While the film Gravity is good to look at, probably moreso in 3D on the big screen, and Sandra Bullock does sterling work, virtually occupying the screen throughout, the story has very little plot and character interaction. That cannot be said of Tess Gerritsen’s book, originally published in 1999; amazingly it’s still in the top #50 on Amazon COM as I write. This was an unusual departure for Gerritsen, known at the time for her murder mystery medical thrillers. This is science fiction with medical thriller overtones.
Like the countdown to a shuttle take-off, the beginning is a slow burn, getting to know some characters – notably Emma Watson (long before the first Harry Potter film was released!), a research physician who is scheduled for a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). She’s going through a divorce from her husband Jack McCallum; he was trained as an astronaut but a medical condition grounded him.
Almost at the last minute, Emma’s assigned an earlier slot to go to ISS. On getting there, when some kind of ailment starts plaguing the crew, one by one. The blurb gives it away: ‘a culture of single-celled organisms begin to regenerate out of control.’ Emma struggles to combat the contagion. And meanwhile Jack and NASA juggle with bureaucracy and some sinister elements in the hope of bringing the survivors back to earth. Until it’s realised that bringing them home is no longer an option; they must be quarantined in space, to die there.
An immense amount of research went into this book, that’s obvious. The public has become rather blasé about astronauts and cosmonauts et al floating above us in the ISS – that bright star we glimpse on good cloudless nights. Yet their very existence is constantly under threat, from ‘out there’ and even from within.
I have no intention of inserting any spoilers – I feel that the blurb writer spoiled some of the suspense by using that description – but let me just add that several revelations are made towards the end. And even though it’s almost 500 pages in length, it’s a fast read, an edge-of-seat experience, with a chilling conclusion.
There’s a glossary at the end, thankfully, for as Gerritsen says, ‘NASA has been dubbed the National Acronym Slinging Agency’.
Tess Gerritsen is currently involved in a lawsuit against Warner Bros with regard to ‘breach of contract’. You can read more about it in her blog here
A later blog will discuss a related subject – literary ideas and their fate.