This very ambitious and largely successful debut novel is a thick (532-page) and generally very well-paced blend of alternate history and hard-science-based space adventure. In this book’s universe, humanity had early space shuttles as early as World War I (!), astronomers discovered an Earth-like planet in one of the nearer star systems years later and signals from a robot probe have multiple nations scrambling to reach the world, dubbed Terra-Two. The usual current problems of war, pollution and climate change make many eager to give humanity a new start in the place.
Now (roughly in our present, give or take a few years) China has already launched a generational ship with 100 people aboard, although it’s so slow it will take a century or so for their descendants to reach their destination.
Meanwhile, the UK is about to launch the Damocles, a faster ship with an unusual 10-person crew for a 23-year voyage to explore and prepare for colonization. That crew itself consists of 4 veteran space travelers and 6 handpicked 18- and 19-year-old who are the cream of an elite school that has been training them and a couple hundred others for this mission since they were kids in their early teens. The idea is that the older crew will lead now, teaching and guiding the youngsters till they’re ready to take over.
But of course even now, these just-barely-adults will have major tasks to perform. Various chapters are focused on individual crew-members, including some early flashbacks showing their experiences and how they came to be part of this bold project. Important events during their time at this Academy are also displayed, until the pressure and the prospect of this one-way trip results in the last-minute and tragic breakdown of one of the younger astronauts. Program directors substitute a member of the backup crew and scapegoat the mission’s medical officer, calling in a 2nd replacement.
The expected crew and the newcomers have considerable settling-in issues, as one might expect. But the ship begins a realistically long voyage, gradually building up speed. Out past Saturn (the farthest humans have so far ventured) they’ll fire up the fancy new main drive, defecting cosmonaut (and Damocles’ chief engineer) Igor Bovarin brought with him.
That’s all if the ship and its crew can survive the emotional stress and physical dangers of this long flight in the icy space environment. I’m not going to spoil things with extra details, but there will be problems, breakdowns of equipment and people, resulting in casualties and dangers, failures and successes, near-misses and desperate rescues.
It’s all handled well and mostly believably, once you’re past the idea (presented as controversial in the book, to be fair) of recruiting adolescents for heavy astronaut training.
Overall, I liked this book a lot. It marks Oh as another young SF writer to watch and is a worthwhile read it itself.
Recommended (as if you couldn’t tell from the above remarks).