Sphere | 2019 (6 June) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
The spaceship Hawking II is returning to Earth after a successful manned mission to Europa. But on the way back all hell breaks loose. Captain Maryann (May) Knox wakes up in sickbay from a coma. She is seriously dehydrated and malnourished. She has no short term memory of what happened. And, even worse, she’s entirely alone. Her crew is gone. The only company May has is the AI, renamed Eve by May after her mother. Eve also seems glad of the company but ‘she’ is damaged, also without short term memory, and barely in control of a ship that is failing by the hour. May has no choice but to try to fix Eve and the ship on her own. It will be a deadly challenge and it will also be a frightening one. Where is the crew? Perhaps May isn’t alone after all. Perhaps the mission was never intended to reach home.
But there is someone who wants more than anything to help Eve – her husband, Stephen, the scientist behind the mission. Fixing communications will be no easy thing and that’s only the start of it. How on earth could Stephen possibly help? And what if May remembers that she and Stephen are not as in love as she thinks, that actually she had left him behind in more ways than one when Hawking II began its journey to Europa? But all of that could be an irrelevance. The ship is falling apart. May must fight for every hour she stays alive, with only Eve to keep her sane along with memories she can no longer trust. Space is a lonely place and it can kill in a million ways.
Across the Void is such a fun read! I was drawn to it immediately. Its premise is perfect. Much is being made of its appeal to fans of The Martian and I think the comparison is deserved. Instead of a man stuck on a planet, we have a woman stuck on a spaceship, both have disasters to overcome. May isn’t quite the scientist, though. She is a pilot and she needs others to science her way out of this mess. Across the Void also has such a strong cinematic blockbuster appeal. It’s ambitious and so visual. It’s no surprise to learn that S.K. Vaughn is the pseudonym of a successful Hollywood writer and director (whoever it may be – and I really want to know!).
There is much to enjoy, quite apart from the thrilling action which builds and builds. There is the mood of a deserted damaged spaceship. Hawking II is a frightening place, that’s for sure, particularly when the lights are off. There is also the thriller element – where is the crew? – and what is going on back on Earth? Something very sinister is going on. And then there’s the love element – there’s the relationship between May and Stephen, which we experience through flashbacks, and there’s also the very touching friendship between May and Eve. May needs Eve for the technical and emotional support she provides. We sense that Eve needs May just as much.
I did have slight issues. I wish we were told more about what happened on Europa. We’re given tantalising glimpses but I wanted much more and wished it had been more significant. My other issue was with the state of affairs back on Earth. This felt quite preposterous and so, rather unexpectedly, I found the sections on the spaceship (which form the majority of the book) far more believable and involving.
May is a marvellous character. I liked Stephen very much, too, but May is the star of Across the Void. I felt completely behind her, wishing for all to go well, and admiring her for what she must endure when she must be so afraid and alone. Despite the tension, there is plenty of humour and wit, predominantly from May. Across the Void is such an entertaining and exciting space disaster adventure.