Ever since I picked up Daniel Suarez's Daemon in 2011 (mini-review here), I've eagerly awaited each and every work from him since, and I haven't been disappointed. He has continued to generate fascinating explorations of technology, culture and social trends in his fictional but very realistic novels that always feel like they can see about a decade or two ahead into the future. Our future.
Suarez's latest work, Delta-v, is no exception.
It's a sweeping, fast-paced book that dives into the economic and physical realities of commercial space exploration, experienced through the adventures of a crew of astronauts and the super-rich business mogul funding their journey. The stakes are high -- imminent collapse of the global economy, catastrophic climate change effects, war and famine are all just around the corner -- and the potential rewards are great, but this isn't just another "put up a colony on Mars and save humanity" space adventure.
As is his reputation, Suarez has done in-depth research into the problems and even fundamentally flawed thinking behind most mainstream approaches to getting humanity into space and on to other planets. The infeasibility of deep space travel, the carcinogens in Martian soil, the problem of settling other planets, the menacing details of legal contracts that a space explorer might sign before launch...it's all there like a slow-motion massacre of more standard sci-fi novel plots. The version of human success in space that Delta-v teases out over the chapters looks very different than what you might expect, and it makes some sense.
"If you solve the problems of living on Mars, then you've only solved the Mars problem, but if we learn to build habitats in open space, then we have solved the entire future of the human race." This from the billionaire character who is a darkly-rendered combination of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, talking to the other space race players in a panel conversation that feels like it could happen on a SXSW stage any moment now. (There's an argument to be made that humans have no business taking our reckless imperialism over the natural world into space given how badly we've messed up the first planet we were given, but that's for another time.)
Unlike some of Suarez's other books that have looked at the challenges and dangers of AI, nanotech, government overreach in tech, genetic engineering and more, the space focus of this book might initially feel a little less accessible or relevant to everyday life. But as the novel unfolds and it begins to ring more and more true that so much time and money is already being invested in a similar kind of space race in real life, you can't help but feel like it's a story we're destined to be a part of sooner rather than later.
Delta-v is a lovely mix of science, adventure, mystery, social commentary and celebration of the best and worst of what humans can do for (or to) each other. There are a few times where the book seems confused about being character-driven or plot-driven or both, and some of the time invested in a particular character's backstory or a particular plot point's intricate geeky details didn't always pay off. But I still really enjoyed the universe Suarez crafted and the story that unfolded, if only because it feels so familiar to the one we live in now.
If you've enjoyed Suarez's other works, or novels from Andy Weir, Neal Stephenson or similar authors, I highly recommend checking out Delta-v.
Note: I was provided an advance copy of Delta-v by the publisher, but was not otherwise compensated or influenced in my writing of this review. Some links may be to affiliate websites so that I receive a very small percentage of the sale if you choose to buy from them.