Yume Kitasei’s 2023 The Deep Sky is a stand-alone science fiction novel.
More than a decade into the Phoenix’s journey to another star, Asuka and Kat suit up to examine a mysterious object on the ship’s hull. What should have been a routine exo-vehicular excursion ends in disaster. A bomb detonates. Kat is killed instantly. Inside the ship, Captain McMahon and Communications Specialist Winnie are killed as well. The ship itself is knocked off course.
Asuka survives. Perhaps she can solve the mystery of who planted the bomb.… If only there were not so many suspects. If only Asuka were not the least qualified person in the crew.
Phoenix is a tribute to oligarch Linda Trembling’s ego and her talent at convincing rival nation-states to invest eye-watering amounts of money in a starship (in the midst of on-going climate crisis). A legion of candidates drawn from across the world were winnowed down to the final crew. The mission should represent what humans can do when they work together.
Even in the early stages of the project, it had its detractors. Men’s rights groups objected to the focus on fertile women as crew. Environmentalists in organizations like Save Mother Earth denounced the effort as a counter-productive squandering of precious resources. Militia for the American Constitution were opposed because MAC are racist, violent obstructionists. Any of those groups might have arranged to have a bomb planted on the ship before launch. One or more crew members may be CoBro, SME, or MAC agents.
Complicating matters: back on Earth, American and Chinese rivalry is spiraling into open hostility. World War appears imminent. The US and China being the principal funders of the expedition, they are well represented in the crew. Thanks to superluminal communication, events on Earth are relayed to the crew immediately rather than after a distancing time lag. Perhaps the bombing was an act of patriotism.
Paranoia runs rampant on Phoenix. The effort to discover who set off the bomb is complicated by the fact that everyone is a suspect, including the people leading the investigation. Likewise, the effort to get the ship back on course is complicated by the fact the saboteur could be one of the repair crew.
Asuka is certain that she did not plant the bomb. However, she was only added to the crew as a Wild Card candidate, having failed to pass the selection process. Odds are that the culprit is smarter than Asuka. Nevertheless, Asuka must try to solve the mystery, because if she cannot, she and the ship face a slow death in interstellar space.
I don’t think the interstellar rocketry in this works. At least the author does take credit for any scientific errors.
Other aspects of the project that don’t make sense are not errors on the author’s part; they are due to poor decision making on the part of the expedition planners. SME probably has a point that launching a starship in the middle of a massive climate crisis is a waste of valuable resources and expertise, but Linda Trembling wanted her legacy. There’s no reason to think the grueling selection process has been effective at selecting the very best crew and good reason to think it has not. However, the funders needed to believe that Phoenix had an elite crew, so they must believe that the process worked.
Due to such poor planning and decision making, Phoenix’s chances of successfully establishing a colony on Planet X would seem to be slim. In particular, the fact there’s only one Quantum Walkie (aka ansible) on board suggests a dire lack of redundancy. The issues with course correction also suggest shortfalls in design. What are the odds the challenges waiting on-planet are only those that the available equipment can handle?
The race against time to uncover the saboteur and save the mission would be enough plot for an engaging book. The author adds extra interest with her account of Asuka’s backstory, as a child in an American climate refugee camp. We learn enough about what has been happening on Earth to make sense of the situation on the Phoenix.
Although I see the author has been in print since at least 2019, this is the first of her works that I have encountered. SF mystery is very much my thing and this example did not disappoint. I look forward to her next book.