Lisa A. Nichols’ 2019 Vessel is a science fiction novel.
Years after being given up as lost, the American spacecraft Sagittarius returns via wormhole from the Trappist‑1 system. Catherine Wells is alive and well, but the rest of her crew is nowhere to be found. What happened? Catherine cannot say, because there is a large gap in her memory.
In fact, this is not the first time an American astronaut has returned from Trappist‑1 with missing memories. The first American to visit the system, Iris Addy, suffered similar symptoms. Catherine’s return marks the first time that all but one of a whole crew has been lost — also the first time that large chunks of the ship’s computer files have been mysteriously wiped. But Catherine seems to be fine, amnesia excepted. Eventually Catherine is sent on her way to rebuild her life.
Catherine left Earth nine years ago, long enough for her daughter to grow into a teen and long enough for her husband, believing Catherine dead, to find someone new. Awkward. Everyone involved makes an effort to welcome Catherine into their new lives. But good intentions are not enough.
Moreover, Catherine seems to have been affected — or perhaps damaged — in ways that weren’t obvious at first. She has blackouts. She finds herself in the thrall of an inexplicable, all-consuming desire to prevent another American expedition from heading for Trappist‑1.
What she found on the planet and why she is compelled to stop further exploration is a mystery. One that can only be solved if she recovers her lost memories.
It’s odd that all the expeditions to Trappist‑1 were American. You’d think that every nation able to launch robots would be hucking them at a space-time link to another star system. Yet the book mentions no such explorations. Catherine isn’t triggered by anything save the upcoming American expedition. Ergo, either there are no other space-faring nations on Earth or Americans are completely unaware of their existence. How odd.
It’s also odd that NASA turned Catherine loose even though there is eventually clear evidence that she has been altered in some way. Even if her problems are side-effects of wormhole travel (not something even odder, hint hint), the Sagittarius II crew will be at risk of the same damage. What it is and how to prevent it would seem to be mysteries that should be solved before sending the second expedition.
Anyone who has read SF for any length of time will probably be able to work out what’s up with Catherine. At least for me, that sucked all the narrative tension out of the book. It’s like spotting Cary Elwes is the murderer during the title credits1 of a murder mystery film.
The novel is stronger when it deals with Catherine’s return to a family who had believed her long dead. That rang true (or so it seems to me; any readers who have returned from the dead can speak to this in comments).
That wasn’t enough to redeem the book. I found the plot holes just too distracting
- Why bother to cast a British actor in an American film unless he’s the bad guy?