I agree with the other 2-star reviewer who gave up on Voyager - So did I. I kept reading on through dense technological data and presidential notes in the hope that something interesting would happen - and it never did.. I was disappointed by both the Long Earth and the Long War and now I think I have identified the culprit!
If you're looking for a more exciting space opera type read, in a traditional format,The Returning: 1 then try The Returning by new author Gerald Rennett instead!
The subject matter of Voyage - an alternate history where NASA landed men on Mars in 1986 - doesn't sound too compelling, and to begin with this is certainly a dry and uninvolving book. Baxter's scientific credentials are beyond question, and undoubtedly the technical descriptions of space flight and NASA procedures is accurate, but technology can only be interesting up to a certain point. Baxter also initially looks to have bitten off more than he can chew with the books structure, as the novel follows every step of an 18-year long NASA program there is a huge unwieldy cast of characters. Amazingly though, after a fairly drab first couple of hundred pages, Baxter starts pulling all his threads together, and the novel develops into a real page-turner. The actual flight and landing on Mars only take up a small part of this novel, as for the most part Baxter concentrates on the struggles to get the mission off the ground. There are moments of high drama as one of the testing crews meets with a fatal accident whilst testing an experimental nuclear rocket in orbit, and compelling moments of human drama, such as when we see small time contractor JK Lee ground up by the NASA machine as he overworks himself into virtual psychosis. The political manoeuvrings that NASA goes through to ensure the flight to Mars are intriguing, and Baxter is brave enough to have even his lead astronaut question the real value of putting a man on Mars whilst people on Earth die from starvation. Admittedly, due to it's realistic basis, Voyage lacks the scope of Baxter's previous science fiction with all it's aliens, time travel and exotic ideas, but for a change of pace to a more serious novel Voyage is surprisingly compelling stuff, and the final scenes on Mars more than fulfil the promise of the journey.
I suppose I'm glad Stephen Baxter didn't manage to become an astronaut! I think he is still longing to go into space, and his novels give him - and us - the opportunity to go after all. This longing is very obvious in 'Voyage'. Baxter decides to take a crucial point in the history of the U.S. space program - Kennedy's call to go to the moon and Mars. Kennedy here survives the assassination attempt and goes on proclaiming manned space missions. At the end of the sixties, Nixon decides to expand the manned missions to go to Mars as well... A fever possesses NASA. Almost everything goes to Ares - the name for the Mars mission. And almost a generation later, in the mid-eighties, 'man' (i.e. woman) stands on Mars... Ohhh yes, it would have been so nice. The Ares mission to Mars has a expensive price ticket. A lot of other things have to be cancelled, there is simply not enough money for them in the NASA budget. So, there are never more then just three Apollo missions; there is no space shuttle. Many other missions are cut down: no Magellan to Venus, no Voyagers 1 & 2 to the gas giants. We don't know anything about them what we do know in our own universe. Are we better off in this alternate universe? Maybe not for non-Martian planetary scientists. But by going to Mars so soon, NASA and at least the U.S. commit themselves to the red planet - and maybe other nations will get Mars fever as well, and start lowering their weapon budgets. I suppose NASA in the 'Voyage' universe will get a huge increase in their post-Ares budget. Buy and read this book!
This book is absolutely brilliant, it really is. It's also too big. This leads to all sorts of problems: Structuring- some of the parts just fade out rather than ending on an inspiring passage or a cliffhanger. Nevertheless, the book is a total pageturner due to the gradual revealing of the mission profile and the device of moving back and forth in time from the flight, to the build up to the flight. Characterization- The astronaut York is the central character and is drawn superbly. But of the other crewmembers we get not much more than hints of depth. This is particularly annoying with Gershon- he is obviously a deep complex man with a fascinating life. This reader wanted to know more! Some characters, such as Donnelly, seem created just to do little more than fill a space and observe the action. Others, such as Lee, Seger or Muldoon deserve whole novels to themselves. Style- The challenge of this book leaves Baxter stumbling around as if this was his first novel. Where is the confident hand we see in much earlier works such as 'Raft'? Plotting- The plot is broad, and the characters' lives intertwine- but that is no excuse for a glaring continuity error. On page 160 Dana enters space for the first time. On page 260... Dana enters space for the first time. What was Baxter thinking of? Where the hell was the Editor! Also, we get mere glimpses of what could have been great moments, such as the confrontation between a German rocket scientist and a scientist who worked under him in a concentration camp. I wanted much more of that. But this book triumphs over the faults. The accident in space is a wonderful piece of writing, exciting and moving. This book superbly researched, though perhaps Baxter does lean a little too heavily on Andrew Chaikin's 'A Man On The Moon'- some parts are almost directly copied from it. The landing on Mars is not only lip-bitingly exciting, it is also astonishingly real. In fact, this is the most realistic science fiction novel I have ever read. What a great, great book.
