Gravity | Tess Gerritsen | 1999 (this edn 2004) | Harper | 391p | Bought copy | Buy the book
When Debbie Haning is fatally injured in a car crash, an unpredictable sequence of events is triggered. Her husband, Bill, is aboard the Space Station. He must be returned to see his wife. While he waits for the emergency space shuttle, he finds distraction in his work, an experiment that has gone wrong – a cell specimen has mutated, producing a gelatinous, expanding substance. When medic and research physician Emma Watson arrives at the Space Station, it’s not long before she must deal with the repercussions and yet another shuttle is summoned, this time to remove the dead.
Gravity moves between the Space Station and Earth. While Emma Watson has more than enough on her plate to deal with in space, her soon to be ex-husband Jack McCullum, a failed astronaut, is about to have his relationship to NASA as space surgeon renewed. Emma is going to need all the help she can get.
Meanwhile, on the Space Station, the organism is loose. At first, the little green globules floating in the Station’s atmosphere seem innocuous; nothing more serious than escaped drips of juice or shed drops of blood. But then the eyes begin to redden, the sickness comes, the headaches and the fever. The big threat to the crew doesn’t come from the living sufferers, though, it comes from the dead.
Gravity is an addictive novel. It has all the ingredients for a page turning horror thriller in space – claustrophobia, a diminishing number of victims, suspicion, intriguing science and, this above all else, gore by the bucketload. Tess Gerritsen knows her stuff. The medical details are thorough (as to be expected from Gerritsen’s background) but this is backed up by the meticulous research into late 20th-century space exploration. The text is littered with acronyms and technical speak – fortunately, there’s a glossary at the end – and this adds to the reader’s sense of immersion (not to mention claustrophobic panic).
While I was fascinated by Gravity, I was tempted to put it to one side half way through. It is exceedingly gory and bloodily revolting. There are only so many exploding brains I can cope with. But the second half upped the pace, turning Gravity from a succession of unpleasant deaths into a tale of survival. We become caught up in Jack’s determined efforts to get Emma home and from that moment on Gravity becomes a page turner of the highest order.