Book Review

Across the Void by S. K. Vaughn

across the void

May Knox floats in space, the only survivor of a catastrophic accident. There is just one person who can save her – and his life is in danger, back on Earth.

It’s Christmas Day, 2067.

Silent Night drifts across the ruins of a wrecked spaceship, listing helplessly in the black. A sole woman, May, stirs within – the last person left alive of a disastrous first manned mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

There is only one person who can help her – her ex-husband Stephen, a NASA scientist who was heading up the mission back on Earth. Until, that is, she broke his heart and he left both her and the mission.

As May fights for life, Stephen finds his own life is under threat, putting both of them at risk.

In this twisty, gasp-inducing thriller, when each breath is a fight for survival, their relationship is the difference between life and death.

Commander Maryam (May) Knox wakes up alone on the Hawking II on the return journey from Europa with only the vessel’s AI for company.  Between them and their respective memory failures – May is suffering from retrograde amnesia, and the AI’s records are curiously incomplete – they struggle to understand what happened to May, the rest of the crew, and the scientists on board the vessel.  Eventually making contact with Earth, May and Eve, as she dubs the AI, begin to do what they can to get home.  Across the Void is such an intriguing novel, and one that immediately raises many questions for the reader.  It’s a novel that I raced through in order to get answers to those questions, as well as finding out May’s ultimate fate, as it has to be said that her situation is dire, and just when you think things can’t get any worse for her, they do.

Alternating with May’s journey home is the story of how she and her husband, Stephen, first met.  It is, quite frankly, a disaster, although it’s clear that there is a spark of something when they next cross paths.  Married after a whirlwind romance, their relationship seems almost enviable as, despite their differences (and these are two very different individuals), they seem to get along brilliantly.  In contrast to the happy, loving relationship presented in these flashbacks, the reader discovers early on that May and Stephen have initiated divorce proceedings, although the reasons for this aren’t immediately clear, and this is yet another mystery to be cleared up over the course of the novel.  While I’m not a reader of romance generally, I enjoyed reading about May’s past, and it adds something a little different to the narrative.

Vaughn’s characters are fantastic.  There are a couple who are out and out bastards, but the vast majority, while exceptional individuals – this is a novel involving space exploration, after all – showcase both the good and the bad elements of human nature.  Even May has her flaws, making her both admirable but easy to relate to as it’s clear that she is far from perfect.  I must also mention Eve, the AI on the Hawking II.  Named after May’s own mother, it (she?) soon begins to develop a personality as May gives the instruction to Eve to adopt a less formal tone.  Eve soon begins to display a rather cheeky persona – taking her cue from May! – and the interactions between May and Eve become more conversational.  For May, it’s like having a friend present, and I think that this helps the reader to relax into the narrative and to enjoy the discussions between May and Eve that might otherwise be a little flat.

Given that the plot features a lone astronaut stranded in space doing whatever they can to survive, Across the Void is bound to draw comparisons to The Martian.  And I do think that if you enjoyed The Martian that you’ll enjoy this, too.  However, the similarities are only surface-level, and I quickly found Across the Void to be quite a different story.  There are more women (and fewer potatoes) and being stranded on a vessel in space introduces quite a different set of problems to those faced by Mark Watney on Mars.  Don’t think for a minute that May has an easier time of it though – she comes up against problem after problem and her situation becomes increasingly desperate as the novel progresses.

Across the Void is a thoroughly entertaining novel that is gripping throughout, and I loved the combination of science fiction, thriller, and romance which make it a little different to anything else I’ve read.  This is a novel that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, and one that is very likely to feature in my favourite books of the year.


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