By Clare Walker, Holy Trinity In-House Writer
Need a great book to get you through the long Chicago winter? Try Voyage to Alpha Centauri, by Catholic novelist Michael O’Brien.
The story begins almost a century from now, in the year 2097. Mankind has finally developed the necessary technology—and secured the necessary funding—to conduct a large-scale, manned expedition through space to a distant planet. Neil Ruiz de Hoyos, scientist and curmudgeon, joins almost seven hundred other people aboard a massive spacecraft, the Kosmos, on a journey to Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light years away. The nineteen-year mission includes nine years in space to get there, one year to explore a planet in the system believed to be habitable, and nine years to return to Earth.
Neil is a Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist whose life’s work laid the foundation for the technology that makes the flight possible, so he is invited aboard as an honorary member of the party. But Neil has other reasons for accepting a berth on the ship: for decades now, the Earth has been a global society under the oppressive control of a world government that suppresses all religion, monitors citizens’ heat signatures and carbon footprints to prevent them from damaging the environment, and enforces a global population control policy. Aboard the Kosmos these tyrannical practices will not be relaxed, but voyageurs are enticed by the promise of adventure and new scientific discoveries, free room and board for nineteen years, and, best of all, privacy: the organizers of the mission promise that the electronic monitoring ubiquitous on Earth will be curtailed on board the Kosmos.
But six years into the nine-year journey, Neil discovers that this was a lie and that the promised utopia in space is in fact an authoritarian surveillance state and a “culture of death” every bit as repressive as the one he left behind on Earth.
As in his previous novels, (Father Elijah, Strangers and Sojourners) O’Brien takes pains—and many pages—to set up his story premise and introduce his characters. The reader’s patience is amply rewarded: once Neil discovers the dark underbelly of the community aboard the Kosmos, the pace of the story accelerates to warp speed.
When they arrive on the planet, Neil and his friends make another disturbing discovery, proving that no matter how far we humans flee, “we take the world with us wherever we go.” Dystopia, it seems, is irrevocably within us.
O’Brien’s prose style is intelligent and readable, his characters vivid, and his story structure solid. He provides enough technical theory to make the space flight plausible, but not enough to bog down the story.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri is a cautionary tale with a disturbing vision of what awaits humanity at the end of our current trajectory. But O’Brien also presents a refreshing alternative future of what mankind could achieve if he willingly returned to his proper place in relation to God.
Published by Ignatius Press (www.ignatius.com)
Note: A somewhat longer version of this review appeared in the National Catholic Register, and you can read it here: http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/more-good-r...
Clare T. Walker, a Holy Trinity Parishioner since 2003, writes for the National Catholic Register (www.ncregister.com). She is also an independent fiction author. Here are some handy links to her website and her books:
Clare T. Walker
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