Well of course I picked up this book primarily because of Buzz Aldrin’s name on the cover. I mean, an astronaut writing a sci-fi/mystery/thriller? Yes, please! And of course, most of us recognize that the second name on the cover is probably really the author who took the astronaut’s idea and turned it into a 300+ page yawner novel.
In a very similar but alternate reality earth, NASA is putting in to action the plan to send commercial flights into space and to the International Space Station. The first commercial passenger is a sports celebrity – a well known basketball player known as MJ. Yup …. Michael James.
But something goes terribly wrong – most likely a micrometeroid has gone through the hull of the ship, through MJ, killing him instantly, with pieces of debris critically injuring another astronaut. Valuable oxygen is fast exiting the ship through the hole. The rest of the crew must do something quickly, but the return trip through the atmosphere could kill the injured crew member.
There isn’t much they can do in space, so the emergency return trip is planned, with a landing at Easter Island the nearest runway. But the runway hasn’t been maintained and the potholes and cracks nearly tear the vehicle apart on its return.
The whole thing is a nightmare for NASA, most likely setting back the commercial transportation idea for decades. One key figure on the ground (Scott Blackstone – a former astronaut) is fired from his post and left to take the brunt of all bad press and is blacklisted from getting a good attorney. Well, almost. It happens that his ex-wife. Thalia, is one of the best around. Nick, Scott’s brother convinces Thalia to take him on.
It is discovered that the accident was no accident, and not a micrometeroid. It was sabotage. An explosion inside the shuttle occurred – one large enough to take out enough of the hull that the entire crew would have died in a matter of minutes, but MJ happened to be in the way, purely by chance, and took the brunt of the attack.
But now sabotage has occurred on the ISS and it is spiraling out of control with the onboard crew unable to do anything about it. There is one chance – a slim one – to prevent the ISS from falling into a decay orbit and burning up, with the crew, still alive, on board. But that chance means Scott Blackstone has to pilot a commercial shuttle with an untrained crew to the rescue.
I know it sounds like there’s a lot of thrilling excitement going on here, but unfortunately the story is told in a flat, one-note manner.
The incident with the shuttle and MJ’s death – I thought this was going to be the story, but the whole is set up and finished in just a couple of chapters. Then we get a third of the book as a legal thriller. Lawsuits and threats from anonymous enemies, warning Thalia to not pursue the case. But before that can play out, it comes to an end with the discovery of the sabotage.
Then, finally, for the last quarter of the book, we have our final story, the dire need for the ISS to be rescued. And … ta da! … it is! No need to wonder or be kept in suspense … it will all just be delivered flatly for you.
Buzz Aldrin is an American hero. Nothing will change that. He did something not many have done – he walked on the moon. But that doesn’t make him a writer. Soooo many people in other walks of life think “I have an idea for a story … I’ll be a writer in my spare time” while many writers toil away at it for years. And of course, if you are a celebrity with an idea for a story, a publisher wants to capitalize on your status and will pair you with a writer. This is the part that doesn’t make sense. John Barnes has written a lot of books (157 according to goodreads). This is the first one that I’ve read, but I would expect someone with his publishing history to have a tighter story with more sense of adventure.
Looking for a good book? The Return by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes was really disappointing all the way around. It’s no wonder I found it in a used book store, which is where some poor soul is likely to pick up this same copy.
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authors: Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
publisher: Tor Books
paperback, 352 pages