Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Chris Hadfield arguably knows more about the topic of space than the vast majority of people alive, holding the notable distinction of having been the first Canadian to walk in the cosmic void. As an author, he put his unique life experience to good use on a number of occasions, and in The Apollo Murders he takes us on a riveting NASA mission aimed to disrupt a secret Soviet space station spying on the United States.
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Chris Hadfield Brings Man’s War to the Cosmos
The Cold War might mostly be a subject for popular fiction and history books nowadays, but only a few decades ago it was an event threatening the balance of the entire world. The rivalry between capitalism and communism took on many forms, and in his science-fiction novel The Apollo Murders, retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield imagines an alternate history where the conflict escalated all the way out into space.
The novel takes us back to 1973, the height of the Space Race, with both the Soviet Union and the United States trying to develop technologies which would grant them advantages all the way out from orbit. Unfortunately for the US, it seems the Russians have managed to build a secret space station in order to spy on the country.
In an attempt to rid themselves of the problem, the government tasks NASA with the Apollo 18 mission (just to be clear, it is completely fictional), outwardly billed as one with purely scientific goals in mind. The real objective, as you might imagine, is to stop the space station from doing what it was meant to, by any means necessary.
Kazimieras Zemeckis (mercifully referred to as “Kaz”) is one of the three crew members preparing to board the tiny spaceship assigned to the mission, and he knows of its true purpose. The Russians, however, aren’t completely in the dark and are prepared to go to some devious lengths in order to ensure Apollo 18’s failure.
As the difficulties faced by the astronauts continue to mount, it becomes obvious to Kaz there is a traitor on-board, and orbiting the Earth at 17000 miles per hour, there’s no one to rely on but himself. Meanwhile, back on the blue planet, both the White House and the Kremlin are scrambling to do what they can for their astronauts and tip the scales of power in their own favour… ultimately though, they can only watch as their champions head for a collision course with each other on the moon’s surface.
A Journey of Technical Details in The Apollo Murders
Ever since The Martian by Andy Weir came out, it seems to me as if hard science-fiction experienced somewhat of a resurgence, with many people having their eyes opened about the genre’s true potential in terms of both entertainment and education. As a result, there’s been a great influx of novelists trying to imitate Weir’s success, and I’m quite saddened to say, many of them quite apparently don’t hold the scientific knowledge they believe themselves to have.
I try to be selective when looking for stories of this type, and The Apollo Murders caught my attention for one particular reason: the author. Chris Hadfield is a figure I’m sure you’ve either heard of, or at least seen on YouTube when he was making videos about his life as an astronaut in outer space. He is a true man of science, the first Canadian to walk in space, and the former Commander of the International Space Station.
In other words, if there’s anyone out there qualified to tackle the scientific aspects of space travel in novel format, I’d have to say it’s him… and let me assure, it’s not something he skimps on. As a matter of fact, the technical descriptions of all the various pieces of technology we encounter were fascinating to me and one of the main elements driving me to keep reading the book.
Chris Hadfield‘s writing style is reminiscent of Tom Clancy, in the sense that he takes his time to describe the smallest steps of every process. Whenever a button on the ship is pushed, we are told exactly what it accomplishes and how, to the point where I actually fooled myself into thinking I was starting to become familiar with the kind of technology people spend decades studying.
Naturally, I can’t omit to discuss the consequence of such an approach: a slower pace and sparser action scenes. This isn’t an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting Cold War murder mystery set in outer space, but rather a slow-burn type of journey with tremendous stakes to play for. Personally, I don’t find it to be an issue, especially in a novel rife with informative and captivating descriptions, but it is something I feel you ought to be warned about.
The Lonely Struggle
As great as Chris Hadfield‘s technical knowledge of space ships and astronaut gear might be, he did take it upon himself to write a novel and not a textbook, to entertain and not simply educate. Comparing the fictional elements to the non-fictional ones, so-to-speak, I would venture to say Hadfield does need to improve just a little bit on his character creation abilities.
More precisely, I found some of the characters to have been a little thin on personality, and the motivations behind their actions weren’t always apparent to me, some of them being a bit of a stretch, especially in regards to the betrayal among our main crew. Nevertheless, they were more than serviceable for the story’s sake, and the protagonist, Kaz, was well-developed in his own right.
I would also like to add that the author’s depiction of both the Russians and the Americans deserves a certain amount of credit, being respectful and sensical, never devolving into caricature as is too often the case these days. It might be sad to say, but it’s something I’ve stopped expecting these days.
As far as the actual plot is concerned, even though it doesn’t move along quickly, it still generates an omnipresent tension, making it quite apparent what our characters are fighting for and the tremendous consequences their failure might entail. If there’s one thing Hadfield captured in The Apollo Murders like few others ever could, it’s the terrifying loneliness and helplessness one feels in outer space.
Having been there himself on a number of occasions, the author knows quite well what he’s talking about in the many sequences where he describes how being in outer space makes a person think and feel. In those passages, his thoughts are laid out clearly and made quite easy to picture through a careful selection of all the correct words. Ultimately, he managed to drive home the point that it’s about as inhospitable a place as anyone can imagine, but one we’ll have to conquer for the future of our species.
|480||Mulholland Books||Oct. 12 2021||978-0316264532|
The Final Verdict
The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield is a uniquely-engaging novel, mixing hard science-fiction and alternate history, sending the reader on a deliberately-paced mission to outer space where they’re bombarded with fascinating and easily-digestible technical details woven into a captivating plot bringing the Cold War to the stars.
If you’re looking for a hard sci-fi novel capable of both teaching and entertaining you at the same time (or have enjoyed Andy Weir’s works), then this is definitely a book deserving of your attention.
Chris Hadfield is a retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut, former Commander of the International Space Station, and the first Canadian to walk in space. He is also an engineer, science communicator, singer and former pilot. Over the course of his life he has also taken up authoring, having published an Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, You Are Here, The Darkest Dark and The Apollo Murders.