The protagonist of the book is Colonel Reid Malenfant, USAF and former NASA Space Shuttle pilot, who has been awakened from a rudimentary cryonic suspension and experiencing a severe case of culture shock in the mid-25th Century. He has been awakened because his wife Emma, although apparently from a different timeline, requires rescuing from Phobos, where she is believed to have died in 2004. Malenfant is accompanied on his mission by Bartholemew, a medical android with a particularly caustic sense of humour, and Greggson Deirdre, a childishly enthusiastic yet ambitious young woman who desires to see what lies beyond Earth. While Malenfant is the viewpoint character for the vast majority of the book, Deirdre is quite obviously the heroine, since she is the one who makes most of the decisions and the different sections of the book refer to ‘her’ not ‘him’.
The setting is really interesting, because not only is it set in the future, it’s also set in multiple alternate histories. In Malenfant’s home universe, Neil Armstrong died of a heart attack on the moon, which spurred a new wave of funding to NASA. As such, the design of the Saturn V was modified to enable interplanetary travel (an idea known as the Saturn C-5 that was designed, but never put into production due to funding cuts), putting men on Mars by 1985. The design of the Space Shuttle is different too, with the SRBs and fuel tank instead being replaced by another Space-Shuttle-shaped booster that gets to orbit on its own power, and has been in service since at least 1978 and has clocked in over 700 missions. Emma’s timeline, meanwhile, is broadly similar to our own, except that a joint American-Russian manned mission to Phobos was launched in 2004 (which Emma was on). As for the future segments, Earth has been taken over by a movement known as the Common Heritage, which declared an end to all space travel and colonisation, leaving the various bases to be managed by the Planetary AIs. There are also massive reforestation projects underway, with the Sahara desert now being entirely green, mostly to offset the massive amount of carbon dioxide that has been dumped into the atmosphere. Humanity now numbers less than a billion people. Also, they managed to discover Planet 9, known as Persephone (which plays a significant role later on in the book), and an object known as Shiva, the titular destroyer, which is estimated to arrive in less than a thousand years. The rich
worldbuilding is by far one of the best things about the book.
My biggest gripe with the book is the pacing. At nearly six hundred pages long, and split into five different sections, you would imagine that there would be plenty of action to pack in wouldn’t you? Wrong. The first section (which takes up about half the damn book, mind you) details Malenfant awakening and adjusting to life in this new world, and aside from that nothing much happens (the only halfway interesting bit id when Malenfant acts up in order to get the news’s attention). While admittedly it does well to build the world of 25th Century Earth and how their society functions, it still doesn’t change how frustratingly slow the beginning is. The mission to Phobos to retrieve Emma doesn’t start until the second section, and after that the book becomes so much more gripping.
Similar books by other authors:<br>
[[Ultima by Stephen Baxter]] – one of Baxter’s previous works.<br>
[[Existence by David Brin]] - a similarly comprehensive portrait of a future world, although it takes place in the mid-21st century rather than the mid-25th.