With humor and desperation to save humanity commingling, Weir in his third novel recaptures the irresistible charm and trepidation that suffused The Martian. So, fasten your spacecraft seatbelt and don’t expect to come up for much oxygen as this scientific mystery thriller lifts off into outer space.
A space plaque has started devouring our sun, such that in a generation Earth will be plunged into a cold age that even human ingenuity cannot survive. A kick-ass international uber-commander woman, Stratt (first or last name? Her background is shrouded in secrecy) has been empowered by all the world’s leading governments to use supplies she needs, and any personnel she desires, to come up with a quick and incisive plan of defense.
Able to cut through any red-tape, and with the world’s scientists, armies, and governmental resources at her disposal, Stratt starts by going after Ryland Grace, a middle school science teacher whose microbiology PhD thesis on the possibility of non-water-based alien life got him both booted from his PhD program as well as academia. Treated as a laughingstock by academics, he’s immersed himself in getting his adolescent students enthusiastically fired up about science. Turns out, he may have been on to something.
Stratt drags Grace from his classroom and to an isolated biology lab to be the first human to look at the captured strange microbes that move in wiggles and have formed an arc between the Sun and Venus. They may be our first vestiges of alien life, as well as a threat to our entire planet. Grace marvels at all the cutting-edge microbiology lab equipment at his disposal and goes about testing the microbes with the same enthusiastically relentless enthusiasm with which he teaches teens. And turns out, Grace not only survives as Stratt’s test-subject of possible death by exposure to the microbes but makes several huge discoveries about how they operate.
Stratt is off and running to divvy up the microbes, 5 per lab, to leading scientists around the world. Grace begs her for just 3 and continued access to the lab. More ingenuity by Grace follows, until he solves the huge mystery of how they reproduce. Suddenly, he’s worth a ton to Stratt and whisked off in military jets until rendezvousing with her on a South Seas military navel carrier.
Meanwhile, a second story unfolds simultaneously in alternating chapters, where Grace wakes up in a spaceship, has absolutely no memory of who he is or where he is, and finds two dead fellow crewmates who have become decimated cocoons in their sleeping pods. As Grace concentrates to bring back his memories, he plunges headfirst into his one-way, no-coming-back mission to try to save Earth, and oh, make an alien buddy. Grace’s ingenuity, curiosity, smarts, humility, and humor make him not only the ideal Ambassador for humanity, but a feel-great, emotionally heart-warming underdog hero.
With inner dialog is as funny as that of The Martian, you cannot help but picture the major motion picture this book will become, perhaps with a reprise of Matt Damon as Ryland Grace?
Weir has truly delivered a marvelous, science-infused, out-of-this-world gem.
Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy of this book.