The man opens his eyes and finds himself strapped to a strange hospital bed. His naked body has electrodes plastered head to toe and tubes infiltrating every orifice. His “nurse” is a pair of robotic arms; the voice, feminine, with an emotionless drone. With sleep heavy eyes he scans the room and sees mummified remains in the other two beds. It seems he’s been “asleep” a long time. He doesn’t know how long because he doesn’t remember anything including his name.
After freeing himself, he stumbles around in search of someone or something to explain his circumstances. Stunned he discovers he is completely alone on a space ship hurdling through space with no idea how he got there or why.
Suddenly a neuron fires in his head, and he has a blip of memory. He is in a coffee shop in San Francisco. He’s reading an email from the Pulkovo Observatory in Russia soliciting theories to explain why a line of infrared emissions are leaving the sun, dimming it, and heading toward Venus in a widening arc.
“Apparently my brain decided it was critical that I remember that email. Not trivial things like my own name.”
As Ryland Grace puts the puzzle together, he asks himself, “Why have I, a Junior High School science teacher ended up on a space ship? ” We learn, in a highly technical and scientific manner, that his presence on the ship wasn’t exactly voluntary but necessary. The sun is losing energy rapidly to some unknown space algae they named Astrophages. As a result, Earth faces a rapidly developing ice age leading to extinction of all life in the near future. Quoting Martin Luther King, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
When he puts it all together, Grace makes a decision. His death is a foregone conclusion. Might as well see if he can save the Earth before that happens. And in his search for an answer to save the world, he finds he isn’t as alone as he thought.
Revealing any more will spoil the story. I will give a heads up. This is a science fiction novel. It has a lot of technical jargon and space science stuff. Understanding and comprehending that material not my strong suit. I stuck to the pathos, ingenuity, jerry rigging, loneliness, entertainment, witty sequences, and humor that our reluctant and inexperienced astronaut provided. Space geeks seem to have a harder time accepting the plot. I did not feel I lost anything by skimming through the equations and astro-geek speak. To me, the heart of the story had a richer more personal message – loyalty and friendship – that left me cheering at the unexpected ending. I really enjoyed the book. (The Martian remains my favorite though.)