Sally Jansen is the commander leading a mission to Mars. It finishes with the dead of one of the astronauts accompanying her on the spaceship. Not directly blamed for what happened there, Sally resigns of her charges on the NASA so she relax and continue looking to the sky with the same childhood view as before. The memories from then will torment her for the rest of her life. The NASA then stops sending missions to the space and therefore the space race is something from the past.
Twenty years have passed. A huge alien object has entered the solar system and its approaching the Earth. All systems go red on the NASA. They start a countdown mission in order to try communicate with the object. When this fails they finally decide to send a mission straight to the object. In opposition to many of the people in charge of the organisation, Sally Jansen is finally chosen to rule the mission and crew in order to establish direct communication with the object. This could be a suicide mission.
David Wellington is a well-known North American writer who has published more than a dozen books in the last fifteen years, when he started being published thanks to ‘Monster Island’ saga. He has also published books about werewolf, vampires and other non-human beings. He has also written some short stories published in various magazines and he has also tried with the science fiction.
‘The Last Astronaut’ is a science fiction novel full of influences from old and new classic films of the genre. The novel is presented as written by an external observer who writes the story based on the testimonies of the people involved in the real events. Reading the novel it is quite common to find some paragraphs with first person opinions from some of them, adding some additional emotional view on the events happening at that time. However, I find this paragraphs quite unnecessary and the fact that they are all gone as you progress into the book makes me think they were not necessary.
This is a first contact novel. How the humans reach to the object and what they find in there. At the same time, Wellington also talks about how the space exploration could look like in a few years’ time. Which is not much different from how it is now, but with much more presence of private investors. The first chapter of the book describes the incident involving Sally Jansen twenty years ago. Apart from some chapters set in the Earth, most of the book is about the events happening on the space and how the members of the spaceship liaise with what they find out there.
There is nothing *brand new* in this book. However, the mix ends on a fast pace tale of surviving which is as terrible as fun for the reader. Wellington’s influences go from ‘Contact’ on the first attempts to establish contact with the ship to ‘Alien’ on the very first physical contact with the object – you can imagine how. There is also some bits of ‘Arrival’ on the communication between the humans and the aliens and some other bits on ‘Annihilation’ on the environment Sally and her team find inside the object. And I am sure each of you will be able to find some additional references.
The novel bets much of its interest on how the characters – mainly Sally, are able to cope with everything they are finding within the object. In this sense the book is successful and we empathize with Sally during most of the novel. Also, the moment they enter the object and starts realising about what there is inside is very well driven and exciting. In this sense, the novel cover the expectations created. The last part of the book is not as good as the rest. Some decisions and dialogues, added to the incredible ending at the very last page is for sure the worst part of the reading.
I would highly recommend ‘The Last Astronaut’ for readers looking for a fun – and sometimes terrible and oppressive, first contact novel. An exciting and fast paced tale for most of the novel with an ending that doesn’t makes justice to what the reader has read during most of the book. It is worth saying that this is one of the most straight forward cinema adaptation novels I have read. I would not be surprised if someone decides to take this into a movie as it can be an absolute blockbuster.