Coming from renewed The Dark Knight writer and comic-book author David S. Goyer and television producer Michael Cassutt is Heaven’s Shadow, a blend of modern space exploration and alien contact, but neither quite like we would expect. No brilliantly innovative piece of science fiction, Heaven’s Shadow is nevertheless an entertaining read not unlike a Hollywood film, with noteworthy characters and its fair share of intrigue. We see characters pushed to the limits while attempting to survive in a unforgiving environment and intraterrestrial and extraterrestrial tensions mount - all in all a more than decent, heart-thumping space saga.
Heaven’s Shadow begins with the discovery of an object of unknown origin headed toward Earth. Speculation as to what it might be runs high, and leads to an international competition to be the first to land on it, to claim both the prestige and whatever other benefits there might be. Thus, two rival teams of astronauts begin a thrilling and dangerous race – but what they find when they reach their goal will turn out to be unlike anything they could have imagined . . .
What they have landed on is no asteroid but a spacecraft from a civilization that has travelled tens of thousands of years to reach earth. While the team try to work out what it is they are needed for, more sinister occurrences cause them to wonder if their involvement with this alien race will lead to anything but harm for humanity.
Heaven’s Shadow reads as a very ‘cinematic’ novel - which really doesn’t come as much of a surprise from two authors who are screenwriters in the main. The pace is quick, the scenes are short and the novel rotates through a series of viewpoints, altogether keeping things moving and varying often, much like a movie. There’s also lots of dialogue, lots of very good dialogue, in fact. Goyer and Cassutt have admitted elsewhere that they very much wanted this to be a novel before being a film (the rights were already sold pre-publication) but because of their professional backgrounds and that Heaven’s Shadow was originally pitched as a film, it was inevitable that it end up with a very blockbuster-like novel. And this is by no means a bad thing.
At the same time the writers us a very thoughtful science fiction thriller. Set in the very near future, Heaven’s Shadow starts off as a tale of modern space exploration with all the things we associate with it: Houston, NASA, mission protocols, broadcasts, political tension et al. Zach Stewart is the brilliant mission commander chosen to lead a very special space mission which unfortunately for him (but no so for us) doesn’t go according to plan. The writers supply a particularly welcome tweaking of certain tropes, notably vis à vis first contact, and the number of cultural references that make the novel both more accessible to non-diehard sci-fi fans and more authentic.
The sources of tension and excitement are many. Initially, Heaven’s Shadow pulls us in because of the danger inherent of any space mission as well as the anticipation of witnessing - if only in fiction - the first human landing on a ‘near-earth object. The things decidedly take a turn for the worst, and the weirder, as Stewart & Co. hit more than a few difficulties. From then on it’s the thrill of discovery, and the latent danger present throughout which keep us hooked. There are certainly ups and downs to the novel’s intensity, and occasionally it does stray into needless and therefore much less interesting detail, but for the most part the narrative remains dynamic and engaging.
The conclusion is somewhat unexpected. I say somewhat because some of the big reveals occur earlier on and so the general direction of the story is largely predictable, yet the exact nature of the conclusion is still a surprising one. It’s a bit rushed too, but ultimately it’s a very intriguing way to end this first volume in the Heaven’s Trilogy. The writers take our expectations surrounding this type of story – the like of which we’ve admittedly seen before – and without putting a completely original twist on it, they play or expectations against us. I’m genuinely curious to see where Goyer and Cassutt plan on taking us next.
Heaven’s Shadow is a very accessible novel. Goyer and Cassutt make a definite attempt at staying true to the science as much as possible – it’s mostly quite simple – but the casual cultural references outnumber by far the scientific explanations making this a novel that you can easily lend to friend without fearing they will be deterred. From the creative and marketing push behind the novel it would seem reaching out to a wide audience is very much intended. With a screenplay (adapted by Goyer himself) already in the works it is very likely that we will be hearing lots about Heaven’s Shadow for a while yet. It’s not an outstanding novel, but the speed of reading, accessibility and the entertainment value it offers means I have no trouble recommending it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way if I were you. Heaven’s Shadow was released on the 15th of July by Tor in the UK and on the 5th of July from Ace in the US.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
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