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Horizon finds new potential in the sci-fi staple deepsleep tale

Paranoid interstellar travel and complex politics elevate Keith Stevenson's debut

By Brid-Aine Parnell, 9 Nov 2014

Page File The most likely way for humans to first travel beyond the Solar System is through some form of hibernation, most often referred to in sci-fi as deepsleep. The prospect is rife with dramatic potential for a good book – what would it be like to be the same age and yet years older than friends and family, or to never see them, or anyone else, ever again?

Deepsleep stasis pods in Alien

Deepsleep stasis pods in Alien

What Horizon does very well is take the whole idea in a new direction. What if you went to sleep when the world was at a politically precarious peace and when you woke up, everything had changed, including your interstellar mission?

An uneasy alliance of Earth’s political superpowers – Pax Americana, the Compact, the United Northern States and the European Union – get the first interstellar spaceship off the ground and stick an equally uneasy complement of crew members aboard, each with their own agendas, ethics and political leanings. When they come out of deepsleep fifty years later, everything back home has changed. The Earth is on the brink of environmental collapse and power struggles in the wake of the crisis have reset the political landscape.

As if that weren’t enough, one of the crew is dead and the AI that runs the whole ship is going a bit haywire. In a cloud of suspicion, paranoia and resentment, the crew have to try to figure out what’s going wrong with the ship while coming to terms with mind-boggling changes at home and what, if anything, those changes should mean to them.

Frequently, deepsleep tales focus on the isolation of being out of your time, but author Keith Stevenson focuses instead on the stagnation of it, the difficulty in adapting to 50 years of changes when your mind lives in the past. Not only do the crew struggle to understand and accept Earth’s political and ideological turmoil, they’re also flummoxed by the technology Earth now employs with ease. Instead of being isolated, this crew are outdated – in expertise, experience and understanding.

Behind it all is the fear that something has gone wrong on the ship and could kill any one of them, a constant low level dread that saps the crew’s patience with each other and makes things worse and worse. Like all the best survival-in-a-confined-space stories, Horizon is a great thriller and tying the crew’s mission to the changes back on Earth is a deft stroke that adds another layer to the mistrust between them.

In fact, Stevenson’s debut novel only stumbles when it comes to the ending, which is a bit too deus ex machina for my taste and rather defeats the work that’s gone into the characters’ growth throughout the crisis. Before the limp finish, however, Horizon is a tense page-turner with a fresh perspective that should put Stevenson firmly on folks’ one-to-watch list. ®

Author Keith Stevenson
Title Horizon
Publisher Harper Collins
Price £1.99 (Ebook)
More info Publication web site

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