, the universe has a way of showing that you haven’t.
What do you do when it goes wrong, when you can’t call for help, and when adventure leads to deaths?
I picked up this book with some excitement. I love space exploration tales, and throw in a little Near Future prognostication, and I’m in heaven.
The book takes place about 47 years from now, on a future Earth that’s just come out of the Troubles – a period of war and unrest between the three superpowers, China, Russia, and the United States. The three powers have signed a truce, part of which requires them to spend much of what they used to pay for defense on a joint space project – the starshot.
When one of the astronauts backs out unexpectedly months before launch, the BerthRight lottery is launched… the chance for a randomly chosen member of the public to take the first journey to the stars.
Leif (pronounced Layf) Grettison is a scientific researcher and part-time paramedic in a partially drowned Florida who is pretty much drifting through life after the end of the troubles, where he was the only survivor of his platoon during a vicious Chinese attack on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. He’s smart and impulsive, but when he’s told he is the winner of the BerthRight Lottery, his initial impluse is to say no.
But soon his girlfriend cuts him loose, and he realizes he has no ties to speak of to keep him Earthbound. So he accepts the spot, and falls into a vipers nest of competing national interests among the crew, who are also resentful that a civilian with no scientific qualifications will be joining them. A civilian who is somehow perfect for the role.
As the resident ex-soldier, Leif falls into the roles of moderator, mediator, and protector of the crew, sometimes from their own bad decisions. The 28 year round trip to the selected destination star and back is only four in relative time, and with the crew in “hib” – hibernation, only feels like a few months.
The new world, dubbed High Noon because it’s tidally locked to its red dwarf star, proves surprisingly habitable, and is teeming with life, some of which will prove deadly. And what happens upon the crew’s ultimate return may be deadly too.
This is a well-thought-out tale – it’s clear that Alexander spent a lot of time researching how interstellar flight would actually work.
It’s told in the first person, and Leif is a somewhat flawed but likeable narrator. Unlike some single-POV books, I never really felt trapped in this one. In fact, Leif’s tendency to roam let me see more of High Noon than I might have expected. Alexander has fun with his target world, surmising how life might survive – and flourish – on a tidally locked planet with a red sun.
He’s also not afraid to axe his characters, and the growing body count gives the story a sharp, realistic edge. Yet Leif, for all he goes through, also manages to see the beauty in this alien world.
If I have any complaints here, it’s in the third act. Once Leif and the remainder of the crew return home, some of the air has leaked out of the balloon, but the story goes on for ten more chapters before wrapping up. The last part provides a keen observation about the likely effects of relativity on the astronauts who return, but it could probably have been done in less time.
Still, that’s a minor complaint. I really enjoyed the book – it was well written with some great surprises and a dash of hope for these dark times we currently find ourselves in. I looked up the publication date. It was published in 2019, and even though Alexander didn’t predict the pandemic, the Troubles he forecasts seem dead-on given where we are today.
And the ending, while not entirely unexpected, was well done and welcomed. I won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say the Universe isn’t done yet with Leif the Lucky.
Grab a copy of this book if you love a good space exploration tale. You won’t be disappointed.
Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.