I read comparatively little science fiction, even though scifi is quite possibly my favourite movie genre. Maybe that’s why. Yet, it’s perhaps because of that enthusiasm that I was drawn to Heaven’s Shadow. One author, Gower, wrote The Dark Knight and is currently working on its sequel while the other, Cassutt, is known for The Outer Limits. Not only that, this novel is already optioned for a film and was written with the big screen in mind. With that kind of promise, I was prepared to stay up til midnight one night late last week to snatch Heaven’s Shadow out of the ethernet and on to my kindle. For the next twenty-four hours I did very little but immerse myself in it.
The plot is straightforward: for the last couple of years a mass, a Near Earth Object, has been noticed in the distant sky drawing closer and closer to the Earth. The US takes little interest in this NEO until it learns that a Coalition of Indians, Russians and Brazilians intends to send a ship to land on the body, breaking through new barriers for space exploration. Immediately, the US diverts its forthcoming mission to the Moon and instead sends its crew to the NEO that is now known as Keanu (think Matrix).
It’s never going to be quite that simple. The crews of both ships know one another and the relationships are complicated. Also the Commander of the US ship, Zack, has lost his wife in dramatic circumstances, leaving him to raise a damaged teenage daughter alone.
Once both ships have landed on Keanu it becomes clear that this is no comet on its path through the vastness of space, nor an asteroid knocked out of orbit. Keanu knows that there are men and women walking upon it and it responds to them, slowly revealing its purpose. Meanwhile, friends and loved ones and mission control watch from the Earth, dreading how events taking place so far from the planet might be about to affect them.
Heaven’s Shadow is a thrilling ride. It speeds along like a rocket. There are a few editing errors in the kindle version but not enough to divert one’s attention. The structure switches the action constantly – between Keanu and Earth, and between those inside the ships and those outside on the NEO. The guesswork and suspense is heightened by the chapter headers which comprise quotes or blog comments from people watching events unfold on the internet.
Inspiration from a number of films is very obvious, noticeably Sphere, Apollo 13, 2001, Event Horizon, Armageddon and Solaris, and so the familiar mixes with the more original.
This is a novel in a rush. The pages turn so fast that characterisation is sacrificed for pace. Zack and the crew members are never more than just touched upon even not all are typical of movie astronauts. Likewise Zack’s daughter has little identity. She is instead a concept. There are, though, a few very moving moments when characters think upon their own mortality. It also seems a little churlish to be too picky with a novel that I couldn’t put down and read in a day. It is the first of a projected trilogy. I think it’s a tall order to keep the momentum up for the next two. Nevertheless, if you want to read a summer blockbuster novel, you could do a lot worse than Heaven’s Shadow.