By Jaffa Kintigh
September 5th, 2016
4 out of 5 stars
Humanity reaching out into space remains a recurring fascination. Sometimes this action is one of optimism and scientific expansionism. At other times, it’s a defensive tactic of desperation as Earth becomes unbearable and unlivable. This sci-fi novella stands as a blend of the two.
As Earth succumbs to the apocalypse of 21st Century Western world lifestyles and the emerging dystopian new world order, a billionaire and his hand-picked team of 20 scientists plan an illegal escape into the vastness of space in an attempt to start anew on an unconfirmed planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Only 16 pioneers make it to the starship for the launch, the billionaire not among them.
The 72-year journey requires the travelers to enter hibernation to survive and slow their aging. The ship has the ability to wake individuals to attend to emergencies and system failures. The awakened individual is meant to decide the corrective action, then document their decision and reasoning both on computer and paper as a guide to the next awakened traveler. Each traveler is under a time deadline after which they won’t be able to reenter hibernation. And no one person can emerge and reenter hibernation more than a couple times over the course of the entire journey before the action kills them.
This tale alternates between pre-launch scenes on Earth with the benefactor choosing his team and technology and splices of time in the journey when one of the individuals is called into action. The first to awaken is Sophie and only 2 years into the trip as the ship, Gypsy, enters the Oort Cloud. The communications to the moon station are offline. There’s also signs of an impact a couple months back. The only major effect she can determine is a slightly slowed speed–the journey will now take 84 years. She corrects some time maneuvers and documents it.
38 years later, Fang is the next awakened. After she adjusts to the one-tenth gravity and effects of hibernation, the biologist attends to her sleeping co-travelers. Two are infected with a fungus resembling the bat fungus known as White Nose Disease . . .
The strength of this novella is in following the lives and decisions of the disparate group of scientists each with their own reasons for embarking on such a desperate journey. The decision-making of each is not unlike Andy Weir’s The Martian. Each decision is life or death when traveling the edge of existence.
This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.