And so ends my summer of happy reading. What began with a Three for Two offer at a Doncaster Waterstones and took in books like The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman and Glen David Gold’s debut novel Carter Beats the Devil reaches its conclusion with a book that Guillermo Del Toro tells us on the sleeve to be a “Pulse-Pounding Tale” – Heavens Shadow by the writer of the Dark Knight (David S Goyer) and the Twilight Zone (Michael Cassutt). I’ll start with a disclaimer. As a teenager I read dozens and dozens of books from series like Sharpe and other historical fiction sagas. By my old age of 25, I’m pretty burnt out on on going books. I’ve discovered a passion for reading self contained novels that contain all the information I ever need to know between its two covers and leave no questions unanswered at its conclusion. If I had realised in the shop that Heavens Shadow was the first of a series of books from the Bat Zone team, I would not have bought it – regardless of how sumptuous the cover looked.
Lets be grateful for lazy book buying eh? Not doing my research meant I picked up a book that I read cover to cover in 7 days and was left panting for more. Before I go into the detail let me just give an overview of the book.
Set in the next decade, this science fiction tale feels immediately familiar in all its references to technology and procedures and tracks two competing international teams of astronauts (respectively called cosmonauts in Russian, and vyomanaut for India) as they race to be the first humans to touch down on a Near Earth Object. Not the moon, though that had been what everybody had trained for, but what appears to be a rogue meteorite approaching Earth from below the south pole. It’s going to miss, so no panic, but it does provide a unique opportunity for national pride and demonstration of technical feats. So off they go, only to find on their final approach massive volcanic activity on the meteorite causing it to tumble into orbit around the earth. Analysis by the brains in Houston and India confirm the unbelievable truth – those eruptions were not so much volcanic in nature as similar to thruster’s on a space ship. In other words, the NEO suddenly becomes a UFO with two unprepared crews landing on its surface unsure what to expect.
For what is clearly going to be an epic piece of science fiction writing by the authors, Heavens Shadow manages to accomplish the feat of building a near future world that seems very familiar. For anybody who keeps well read on science and space, almost everything referenced in this book has been talked about in journals and the media. It takes it from Science Fiction to Science Possible, which is the first step on the road to greatness for a Sci-Fi story in my opinion. It has been plotted to such an incredible detail that not one of its 400 beautifully laid out pages seems wasted. In fact the whole book feels like a prologue to the main event. ordinarily that would be a criticism, but the tension, wonder and sheer fantasy that is ratcheted up page by page leave you hoping the book doesn’t end. I am glad there will be a sequel! So many questions are open at the end of this book that thrill rather than frustrate, amongst which I wonder just how big are the writers thinking? Its a story that could span generations of characters.
Cassutt and Goyer do a sublime job of re-stoking the cold war space paranoia introducing the new players in the space race – Brazil, India, Europe, and preserving gratuitous displays of pig-headedness from American bureaucrats. The story lurches from petty politics, to the brink of galactic warfare between our old Super Powers, before throwing everybody in to the same mess together. From nuclear detonations, to the living dead, crash landings, extremely dangerous aliens, and the enforced conscription of thousands of humans into a conflict, a war, that we cannot begin to comprehend… its a story with all the big ideas and concepts. Its about how we treat each other, how we treat the memory of our loved ones and how we should face the wonders out in the universe which no matter how clever we think we are will always surprise us.
Heavens Shadow is published by an imprint of Macmillan in the UK but copyright is owned by Phantom Four Films and St. Croix Productions. This is no surprise. The clean way it is written and set out screams for a television adaptation. Cover to cover this could be an entire television season in one book. I look forward to seeing if anything develops and also waiting for its sequel Heavens War.
Shame I have to go back to reading textbooks for the courses I’m teaching. What a fun summers reading.
P.S. I’ve subsequently done some digging and the Heaven trilogy of books has been picked up by Warner Bros. to make into films. Bit of a disappointment as the number of cliff hangers and surprises in the book I thought would have made it great fodder for TV.