The Moon is always topical but the recent wave of Moon programming on the television – following the sad deaths of Neil Armstrong and Patrick Moore – has made me keener than ever to read a Moon conspiracy thriller. Not even the movies Apollo 18 (please never confuse this with Apollo 13) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon have dampened my curiosity in our orbiting satellite. Indeed, the most damage to my fascination was caused by last year’s horror YA 172 Hours on the Moon which made me wish that the Moon was actually a lot further away than 384,400 km (give or take). But when I heard the premise of The Cassandra Project I was hooked.
Was Neil Armstrong really the first man to walk on the Moon? Could it be that there were earlier landings in 1969? If so, why on Earth would anyone, in the heat of a space race, want to cover them up? What could make an astronaut hold his tongue for fifty years? Jerry Culpepper loves his job as NASA’s press publications director but when, at a time of doubt concerning the future of the Agency, he gets a whiff of a mystery he starts to ask unpopular questions. Set in the near future, few astronauts and engineers of the 1960s are still alive. It’s at the end of their lives that they might want to get a weight off their chest, or at the very least hint of something extraordinary – whether it’s true or not.
As Culpepper digs he comes up against the boss of NASA plus her boss – the President of the United States. Surely if there is a conspiracy, he would know about it? There is one man, though, who believes Jerry and is prepared to put his wallet where his mouth is. Billionaire Bucky Blackstone wants to believe and he wants to get to the Moon himself to discover the Truth.
The Cassandra Project is fast and snappy, moving between a cast of many, comprising press, astronauts, scientists and their families, politicians and dreamers, all with a vested interest in the truth or the lies. The clues are revealed or denied drip by drip, the different groups circling one another, bluffing, double bluffing, rarely, one suspects, telling the truth.
This novel is a joy to read not only because the conspiracy investigation is so fascinating, or because Bucky’s plan to go to the Moon is so thrilling, but also because the characters are lively, witty, intelligent and curious. The science is there, as is the NASA history, in intriguing detail but it is mixed with dialogue that often raises a laugh. Arrogant billionaire Bucky could so easily be the villain of the piece but he is likeable throughout, as are his staff. Even the President has his good points. As for our nominal hero, Jerry, he is a PR man but he has dreams, and they’re ones I empathise with.
In the UK at least this is a pricey hardback with a paperback possibly a long way off (update: it’s now out!). Nevertheless, I thought The Cassandra Project was well worth the money, hooking me from the first page and delivering until the last. I’ll be seeking out more from both authors.