March 26, 2005

BOOKS: Abandon in Place, Jerry Oltion (2000)

On the day after Neil Armstrong's funeral, a Saturn V rocket appears from nowhere on a Cape Canaveral launch pad and blasts off for the moon; NASA tracks its flight until it apparently vanishes several hundred feet above the lunar surface.

A month later, the same thing happens, and it keeps on happening until NASA decides to put an astronaut on one of these flights and find out what's going on. It may well be a suicide mission, but Rick Spencer is so thrilled at the idea of an actual space mission -- as opposed to the relative safety and humdrum-ness of shuttle flights -- that he volunteers to ride the Saturn.

That's not a bad premise to start with, and there are umptyzillion different places you could go with it. Unfortunately, Oltion has chosen one of the sillier possible places to go, and after that promising beginning, Abandon in Place becomes a hopelessly ludicrous story about the new "science" -- I use the word loosely, indeed -- of harnessing the world's collective psychic powers to shape reality.

The book is skillfully written, with nicely drawn characters and sharp plotting; Oltion's carefully thought through the likely consequences of his new "science". But the whole thing is just so preposterous and absurd that the foolishness of the story outweighs Oltion's virtues as a writer and sink the whole thing.

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