Thursday, November 17, 2011

book review: Oxygen by John B. Olson and Randy Ingermanson

I recently took advantage of a cheap Kindle download of John B. Olson and Randy Ingermanson's 2001 novel Oxygen. though I'm not a fan of its genre (near-future scientific thriller), I wanted to see if Snowflake guru Ingermanson could actually write fiction and was attracted by the "Bonus Goodies For Aspiring Authors" included in this edition.

The story is about a space mission to Mars. We meet the main characters—the astronauts—when they are in training before the mission launches. The main male character, Bob is outwardly self-assured but inwardly fearful that he will be axed from the mission. The main female character, scientist, medical doctor, and resourceful woman extraordinaire Valkerie joins the crew late, bumping Josh to the consternation of some. Kennedy and Lex, the other male and female astronauts are mysterious and sometimes appear sinister—all the more because they are not point-of-view characters and we don't know their motivations. Characters are well-developed, believable and to varying degrees sympathetic.

On launch day we experience the bone-shaking liftoff through Valkerie's consciousness and the various mishaps that follow through Valkerie's and Bob's. One of the crisis points of the plot occurs when the ground crew realizes that the bruised space craft hurtling toward Mars doesn't have enough oxygen to get the crew of four safely landed on the red planet. This shortage combined with the hostile setting makes for a fascinating exploration of the psychology of people under pressure, as the astronauts together with mission control decide how to handle their dilemma.

The authors' probing of the themes of trust, loyalty, love, and faith make the story more than just a scientific thrill ride.

I enjoyed it. The authors in their back matter, explain how they did their best to make it a page-turner (John Olson: "I was obsessed with giving the reader the most extreme ride possible. I wanted the tension to be maxed out at every point in every scene of the book..." - Kindle Location 7579) and it certainly was that. In fact, I could have used a little more down-time amidst all the high angst.

The authors also talk about selling their idea to an agent, explain how they researched and wrote the book, then quote parts of their submission (with comments of what they would do differently if they were submitting that proposal today). It was enlightening. This ten-year-old award-winning book stands up well though its now-nearly-upon-us dates (mission launch January 2014) feel a bit spooky.

Violet Nesdoly / poems
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