4 February 2015

Review: Oxygen by Randy Ingermanson and John B Olsen

Excellent Sci-fic from a Christian Perspective

There are certain genres of Christian fiction I don’t read often, for one reason or another. I don’t read some because I find them somewhat juvenile in terms of the characters and the writing (*cough* Amish *cough*). My desire to read novellas and category romance waxes and wanes, probably along with my concentration levels (sometimes they are just too short). I find allegory hit and miss, and have never developed a taste for fantasy. And I don’t read a lot of science fiction … despite being a big fan of sci-fi TV shows.

Part of the reason I don’t read a lot of sci-fi is there simply isn’t a lot of Christian science fiction around. Christian fantasy, yes. Speculative, yes. But not a lot of sci-fi, whether pure sci-fi or the space opera I prefer (because it mixes in a little romance). I read the Firebird trilogy by Kathy Tyers, and enjoyed the first book (the one with the romance) far more than the other two.

I downloaded Oxygen: A Science Fiction Suspense Novel when Randy Ingermanson had the ebook on sale (and later found I already owned the unread paperback. Oops). It’s the story of the first manned mission to Mars, looking to find evidence of life on the Red Planet. It was written in around 2001, when NASA first considered such missions, and is (was) futuristic: the novel starts in 2012, and the mission blasts off in early 2014, aiming to land on Mars on the Fourth of July (highly symbolic).

Valerie Jansen aka Valkerie is a doctor twice over: a medical doctor with a PhD in an obscure branch of biology. She’s discovered and identified previously unknown life forms in Antarctica and Iceland, and now NASA have approached her about joining the team heading for Mars. The trouble is it’s a four-person spacecraft, and there are already four people on the team.

Bob Kaganovski can see the writing on the wall: despite his years of work and selection for the team, he won’t be going to Mars. And he can’t even find it in himself to resent Valkerie for taking his place—she’s got all his skills, plus more. The only problem is she’s a Christian, which might mean she’s aligned with the anti-evolution brigade protesting outside. He can’t let her jeopardize this mission.

I really enjoyed Oxygen, and have already downloaded the sequel, The Fifth Man (although I did check to see it wasn’t already lurking on my bookshelves before buying!). It’s a fast-paced thriller set in the near future (recent past?), with a compelling cast of intelligent characters. The story is told predominantly from the points of view of Valkerie and Bob, who have a rocky relationship that’s a combination of mutual admiration, attraction and mistrust. Because things keep going wrong with the mission, and each believes the other to be the most likely culprit. Who is right? Or are they both being played? If so, by whom?

There was a lot of science in Oxygen, and while science has never been my strong point, everything was explained at a level I could understand, even some of the more philosophical discussions. I’d like to see more books like this, by authors who are also scientists. There’s a view that science and religion (especially Christianity) are incompatible, yet as Christians we know science is merely trying to explain what God has created, so the two things should be perfectly compatible. But to show this, we need Christians who are scientists.

Recommended for sci-fi fans, or those who like to have to think about the ramifications of wider issues. You can find out more about Randy Ingermanson's novels at his website, or find out about his writing instruction at Advanced Fiction Writing.

This book counts towards by 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with a one-word title.

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