Category: Fiction
Reviewed by: Bart Leahy
Title: Mission to Methone
Author: Les Johnson
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Paperback/Kindle
Pages: 296
Publisher: Baen
Date: February 2018
Retail Price: $16.00/$8.99
ISBN: 978-1481483056

Les Johnson has written his first solo space adventure, Mission to Methone, where humans prospecting for useful asteroids in 2065 discover that aliens have been observing humanity for a long, long time. In this tale, an asteroid prospecting mission finds an asteroid that turns out to be an ancient alien spacecraft. An opinionated commercial mission scientist finds himself involved in the international effort to explore that spacecraft and other unexpected objects in our solar system.

Johnson, a NASA engineer and a friend of this reviewer, has written several nonfiction books (Solar SailsSky Alert: When Satellites Failand Paradise Regained: The Regreening of Earth) as well as science fiction adventures to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere. This book ventures into explorations of Methone, an egg-shaped moon of Saturn discovered by the Cassini spacecraft in 2004, as well as destinations even farther away.

In addition to asteroid prospecting and mining, Johnson envisions the Solar System bustling with a variety of international space activities, including in-space propellant production, reusable in-space propulsion stages, in-space spacecraft assembly, and single-person servicing spacecraft. Having supported Marshall Space Flight Center’s Advanced Concepts Office, many of the technologies and spacecraft described in the book are undoubtedly familiar from his daily work, and he writes about them with the authority of someone who knows how these vehicles operate.

The international politics envisioned in Johnson’s future are critical to the story. Some of today’s conflicts have mutated; with Russia more or less becoming part of the European Union; India becoming a power hostile to China and the U.S.; and parts of the Islamic world taken over by “the Caliphate,” an Islamic State legitimized by significant territory, an official spiritual leader (Caliph) as head of state, and nuclear weapons. These various entities end up cooperating or competing over the course of the story as the ancient, mysterious alien machines demonstrate their powers and cause alliances and priorities to shift in response.

Given the international and interplanetary nature of the story, Mission to Methone includes astronauts and taikonauts exploring space, heads of state and their staffs, and common soldiers on the ground facing possible attacks by nuclear weapons. The actions of the astronauts—in particular, the somewhat abrasive lead character Chris Holt, dominate the story with other characters receiving brief descriptions about their appearance or motivations. To hustle the action along, Johnson narrates rather than shows some parts of the storyline.

While Johnson launches his explorers across the Solar System to various dramatic locales (some real, some imagined), he manages to touch on multiple themes in less than 300 pages, including the need to explore more and do more in space; the rise and fall of civilizations; likely explanations for our inability to detect alien life (Fermi’s Paradox); and the effects of religious fundamentalism on the conduct of war and international relations. And while he brings this adventure to a high-tech closing, he also leaves the story wide open for a sequel or two. Assuming Mission to Methone is the first of a series, I look forward to Johnson providing more details about the Solar System economy he’s created as well as further development of the characters around Holt.

Despite the various international shenanigans stirring the plot, Johnson is, at heart, an optimist about the future, and that shows in this novel. I recommend this book as one that’s worth taking the time to read.

© 2018 Bart Leahy

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