In Michael O’Brien’s new book Voyage to Alpha Centauri he enters the genre of Science Fiction. This book is both in some ways totally different from his previous books and very similar. All the themes he explores are present in this story. Elements present in his “Children of the Last Day” series are especially present such as an intrusive government and the loss of religious freedom. The collision of these factors providing tension along with personal conversion. Yet some of this is handled more tangentially than his previous books.
Neil Ruiz de Hoyos as a young man meets with an accident that both marks him and opens up a new vista for him. His later career as a physicist bring him two Nobel prizes. His work leads partially to the construction of a ship that goes on an expedition to Alpha Centauri where he is a passenger. We see the voyage through his journal entries where he writes about the voyage, his life and childhood, and the discoveries they encounter on a planet in the system of Alpha Centauri. An epistolary novel works quite well when it comes to covering the large amount of time involved in such a voyage where journal entries can just highlight what is going on in the main.
As a man Neil is both private and reaching out for friendships. A man raised in a Catholic family, but now with no faith which has been supplanted by a scientific skepticism. Yet somebody who is also skeptical regarding a form of government enforced political correctness and just following along with societal trends. Despite what he encounters and learns from his small core of friends there are some things he would rather explain away than to truly understand. This all provides the backdrop for the momentous events that occur on the trip out and ultimately what they learn on the planet they explore.
I am already a Michael O’Brien and my first love when it comes to books is Science Fiction. So I am totally delighted to have these two together. Just considering the SF aspects of the novel there is a lot to enjoy and adding the deeper theological and societal dimensions you have so much more than presented in so much rather shallow SF. The plot that develops is rather stunning and ties together nicely the blend of SF and theology. I especially liked how many levels the novel had and that the prevalent themes on the journey out became quite different on arrival. Some of the subtler Biblical themes also added to the enjoyment in that he didn’t have to hit you over the head with them. Highly recommended.