Like some of the lower score assessments, I too nearly gave up on this book after about 150 pages; I’m glad I didn’t.
There is no doubt that this book takes work. It is heaped with technical details, which reflect a certain style of writing in the sci-fi genre. Either you love it or hate it. Personally, I have always leaned towards science fiction stories which have a strong sense of reality and suggest technical environments of the future; what is usually called ‘hard science fiction.’ Interestingly, this book is essentially about the past (an alternative history) and as such its technical material resurrects the world of the Apollo Missions and the uneasy, but respectful alliance that existed between the men and women on both sides of the Iron Curtain. So don’t expect future technologies here.
But as I read on, the characters, which at first I found somewhat limited in their appeal began to take on a life of their own. Baxter carefully intertwines the technological issues with the very human experiences of the people tied up with and in most cases dedicated to the space mission. It is in this respect that I felt the book started to become interesting and at times enjoyable. Most of all, Baxter captures well the sense of frustration felt by people at NASA at the lack of political will to keep the manned space programme going after a foreshortened Apollo programme and the scrapping of the Space Shuttle plans.
The story line has been reviewed elsewhere in detail, but essentially it is set across a time span that takes one back to the German rocket programme of the Second World War and leads up through the space programme of the late 1950s and 1960s in a convincing and accurate historical manner. It is only when the story reaches the Apollo programme of the late 1960s and early 1970s that Baxter leads us into an alternative history which centres upon the American efforts (with a little help from the Soviets) for a mission to Mars, which takes place in the mid-1980s. Baxter clearly has done an enormous amount of research into the history and the options that were on the table at this time; for which he deserves to be credited.
As the story progresses towards the mission to Mars, we become more familiar with some of the key characters; some amongst the scientists and engineers on the ground along with the administrators and managers at NASA and their sub-contractors. We also share much of the journey through the eyes of a prospective female astronaut who comes to the mission as an earth scientist and who does not share the macho test pilot attitude of many of her colleagues, some of whom were on the original Apollo missions. Baxter gives the reader a real sense of the interplay between these parties and the overarching influence and interests of the political circuit in Washington. For me, this ability to capture the blend of technological challenges and disasters, mixed with the personal and political interplay is where the book really deserves 5 stars. However, I marked it down to 4 stars, since I did not like Baxter’s choice of structure to the book, by which he keeps jumping back and forth between relatively short windows into the Mars mission as it is underway and a large number of different earlier times that form the bulk of the book’s volume. Also, although the book does ‘work’ employing this structure, I felt that there were too many occasions when I found myself wondering whether it was getting too bogged down in the details and hence losing some of its potential to flow more easily.
One caveat: Do not read this book expecting a story that focuses upon the events from launch date to arrival at Mars followed by various events on the Martian surface and return to Earth. This is not what the book is about; far from it. On the other hand, if you want to get a feel for the culture of the space programme and consider a world that might have occurred (or is occurring if you believe in multi-verses) and are moved by the human endeavour to put people into the hostile environment of space, especially beyond Earth’s immediate environs, then you may find this is well worth the read. Hence, at the end of 591 pages of the hardback edition, I felt I too had participated in a ‘voyage.’ It was not really the one I had been expecting, but nevertheless, I am glad I made the journey.
