Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Chris Hadfield has pursued a career that comes the way of few men. A seasoned and accomplished astronaut, a test pilot and experienced fighter pilot in the US air force and navy, he has seen action intercepting Soviet bombers over United States air space. A veteran of space flight, a director of the United States Space shuttle, and Commander of the International Space Station, he has experienced two space walks, in fact helped build space station Mir, and was NASA’s Director of Operations in Russia.
The co-creator and host of a popular BBC series, Chris Hadfield has worked with actor Will Smith on at least one other and has a large following of his TED talks on fear. He advises various private companies on technical matters in deep space and teaches advanced classes in space exploration.
Hadfield is a man to be admired. A leading scientist who has earned all the plaudits that have come his way. He began his career as a pilot and through hard work and superior intelligence has made a magnificent contribution to the world in which his body lives.
How I wish he had not tried to enter the universe of the imagination by choosing to write in the toughest genre there is. Novel writing requires a set of skills as specific to individuals as piloting a plane. It involves the ability to string together discrete pieces of information into a tale that relies as much on imagination as it does on incident rightness. It involves creating human beings that will work together in realistic ways while retaining their attractiveness or otherwise in a consistent fashion for something like 400 pages of action and description. Novel writing requires as much the ability to imply as it does to spell out action. It requires the ability to see into the souls of men and women and to demonstrate the depths of human emotion.
I read The Apollo Murders two days ago. I have had to skim through the book to remind myself of what murders the author refers to, who the lead character was, and refresh my memory over the identity of any female characters. As the story came back to me, I discovered that characters such as Chad and Laura and Kaz remained fuzzy and ill-defined. Laura’s invitation to Kaz to meet her at the bathroom door when she had finished her shower hardly crackles with sexual tension. It is not a moment of which Pussy Galore might have been proud. My knowledge of space travel is nothing like that of Chris Hadfield, but I would have thought that Svetlana would never have been able to secrete a gun aboard a spacecraft. I’m really not qualified to say, but it does puzzle me, especially since on one occasion she strips to a flimsy piece of underwear and, on another, is nude.
I suppose my major criticism of this author’s sojourn into novel writing is the boredom. To write a review one has to be fair. Fairness involves reading the whole book. I was reading into a Force 9 headwind when I was heading for that final page. If I had been a scientist, I would have undoubtedly enjoyed the technical descriptions that huddled hidden in every second page. The author is an expert in space-related travel, loves his subject so much that he cannot abide the thought that his readers might not understand, and has no conception that there are people who read books and have not the slightest interest in the nitty-gritty of living in space. I found the details of what happens to a dead human body in space fascinating, my wife considered them gross and refused to read the book on those grounds.
A major criticism I have is with the plethora of characters in the story. Not only did the author introduce too many characters with English-sounding names, he compounded the error with an assault of unpronounceable Russian identities. Too many, Chris Hadfield. Too many.
I would never tell a new writer to stop writing for skills can be gained. A highly intelligent man like Chris Hadfield would be expected to learn quickly. I hope he will.
By Chris Hadfield
$32.99; 478 pp