Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Across the Void - Very Mild Spoilers Review

Billed as "A visceral space thriller - perfect for fans of The Arrival and The Martian -following the sole survivor of a catastrophic accident in space that leaves her drifting in the void with only the voice of her estranged husband, a NASA scientist, to guide her back to Earth," Across the Void is written by S.K. Vaughn, which is a pseudonym for a Hollywood writer and director, with credits at Universal, Paramount, Sony, Fox, and Lionsgate. The man's clearly gotten around.

Now that I've told you what the press release says, I'll give you my version. The story is about Maryam "May" Knox, the brilliant commander of an exceptionally important space mission. She wakes up from a medically induced coma alone and with no recollection as to how she got there or what happened prior to the coma. Her only companion is the ship's AI, affectionately named Eve. Her ship is failing, resources are scarce, and she's still recovering from her coma. The bright side is she's able to communicate with NASA and her husband, Stephen (she has no memory of them being estranged). But there's much more to this story than meets the eye.

That alone would have gotten me interested in the book, but what really hooked me was how the book read. The chapters are small, similar to how James Patterson writes his books. The story jumps between the past, the present, May's point of view, and Stephen's point of view. They're all necessary to tell the story Vaughn is telling. With the exception of a few times towards the end, I was never confused between the past and the present. The book reads like a script. There are moments and chapters where visuals are so clearly defined. I can easily see where Vaughn's storytelling experience comes in.

The story itself is fairly solid. At no point was I bored with it. I was invested, and I cared what happened. However, there were some predictable moments, which were easy to suss out. One big plot twist I saw coming, and my reaction was, "Is this about to happen?" and on the next page, it did. Another add-on to that big twist, I thought, "Are the story really going to do this? I hope not," but it did a few chapters later. And then there was another moment towards the end, where someone behaved in a way I had hoped they wouldn't, but they did. A bigger plot twist would've been if the person didn't do the thing they did. Oh well. Vaughn is good at describing the more scientific and technical aspects of the story in a way that's easy to digest and understand, and he's good at putting you with the characters, and since much of the story is in space, you feel like you're there too.

There are some parts of the story that feel underdeveloped. And again, I think some of this might be attributed to Vaughn's other career. Certain relationships are clearly more contentious or complex, and the reader is able to discern it, but whereas if this were on screen, we'd be able to get more of the subtext and more subtleties of the relationships, but as this is in writing, some of it is lost, so certain developments don't feel as impactful as they could. This is especially noticeable in the end with one particular character.

Speaking of characters, I liked our protagonists. May is a smart, strong, determined, pig-headed, vulnerable character. You want her to win and survive. Stephen is very different than her, and sometimes she overpowers him with her big personality, but they clearly have a lot of love for each other. Even when we learn what led to their estrangement, you still want them to work things out, whether they reunite or are able to be friends, you just want them to stay a part of each other's lives. 

The antagonists are a little weaker. I don't think the reader gets enough time with them to truly connect with them in any meaningful way. This is especially obvious in the end. The story gets a little rushed, so the necessary character development needed to justify this person's actions never really hit for me. 

This goes back to my point about this reading like a movie script. A lot of today's action movies favor the action over the character development. That can work when you have stunning visuals, but when it's in written form, it's harder to cover up. And I prefer strong character development over crazy action any day. In book form, you can have both and should.

If you like space or thrillers or both, you'll like this. Faults and all, this story had me hooked, so grab some popcorn, a drink, and get cozy. Once you start reading, you won't want to stop. 

Across the Void goes on sale today. It's available in hardcover, eBook, and audio formats. 

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