Review of Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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A book that displays both a spacescape and the name of a favourite author isn’t going to be left on the library shelves for long. I scooped this one up, despite the huge pile of books stacking up on my TBR pile. Would it prove to be a good choice?

solarexpressYou can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation. The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

That is some of the rather chatty blurb. What it doesn’t convey is the steady, unhurried pace of this hard sci fi adventure, which bristles with acronyms and technical details for those of us who like plenty of science alongside their fiction. Though it did mean that I wasn’t romping through this one at any speed – I don’t have a scientific background, so I need to pay attention when reading books long on technical detail.

However, that doesn’t mean plodding or remotely boring. Modesitt sets up the premise and world and then steadily ramps up the stakes as this mysterious artefact speeds ever closer to the sun. The two characters that bring this adventure to life is Alayna Wong and Chris Tavoian. Wong is on Daedalus Base, observing the sun for her own study on the granulations on its surface when she spots an anomalous object. Chris is a pilot she meets on the outward journey, who becomes a firm friend as they continue to exchange messages to each other. But when he agrees to take the mission to man the ship sent out to explore this artefact, Alayna Wong has a unique view of the drama that plays out at the site. Meanwhile Chris grapples with the unknown material of the artefact as the situation goes on getting ever more dangerous.

I love the way Modesitt adds all sorts of everyday details – we get to know what the protagonists are eating, how they spend their spare time and who they care and worry about. This means that when the stakes are heightened, I care and fully identify with them. What Modesitt doesn’t do, is ramp up the pace to some breathless, foot-to-the floor tempo, so as the crisis intensifies there is time to appreciate all the ramifications. I really enjoyed this one.
8/10

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