- The Last Astronaut.
- David Wellington.
- 384 pages.
- Science Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
A huge alien object has entered the solar system and is now poised above the Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate.
Out of time and options, NASA turns to its last living astronaut – Commander Sally Jansen, who must lead a team of raw recruits on a mission to make First Contact.
But as the object reveals its secrets, Jansen and her crew find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When I first read the blurb for The Last Astronaut the classic movie Event Horizon immediately came to mind. I hoped that I wouldn’t be in for just a science fiction book but a book that straddled the line into horror territory too. So, when things take a dark turn in the story and it does stray sublimely into horror I was immensely pleased!
Orion 6 had travelled further than any other mission, the four crew members had travelled further than any human in history. Sally Jensen, mission commander was going to be the first woman to walk on Mars. It was more than a goal for her, it was her dream, her life and then tragedy struck, a crew member died and the mission was aborted on July 4th 2034.
In 2055, object 2I/2054 D1 (2I) appears in the solar system, it is slowing down on its own, under its own power. Something that is impossible in space, something that shouldn’t be happening and yet it is. It can mean only one thing, that there is someone/something making 2I slowdown. It is a starship, an alien craft and it has changed course, altered its trajectory putting it on a direct collision cause with Earth.
2I has ignored all attempts at contact, no acknowledgement, no response, nothing, just a deafening silence leaving Earth with no clue as to the intentions of 2I and why it is approaching Earth.
Since the events of the Orion 6 mission, NASA has continually had their budget slashed and they are a shadow of their former self. They lost the second space race, the race to Mars and due to the tragedy that struck the fateful Orion 6 mission they scrapped all crewed space missions. With a lack of funds and due to the human cost they instead chose to focus on uncrewed missions, satellites and probes. There are private-sector space programs to rival NASA and KSpace is one such company. They have their own shuttle ‘Wanderer’ and they want to beat NASA to first contact with 2I, the first alien contact that Earth will have had.
To go back into space NASA has to look to relics of the past, those from a bygone age and 21 years after her last mission, their last astronaut Sally Jensen will return as mission commander of the Orion 7 mission. She is the only experienced astronaut available, it is a second chance for her, a chance at redemption. Jansen is the last of her kind, an old school astronaut. Someone with experience who has previously been both in space and in charge of a space mission. With the time constraints of the Orion 7 mission and with 2I bearing down upon Earth time is of the essence. Jensen is the most suitable candidate to lead the raw recruits, the untried and untested into space. With her past, with the ghost that haunts her every step, her every waking moment and the guilt like a noose around her neck she has nothing to lose and everything to gain from the mission to try and initiate first contact with 2I.
To go along with Sally Jensen the three other members that comprise the hastily put together four-person team on the Orion 7 mission are, Parminder Rao, an astrobiologist, who is there to study and try to understand the aliens. Major Windsor Hawkins, a military drone pilot whose main concern is the safety of Earth and finding out if 2I is a threat to all humanity or not. Finally, rounding out the crew is Sunny Stevens an astrophysicist who grew up wanting to be an astronaut but with no crewed missions anymore he turned his attention to studying space and the great unknown. He is also the man who discovered 2I. Overseeing the Orion 7 mission is Roy McAllister, the associate administrator for exploration and operations at NASA back on Earth, in mission control, Pasadena, Texas.
For Jansen, the mission Orion 7 is a chance at atonement, at redemption. She is determined that this mission will succeed and that finally, she will be able to lay her ghosts to rest. The ghosts that haunt her, that have plagued her life since the devastating day when the mission to Mars ended in disaster, ended in tragedy and ended in the death of one of her fellow astronauts. Someone, who was under her command, under her protection and while there was nothing that she could have done the loss has eaten away at her since, dogging her every step through life.
The characters are an integral part of The Last Astronaut. Along with the looming threat of 2I, they are the driving force, they are how the reader connects to the unfolding events and they feel real. Especially Jensen, Rao and Sunny who you find yourself invested in and you will care about them and their fate (I have read some reviews where the reviewer was unable to connect with the characters, personally, I didn’t have that issue). Sunny is the comedy relief, the goof of the crew whilst the other three (Jensen, Rao and Hawkins) are far more serious. I will say that Hawkins does straddle the line of stereotypical gruff military man but it is what is needed for the story and the crew dynamics.
2I is vast in size, many kilometres in both width and length. Due to the size of 2I, the crew are a drop of water in the ocean as they venture forth into the belly of the beast. The only light inside 2I comes from the lights on their own suits and they are a tiny pinprick of light trying to permeate the all-consuming darkness. 2I swallows light, the interior an empty void of black, of nothingness, in every direction it is unending darkness. You don’t know what is out there hiding in the dark, lurking, watching and/or waiting. There is no sound in 2I, it seems abandoned, like a dead ship. It is eerily silent with the only noise coming from the structure, a clicking, a radio static.
There is a real sense of discovery throughout The Last Astronaut and you feel like you are discovering and exploring 2I right alongside the Orion 7 crew. As they explore the interior of 2I, the harsh conditions, the strange landscape, the darkness and their prolonged exposure to it all takes its toll on the characters, their sanity, they become frayed at the edges and they start to come undone. The crew are pushed to their limits by what they find within 2I and the nightmarish horrors that await them in the fathomless depths and the impenetrable stygian darkness of the alien vessel.
The imagery in The Last Astronaut is exceptional. 2I is alien by nature, strange and incomprehensible to the human eye and the atmosphere that Wellington manages to create in the unremitting darkness inside is outstanding. He also does a stellar job of highlighting the psychological impact that the darkness has on the characters. The writing flows well, there is emotion, enough action to suffice and the science is believable (it isn’t confusing either). The story is filled with suspense and tension that simmers throughout building to palpable levels as the crew venture further into 2I, learning its secrets, the truth and as the story nears its end.
The Last Astronaut would be perfect for TV or film. It is an immersive and suspenseful journey into the dark unknown. It is fast-paced, taut and hurtles along to a poignant ending.
Purchase The Last Astronaut.
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