Among Earth-ending alien invasions and the flaming pulse cannons of an interstellar dogfight, it is sometimes forgotten that science fiction is a wonderful medium for addressing big issues. In the mid-1960s the original Star Trek featured episodes about slavery, discrimination and the threat of nuclear war — issues which “mainstream” TV shows of that period would or could not.
In Chrysopteron, author by Michael K. Rose (@MichaelKRose) sets out to examine human nature (don’t miss my interview with the author), using the fate of the titular spaceship as his canvas. Faced with diminishing resources and a burgeoning population, several Earth nations band together to send five Generation ships to distant planets deemed suitable for human colonization.
These are truly “generation” ships as the distances to the target planets mean hundreds of years of travel; those who board the ships on Earth do so knowing it will be their children’s children’s children who reap the rewards of their sacrifice. But what changes will occur along the way, to both the people and their enclosed society, once those who remember Earth are gone?
Through much-delayed radio transmissions the ultimate fates of four of the five ships is known, so the decision is made to send a small team headed by pilot John Hayden to determine what became of Chrysopteron and her colonists after they arrived at their destination, a planet called Elysium.
The pace of the first half of the novel is somewhat languid — matching reality for both the distance Chrysopteron has to cover and the preparation time needed for Hayden’s mission — but I found the story so engaging that the pages flew by. The pace picks up after the midpoint, but not in a way that the story felt rushed. The ending is ambiguous and since finishing the book I’ve changed my mind on what I believe happens next. You can’t not like a novel that has you thinking even after the last page has been turned!
For more on Mr. Rose and his writing, visit his website.