In the richly detailed science fiction thriller "Rescue Mode
," out today from Baen Books, the first human expedition to Mars is threatened with a string of cosmic bad luck.
A tragic accident back home on Earth tests the spirit and resolve of one crew member; a grave physical illness befalls another. But the pivotal event in the tense, meticulously plotted novel is still another chance encounter: a fateful meeting between the spacecraft Arrow, carrying eight explorers to the Red Planet, and the 14-million-year-old chunk of space debris that hurtles into its path at the worst possible moment.
That's where the story really kicks into gear, says science fiction grand master Ben Bova and his writing partner, novelist and NASA researcher Les Johnson. "Rescue Mode" largely deals with how the memorably diverse international crew -- and their supporters and detractors back on Earth -- react to the calamity and fight to save their mission and themselves.
"The explorers meet with daunting physical adversity in space and equally challenging political adversity back home," Johnson said. "Their self-reliance in the face of these challenges, their selflessness and desire to succeed, is the heart of the novel."
As the authors crafted their fictitious but highly realistic mission to Mars, it was Bova who thought of applying an "Apollo 13"-style scenario -- the near-disaster overcome in April 1970 by a three-man lunar orbiter crew and the NASA mission operations team supporting them on the ground, who brought the crew home safely after more than five tense days in space.
"It's been 42 years since the last Apollo moon mission," Bova said. "I hope this novel can, in some small way, help to rekindle the excitement and commitment the world felt during the years when our astronauts were exploring the moon."
Six-time Hugo winner Bova is the author of more than 120 works of science fact and fiction, including his "Grand Tour" cycle of solar system colonization stories and 11 short-story collections, most recently the 2014 anthology "New Frontiers." He is a former editor of Analog and Omni magazines and past president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and the National Space Society.
Johnson is the co-editor, with Jack McDevitt, of the speculative anthology "Going Interstellar," and the co-author, with Travis "Doc" Taylor, of the SF thriller "Back to the Moon" and its forthcoming sequel. Deputy manager by day of the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Johnson also has co-authored three nonfiction titles, including the newly reissued "Harvesting Space For a Greener Earth," which ponders plausible spacefaring solutions for the gravest economic and social challenges of our latterday planet.
Both writers are deeply passionate about space exploration and its crucial value to our culture. "Science fiction writers are the human race's scouts, going into the future and sending back reports on what we might expect," Bova said.
Johnson agreed. "I'm interested not just in what might be, but what can be, if we temper our dreams of spaceflight with the resolve to see them realized in realistic, affordable ways," he said. "We've just got to reach a little farther. The future is closer than we think."