Sunday, 14 December 2014

Horizon by Keith Stevenson

Horizon by Keith Stevenson is a science fiction novel set in the medium future, mostly on a spaceship that's been sent to investigate the hopefully habitable planet Horizon and it's stellar system. I'm not really sure why the planet is on fire on the cover.
Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective - the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship's AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.

As tensions rise and personal and political agendas play out in the ship's cramped confines, the crew finally reach the planet Horizon, where everything they know will be challenged.
I had no specific expectations for this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly my least favourite part was the opening because of all the vomiting (I am a touch emetophobic) but after that was done with it was smooth sailing. I quite liked the mystery aspect that was established right from the start. The crew (mainly seen from Commander Cait's point of view) wake up from deepsleep to find one of their number dead and something difficult to ascertain wrong with the computer. It takes most of the book to work out what happened and why. They also receive confusing communications from Earth which don't make anything much clearer.

The action in Horizon centres on two causes: clashes of personality between all the crew, and external forces on Earth or more locally. Cait spends a lot of the book trying to strike a balance between personalities and situations. I really enjoyed her as a character. She had integrity and genuinely wanted the best for everyone. It was refreshing to read about a competent character trying to make the best of a difficult situation without being annoying (one of the other characters was annoying enough for the whole book) or making stupid mistakes. The other characters were also well-rounded with reasonably complex motivations.

The story was about half science half politics and I found the former more convincing. Not that the politics was bad, per se, but it was necessarily hazy — because the present Earth situation was a mystery to the characters — and the history was recounted only briefly. (I should note that there's a pre-launch history at the back of the book, but reading that after the story didn't really add much beyond the timeline aspect.) The science, on the other hand, was pretty good. Nothing made me angry (a good measure of accuracy) and there were only a couple of minor niggles I noticed that I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't. Stevenson is also consistent with noting the differences in manoeuvrability in low gravity throughout the book, instead of lazily cranking up the gravity (which was realistically generated through spin) and leaving it at that.

I want to talk about the ending but, of course, I don't want to go into major spoilers. I will just say that one aspect of the ending was a little too Arthur C Clarke for my liking. Not that I don't like Clarke, just that it had been done before and I didn't think it needed to be done again. That said, it wasn't a bad ending, taken in isolation.

I enjoyed Horizon and I would recommend it to all fans of science fiction. There's not a huge amount of Australian-authored SF out there and it's always nice to see more, especially when it's of this quality. SF fans who enjoy semi-science driven stories (it's not all about the science but the science is important to the story) will probably enjoy Horizon. I will certainly be keeping an eye on future novels Stevenson writes.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2014, Voyager Impulse
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Aussie SF Reading Challenge

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