by David Wellington
I love Science Fiction and have done for more years than I care to remember. I am particularly fond of “first contact” stories when mankind meets an alien species for the first time. One of my favourites, a book I have read several times over the years, is Arthur C Clarke’s classic “Rendezvous With Rama”. The reason I mention this is that “The Last Astronaut” has a little more than a passing resemblance to Clarke’s brilliant novel.
Let me get one thing clear, that is not intended as negative criticism, just an observation.
The Last Astronaut of the title is Commander Sally Jansen, former mission commander for NASA’s aborted Mars mission, brought out of retirement to lead a hastily assembled crew. Their mission: to intercept and assess an unknown object that has recently entered the solar system.
But NASA are not the only people interested in whatever this alien object has to offer. In an era where private enterprise has become the driving force in space exploration (and exploitation), Commander Jansen finds herself leading her team in a race to make first contact.
Like all good science fiction, David Wellington’s book is not just a gripping adventure story, it looks beyond the superficial and asks questions about ourselves and our place in the universe. First contact stories in particular as much about digging deep into the human psyche as it is about scientific and technological concepts. In The Last Astronaut, Wellington faces the question of whether or not we would recognise alien life for what it is. In a universe of infinite possibilities, how we can be sure we would even recognise our alien visitors as alive, let alone communicate with them.
It is this question, and the novel’s attempt to answer it, that makes this such a good and compelling story. It is also a damned good adventure story with plenty of jeopardy, tension and a rollercoaster ride as the characters face one challenge after another in as alien an environment as you could hope for. There is even a little romance.
The Last Astronaut is one of the best new SciFi I have read in recent years.