Possible signs of organic life have been found on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, A group of visionaries led by NASA’s Paula Benecerraf plan a daring one-way mission that will cost them everything. Taking nearly a decade, the billion-mile voyage includes a “slingshot” transit of Venus, a catastrophic solar storm, and a constant struggle to keep the ship and crew functioning. But it is on the icy surface of Titan itself that the true adventure begins. In the orange methane slush the astronauts will discover the secret of life’s origins and reach for a human destiny beyond their wildest dreams.
Take some archetypal sci-fi characters (ageing moonwalker, several bright young astronauts and a dedicated but reclusive scientist), throw in the near future scenario of a declining space programme following a catastrophic fatal accident, mix well with some unusual plot twists and you have the foundations for Baxter’s eighth novel.
Baxter novices may be wary of such a clichéd plot, but don’t despair—his reputation as one of the UK’s best sci-fi writers is well founded. Titan is an enjoyable novel, well-written, with just the right mixture of hard science fiction, strong characters and a believable, if undesirable, vision of the future. Reminiscent of 2001 and its sequel 2010, the plot unfolds against the backdrop of a declining world civilization. America is sinking into the mire of Christian fundamentalism and turning against technology, whilst a desperate NASA expends all it’s remaining energy and resources on a manned mission to Titan—one- way—with the faint hope of reigniting the public’s interest in space exploration. The mission is a technical success, but is ignored by the masses, leaving the astronauts stranded on the outskirts of the solar system with no hope of rescue.
But of course, that’s not the end of the story… —Dave Mutton