Voyage of Alpha Centauri Hardcover – 1 Dec 2013
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About the Author
Michael D. O'Brien, iconographer, painter, and writer, is the popular author of many best-selling novels including Father Elijah, The Father's Tale, Eclipse of the Sun, Sophia House, Theophilos, and Island of the World. His novels have been translated into twelve languages and widely reviewed in both secular and religious media in North America and Europe.
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The reason this reviewer did not give it five stars is because he found parts of The novel tedious, as well. I have read other novels by this author, and I found them to be overlong, too. Charitably, let's say it is a leisurely exploration not of space, but of the microcosm of one Earth vessel; not of The future but the present; and not of science but of faith.
There is a surprise pivot that at least provides a payoff for the tedium of the outbound voyage. In case it is not otherwise clear, this is a self-consciously Christian, particularly Catholic, novel. The Christian content is worked into the fabric of the novel, however, as themes. Rarely does it become explicit, which is probably a good thing for the novel. It is a serious novel, worthy of the times we are in, and deserving a wide audience. It is not an easy read, however. If there is much at all of the author in his main character, he probably doesn't care. You'll be a richer person for having read it.
The round trip to this next solar system takes nineteen years, with one of those years given over to exploration of one of the planets. The physicist whose ideas helped make the journey possible is Neil de Hoyos, who is the narrator and central character of the story. Both De Hoyos and the other passengers aboard the ship are leaving behind an earth governed by a strong central government which spies continually on its citizens through a variety of electronic devices, including insect-sized drones.
While on the flight to Alpha Centauri, de Hoyos and a few others, including a heroic young hacker from maintenance, discover that the security officers of the ship are also monitoring all members of the crew. This spying—think National Security Agency, 2013—angers de Hoyos to the extent that when, invited to give a speech at one of the ship’s cultural forums, he instead reveals the spying. Punished by being forced to take medication for his supposed “mental breakdown”—the doctor instead gives him a placebo—de Hoyos eventually becomes a hero to the rebels aboard the ship.
Like all of O’Brien’s novels, Voyage to Alpha Centauri is a hefty tome capable of serving as a doorstop or weapon, and like those other books, Voyage also carries with it a cargo of ideas. Topics ranging from God to marriage and the family, from genetics to physics, fill the book and will entertain and instruct the reader who enjoys philosophy in the guise of fiction. Because the other travelers are from all parts of the earth, O’Brien is free to look at other ideas and religions as well: the concept of freedom versus security, for example, or the contrasts between Eastern and Western thought. History and literature are also given heavy play in these conversations, so that the novel makes in many respects for mediation on the meaning of human personhood.
The esoteric parts of the story, however, never impede the story itself or diminish the many details regarding the Kosmos and its journey. O’Brien describes the ship so well, from its lounges and cabins to the working of its engines, that readers quickly come to see how much time and effort he put into his futuristic creation. Some of the gadgetry—the computers, the doors that open at the sound of a voice, the medical treatments—are not the stuff of Start Trek, but instead seem very real extensions of the electronics available today.
Like many other works of science fiction, Voyage to Alpha Centauri also contains a meditation and a warning on science itself. The explorers who come to the new planet, a veritable Eden, find there the vestiges of an old civilization, a cruel and barbarous society of conquerors and conquered, of masters and slaves. The slave-masters who came eons ago from another planet left behind a device which the new visiting scientists cannot resist tinkering with, and in their eagerness to explore this old technology they unleash upon themselves and on part of the planet a horror of blood, fire, and death. (To say anything more specific here would damage the plot of the book).
This overarching theme of Voyage To Alpha Centauri—the clash of world views—has long played a part in O’Brien’s novels and should be of vital concern to any reader interested in today’s issues of individual privacy, religious freedom, and the threat of Big Brother. For those looking for a lengthy book filled with big ideas for a winter’s read, Michael O’Brien’s Voyage To Alpha Centauri entertains and casts a light on the idea of truth.
It is divided into three major parts, the 9 year trip to Alpha Centauri, the time on the planet, and the return to earth.
The 9 year trip out was too much detail about shipboard routine, how the functions of this gigantic ship were arranged to allow thousands of crew and passengers to live on board for 9 years.
The background of the protagonist is interesting. The time on the planet is the highpoint of the book. The return is quick - still 9 years but not as many words.
I am a Michael D. O'Brien fan. I have read all his books and pre-ordered this one. I found his Father Elijah amazing and have read it several times. His novel Theophilus put me in time with St. Luke and Luke's father, Theophilus. If you are interested in spiritual works, Theophilus is a wonderful work. If you are familiar with the Acts of the Apostles, this book will resonate even more so.
Finally, The Father's Tale is another long work. But one I didn't want to end. I was immersed in it. I highly recommend those three. Voyage, I have to not be so enthusiastic. I wanted to give O'Brien 5-stars, but couldn't do it. None the less, you see his themes emerge, such as the 'ship of fools' theme, faith in God, conversion, and spiritual breakthroughs. Enjoy.