By Daniel Suarez
Super-skilled cave diver James Tighe is no sooner towelled off from a hair-raising cave-disaster rescue in the opening pages of Daniel Suarez’s new book Delta-v than he finds himself the guest of eccentric billionaire Nathan Joyce and getting a lecture from Nobel Prize-winning economist Sankar Korrapati about US financial policy and the nature of debt-based banking. It’s just a bit of a curveball; Tighe won’t be the only one who’s a bit disoriented.
Korrapati patiently explains that his financial models clearly show that the global economy will soon fracture and fall apart unless this enormous debt bubble is popped somehow - and there’s nowhere to go but up. “Let me get this straight,” Tighe says, “you’re saying humanity must expand into space - not for the sake of science or exploration, but to stop the banks from going broke?”
That’s about the size of it; Nathan Joyce wants to hire an experienced cave-diver to lead a mining team to a distant asteroid. Tighe immediately points out that it took him years to accumulate his cave-diving experience and that he knows nothing at all about space travel. He’s informed that since he’s a character in a thriller, this won’t be a problem, and we’re off to the races: cue the assembling of a wacky crew of characters, cue the percolating of connected sub-plots, and of course cue the dumping of copious amounts of exposition.
For instance, the question naturally arises: if you’re interested in off-worlding that expanding bubble of debt (and aren’t even remotely considering, you know, regulating the banks), why not colonize Mars? True, it has only about a third of Earth’s gravity, but one defender of the idea says we can’t be sure that would be much of a problem - and gets a wad of exposition in response:
“We have some idea. The human body evolved over millions of years to function in one Earth gravity. Astronauts suffer health issues from just a few months in microgravity ... Bone and muscle loss, eye damage - to say nothing of the viability of pregnancy in a low-gravity environment. You’re willing to send people all the way to Mars before we find out if that’s a problem? Why not build a station in cislunar space that can rotate to simulate various levels of gravity long-term before we send people to colonize Mars? Oh, but then, I guess if you did that, you’d be halfway to building a space colony, wouldn’t you?”
Readers are taunted a couple of times with the vision of a novel about colonizing Mars, but what they get instead is a big, boisterous book about mining an asteroid in order to shore up banking collateral. The mission is intensely predictable; Tighe himself an action-hero mannikin; the Act Three surprise isn’t actually surprising; and there are stretches of operational chatter:
We are at t minus ten minutes local time for a 1.9-kilometer-per-second postinjection burn.
“Fuel systems go. “Engines are go. “Comm systems are go. “Telemetry looks good.
A verbal countdown began ten seconds before the engine ignition - which mission control called correctly despite the transmission delay, and at t minus zero a gentle vibration reached the crew as they were gently pressed into their seats. After a ninety-five-second delay the radio confirmed what they already knew ...
“We have main engine start. “Throttle at 30 percent. “Trajectory normal.”
In other words, very little in Delta-v should work. But Suarez is an old and practiced hand at creating silk purses out of sow cave divers. Delta-v never falters because it never doubts its own storytelling virtue; it’s a purely silly and purely effective thriller, exactly the kind of plot-driven potboiler that would once have been put before the reading public in a $3 paperback with an eye-catching cover. The cover of Delta-v is a beautifully eye-catching thing, although the book itself is nearly $30. There’s that ever-expanding bubble again.
--Steve Donoghue is a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Historical Novel Society, and The American Conservative. He writes regularly for The National, The Washington Post, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.