THE CASSANDRA PROJECT
by Jack McDevitt & Mike Resnick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Cassandra Project, a collaboration between Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick reads as if Resnick wrote a novel plotted by McDevitt. The story is the sort of space-faring mystery McDevitt has written since his earliest published works, and the style shows Resnick’s voice. The story was expanded from a short story McDevitt published in Lightspeed in 2010.
Jerry Culpepper is a NASA spokesman in 2019, as the agency is losing funding and a billionaire, Bucky Blackmore, is about to launch a privately funded mission to the moon, the first such voyage in nearly fifty years since Apollo XVII returned to Earth. A mysterious entry in the journal of an astronaut who orbited the Moon in January of 1969, six months before Apollo 11 landed, touches off a firestorm of speculation that an American landed on the moon before Armstrong did. Culpepper issues NASA’s denial, but his own investigation leads him to believe that there might be something in the report, a feeling that grows stronger and makes his continued tenure at NASA untenable for him.
The novel is almost procedural in nature, following Culpepper’s investigation, but mixing in Blackmore plans for his own expedition as the billionaire believes there is something in the journal entry and uses his position, reminiscent of Donald Trump, to attack the White House and NASA while increasing the publicity and interest in his own space launch. Despite an early overture to Culpepper by Blackmore, the two men run their own investigations for much of the novel, discovering only pieces of the puzzle they both have come to believe exists, and both wondering how such a secret could have remained so for half a century.
The culmination of the novel occurs with Blackmore’s expedition returning to the moon after a fifty year absence. Surrounding himself with professionals, Blackmore allows himself the giddiness of a space enthusiast who has manage to attain his dream. Upon their return, the novel begins to examine Blackmore’s discovery and what it means to the immediate future of the world as Blackmore reveals his knowledge to those who are appropriate, while at the same time maintaining his own secrets. Secrets do play a big part in The Cassandra Project, especially the idea of keeping secrets. While Culpepper tries to figure out what happened and Blackmore accuses the President of a cover up, McDevitt and Resnick also present the President's view, who can't cover up what he doesn't know about, but can still be blamed for not disclosing it.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the novel is when Blackmore’s mission reaches the moon. Despite the characters’ excitement, their sense of wonder doesn’t translate to the reader, the mission and discovery coming across as prosaic rather than worlds-shaking, which is surprising, given the authors’ Individual track records which show both know how to communicate the wonders of the universe which Blackmore merely describes. The novel also ends with the feeling that there is more to come as the world, and McDevitt and Resnick’s characters, must come to terms with the discovery made on the moon and its implications.
There is a classic feel to The Cassandra Project, a throwback to the days when science fiction was about D. D. Harriman using private industry to lay claim to the moon, yet with a modern sensibility and understand of politics and media. McDevitt and Resnick have created a novel which successfully presents private enterprise stepping in and doing what the government can not longer do while paying tribute to both the classic science fiction that inspired the authors as well as a people who were inspired by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first steps on the Moon in 1969.
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