This is the perfect antithesis of Space Opera's glittering fancies. Unlike the pure Hollywood spectacles of Hamilton and Co., it physically hurts to read. This treatment of how it so nearly could have been is not passive entertainment. Beautifully written and fantastically well-researched, it has moments of such pure beauty that you feel your soul soar even as your heart breaks. This is no introverted, aimless bookishness: this is Art mined from the unforgiving Cold Equations. Baxter performs the mind-boggling trick of getting you to want things to be both how he describes them and as they actually have been! There are no easy answers here - story context or not. This is the prequel to 2001 - without any poetic flights of fancy, without a trace of Art - yet a higher-order poetry is somehow engendered from an uncaring universe. Anyone who knows what it is to have persevered and never to have given up will know what it is to stand at last on the dusty Martian regolith - no matter what it cost. If you hate the SF genre, but wish to see what all the fuss is about, I would recommend that you get this book and one other - Carl Sagan's "Contact". That's all you need!
I almost quiet literally stumbled over this great Radioplay last week after returning from work. Just powering up my computer and starting the BBC i player on listen now and lying myself down at the couch I listened more or less to BBC Radio's program when - thanks to the time difference of Germany to the UK - at 7 pm, the 7th Dimension at Radio BBC 7 started with part two of "Voyage" and was hooked right away, leading to me listening to the complete thing and ordering the novel next.
Audio Movie Productions made a great job in making this audio adaptation, with superb voice acting and some great sound effects, not to mention a great musical soundtrack as well, I especially liked the main theme.
Also I found myself really caring for the central characters Natalie York and Ben Priest and by the time Ben's dying in that accident I almost "see" Natalie continuing working at CAPCOM with silence tears running down her cheeks. Natalie's finale words on Mars were quiet moving too.
All in all a great radio play and if I still owned a tape deck I would properly buy this BBC Radio Collection right away.
Voyage is the story of a mission that never was. In this long and meticulously researched novel Baxter speculates that if John F. Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas, he might have provided the political impetus to allow NASA to extend beyond the Moon-landings and initiate a manned mission to Mars.
Voyage is a very detailed, convincing portrayal of realistic characters with genuine human traits, striving towards a breathtaking technological and political goal. It's written like 'faction' -- a dramatic narrative of known facts -- except, this is fiction.
Baxter himself applied to NASA to be an astronaut, went through various tests, and was eventually turned down. Writing this novel must have been the next best thing.
Just occasionally the style displays a klunkiness that's possibly the result of hasty editing, but generally it's a smooth and engrossing read, despite the abundance of hard SF detail.
The story of NASA's manned trip to Mars is told in converging threads: the outward flight itself, and the lead-up to the launch. It's cleverly done, so that although we know from the first few pages that Baxter's protagonist -- the American geologist Natalie York -- is going to Mars, we don't know exactly how. The narrative thread culminating in the launch gradually reveals her path into history.
Watching Tom Hanks' From the Earth to the Moon (Tom Hanks HBO Signature Edition) [DVD], I was struck by the number of events depicted in its presumably factual account of the Apollo programme, that have almost exact parallels in Baxter's fictional account of the Mars mission. Hanks' TV series is partly based on Andrew Chaikin's book A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (Penguin Magnum Collection) (Penguin 1995), which it seems likely Baxter has read, either incidentally or as specific research for Voyage. I haven't read Chaikin's book, nor do I know how much of it is in Hanks' TV series, but several of the telling events and conversations -- for example concerning the crew's opinion of the spacecraft ("a lemon"), the meeting to announce the crew assignments ("the men who are going to Mars/the Moon are in this room, looking at me now"), or the enforced retirement of the head of the engineering company that made the spacecraft -- all these appear in both Hanks' story of Apollo and Baxter's story of the Mars mission. Such parallels would be legitimate, it seems to me, if the Mars mission was an alternative to Apollo, but it is supposed to be subsequent to it, and so the parallels appear as a case of history repeating itself. I draw no conclusions from this, but it did make me wonder.
On the whole I was impressed by Voyage. It reads like the dramatisation of real events, which means that as fiction it succeeds. One proviso, however: Stephen Baxter is British, and he has written an American book. As a British reader I found it totally convincing; an American might take a different view.