February 12, 2006

End In Fire by Syne Mitchell

space-suited figure looking a bit alarmedIt's 2022. Claire Logan is an astronaut about to return home to her husband and their four-year-old son when China sets off a high-altitude nuclear blast in its war with India over one of Earth's last oil fields. That's just the first in a cascading series of Really Bad Things that happen to Earth and/or Claire in the course of the novel.

Mitchell does a really great job of balancing the need for lots of exposition and detail with that for a page-turning peril-filled plot. I'm not one of those SF readers who pulls out his slide rule and double-checks the orbital mechanics of a story, but short of that level of verisimiltude, I felt transported into the microgravity environment of low Earth orbit. I was impressed by how she even used the fundamental gravity contrast as a way to distinguish the planet-side scenes. It's cool how just having a character set down a cup of coffee can seem so alien when you just came out of a scene where great pains had to be taken to keep discarded items from wreaking havoc in microgravity. One of the short films from last week's film festival pointed out just how hard it is to get this kind of stuff right. It was called Microgravity and was set in a similar space station locale to this book. For a low-budget short film it did an amazing job, but there are too many details that remind you that it was filmed in a gravity well. Little things like a seat back flexing every time the actress settled back from reaching for a control just took me out of the movie. Granted, Mitchell is working in a different medium, but she got this stuff right.

I had a little bit of a problem with suspending my disbelief through the series of unfortunate events. I think there were just too many things that went just wrong enough to be scary and force the characters to move on to the next thing, but not wrong enough to be total disasters (for the main characters. Plenty of the events were total disasters for minor characters and for large swaths of mankind). So, yes, I'm simultaneously complaining that there were too many successive awful things, and that the awful things weren't awful enough.

Whining aside, I plowed through the book in short order and, despite the depressing subject matter, enjoyed it.

Posted by jeffy at February 12, 2006 06:09 PM
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