by Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It is hardly surprising that Buzz Aldrin is a supporter of a manned space program. His second novel, The Return, co-written with SF author John Barnes, makes the case that although space travel is hazardous it is also a worthwhile endeavor which should not be curtailed by unavoidable accidents or short-sighted political agendas.
The Return is a worthy successor to Aldrin and Barnes's first collaboration, Encounter with Tiber. Both novels feature a cast of likable characters involved in advancing humanity's presence in space. The strongest portions of Encounter with Tiber dealt with mankind's future in space, while the novel was weaker when dealing with the aliens Aldrin and Barnes created. In The Return, the two authors have ignored the alien in order to focus on terrestrial space policy and politics. Coupled with three strong characters, Scott, Nick and Thallia Blackstone, the novel moves quickly.
Aldrin obviously understands the American space program, both from the time he participated in it and the modern era in which it appears more as a business than as an adventure. In The Return he argues that for America to maintain a presence in space, it must be made commercially viable and the monopoly NASA has on launches, along with the near monopoly of a few powerful aerospace firms, needs to be broken.
The novel opens with an accident aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia which results in a civilian, obviously patterned on Michael Jordan, dying. Rather than deal with NASA's reaction and investigation, Aldrin and Barnes have elected to follow MJ's friend, Scott Blackstone, the major proponent of the civilian in space program and the trials and tribulations he faces in the aftermath of the debacle.
It quickly becomes clear that someone is trying to use the death as a means to end launches. The Blackstones must try to figure out who the culprit is even as they work to defend Scott from the wrongful death lawsuits filed against him by MJ's family. The majority of the novel is spent trying to save the space program, prove Scott's innocence and allow the reader to get to know the character well.
The Return is worth picking up because it is an enjoyable novel, not just because of the history of one of its authors. Buzz Aldrin has now proven that the story told in Encounter with Tiber was not a fluke and that he has what it takes to tell an engaging space-age tale.
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