Across The Void by S.K. Vaughn (book review).

S.K. Vaughn’s new novel, ‘Across The Void’ relies on a common theme of an isolated astronaut trying to survive. Commander Mayam ‘May’ Knox is brought out of hibernation in a disorientated fashion and finds herself alone on the damaged spaceship, Hawking II, during its Europa mission. Her only companion is the ship’s AI, which she renames Eve, and they have to work together to get the craft working again. She also finds out what happens to the crew.

There are elements of this which are definitely spoiler as they relate back to Earth. It is with this that I do have some serious problems. The whole point of going to Europa was to find signs of possible life. Even if it is contagious, you would still want the samples and there is such a thing as quarantine.

Without giving away too much about the plot or where I do, I’ll fragment it so you have to put the story together to make sense of anything I say.

Vaughn finds a useful way to impart information is quick paragraphs which doesn’t stop the flow of the action. There are a few things that I would query. Early in her revival, May is told to digest a lot of glucose tablets. From merely my own diabetic point of view, even normal humans would get an immediate sugar boost but it does need to be followed up with more regular food or risk having an even more serious sugar dip when it is digested.

May is also a smoker which as an astronaut on a deep space mission isn’t something I can see being accepted. Although the atmosphere on-board the Hawking II is not indicated, from recent Haynes books I’ve read, they would tend to have a higher oxygen level than atmospheric Earth and would you really want to light a cigarette in that kind of environment? Considering this is also the future, wouldn’t May have relied on an e-cigarette to get her nicotine fix? Granted the AI Eve points out she shouldn’t be smoking, the opportunity to cover this correctly is ignored.

The same also applies with pregnancy. To avoid complications, women astronauts are on the pill now so they should be in this immediate future. Considering the list of advisors Vaughn notes at the end of the book, I’m surprised this didn’t come up. The same also applies to May’s ethnicity which is only mentioned once.

Making May an amnesic gets around the problem of having many memories of the people she trained with. However, as Vaughn is an American writer, he/she makes the common mistake of thinking only the landed gentry get top jobs when we have a bigger emphasis on qualification and adaptability. Many of May’s traits would certainly disqualify her from her commander position and she certainly doesn’t show any leadership qualities.

I should point out that ‘S.K. Vaughn’ is one of three pseudonyms for an American scriptwriter. His or her other novels have been thrillers and this is his/her first SF novel. This is where it gets complicated because there was already another SF author with the same name that no one seems to have spotted so don’t get the two confused like I did.

The end of the book gets far too bitty. There are far too many conspiracies going on and little of it in deep focus. It’s almost as though Vaughn wanted to do more than a space mission and a fight for survival. Maybe it was the thought of ‘The Martian’ and being a space version of that loomed in Vaughn’s head. Other than the four lead characters, the rest are more secondary and so incidental that you don’t care when there are casualties.

In fact, the entire problem of alien contamination is side-lined. A good detailed beginning is let down at the end as if the author wanted to finish it in a page count.

GF Willmetts

July 2019

(pub: Sphere/Little, Brown Book Group. 454 page hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7515-6822-6)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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