Space Station Down by Ben Bova and Doug Beason (book review).

‘Space Station Down’ by Ben Bova and Doug Beason is a standalone near future Science Fiction thriller.

The Americans and the Russians, with contributions from other nations, run the International Space Station (ISS). The Russians are so hungry for cash that they had flown up 36 multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for the Americans on a routine supply mission and had recently accepted a space tourist, Adama Bakhet. He, along with Kazakhstani astronaut Farid Hazood, who ‘had aced’ his previous mission to the ISS, and Russian astronaut Colonel Yuri Zel’dovich arrive in their Soyuz capsule at the ISS.

Life is busy on the ISS. Only one astronaut is there to greet the arrivals when they open the dock. First out is a murdered Zel’dovich, closely followed by Farid and Bakhet. Farid murders the waiting astronaut and goes on to murder a second one further along the ISS.

Kimberley Hadid-Robinson is at the other end of the ISS and sees all this on her linked-in laptop. She sets the klaxon going to warning the remaining three astronauts something has gone dreadfully wrong.

So begins this novel where the terrorists, Farid and Bakhet, take control of most of the ISS and threaten to deorbit it to crash on New York. The only person in their way is Kimberley, who has managed to segregate herself from villains at one end of the ISS, but she out of contact with ground control. She does not panic or break down. Instead, she follows her motto, ‘Don’t get mad, get even.

The action is fast-paced, with the stakes being gradually increased as the novel progresses. At first, we see Kimberley reaching out for help and doing what she sensibly can. Increasingly, she is forced to rely more and more on herself to take on a myriad of roles, until she is the one taking charge of sorting out all the obstacles that are thrown in her way.

The description of the ISS is detailed, but only sufficient to help the plot along and to let the reader they are really there with her. It is what technical descriptions should be in Science Fiction novels, sufficient unto purpose.

A lot of acronyms are used and whilst they are explained when the reader first encounters them, it would have been helpful if the novel had included an acronym table. The one I had to check was RTG, which was rather important to the story.

There are a lot of instances of what I call placing objects or making events happen for the convenience of the plot. A good example is there is an experimental spacesuit in the place where Kimberley is holed up. Another is finding the bottle of Sriracha sauce or Rooster sauce as the astronauts nickname it, in a storage bag and she remembering why it can be so useful just before she needs to use it. Each instance could happen which makes this story plausible. However, these many instances make for an improbable story in reality.

If you want a high-tension thriller in near future space, this is the go-to novel. I would not be surprised if this ended up being made into film.

Rosie Oliver

October 2020

(pub: TOR, 2020. 338 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), £20.99(UK). ISBN: 978-1-250-30743-9)

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