Old-school moonwalker Buzz Aldrin teams up again with former Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee John Barnes to pen another near-future SF tale focused on the fate of the U.S. space program. But as with the duo's previous effort, 1996's Encounter with Tiber, Aldrin's ideas can take center stage a little too conspicuously, which, regardless of your own views on the subject, doesn't always make for the best story. Part thriller, part infomercial for the Aldrin space manifesto, The Return fumbles only in its lack of subtlety: The book's protagonist, Scott Blackstone, is a technically accomplished and charismatic retired astronaut who runs a foundation called ShareSpace, whose mission is to send everyday citizens into outer space. And what do you know--in real life Aldrin is a technically accomplished and charismatic retired astronaut who runs a foundation called ShareSpace, whose mission is to send everyday citizens into outer space. (Talk about your expert author.)
Of course you read Aldrin not because you think he's the next Ben Bova but because he's a space-race winner, a bright man with inspiring ideas. And Barnes, who's already proven himself with topnotch titles like Mother of Storms, helps Aldrin get his point across admirably, spinning a tale that begins with ShareSpace's third Citizen Observer to accompany a space shuttle mission: a legendary, recently retired basketball hero known around the globe as simply "MJ." Disaster strikes, though, while the beloved MJ is airborne, and Blackstone soon finds himself relying on his lawyer ex-wife to come to ShareSpace's defense. Was the disaster an accident? Don't count on it. --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
Reunited with award-winning SF writer Barnes (Encounter with Tiber), Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, imagines a near future when the space program is in the hands of competing private corporations. In association with ShareSpace, headed by ex-astronaut CEO Scott Blackstone, NASA is offering privileged civilians the opportunity to ride as "Citizen Observers" on space shuttle missions. The third such celebrity in space, basketball legend MJ (Michael James), has scarcely reached orbit when he and a crew member are killed in what appears to be a bizarre accident. Culminating in an emergency crash landing on Easter Island, this tragedy puts the future of the entire space program in jeopardy. Overnight, Blackstone becomes the scapegoat and--sued by MJ's mother for over $1 billion--is fired. When, mysteriously, Blackstone finds that no lawyer will take his case, his brother, Nick, v-p of rocket builder Republic Wright, revives the childhood bond of the Mars Four (Nick; Scott; Scott's ex-wife, celebrity attorney Thalia, mother of their 10-year-old son; and Eddie Killeret, Nick's counterpart at rival Curtiss Aerospace)--and persuades Thalia to represent Scott. Despite anonymous threats, the case turns in their favor when the media focus on the explosion of a Pakistani proton bomb that turns the entire ionosphere into a super Van Allen belt, knocking out all existing satellites. Enter an enigmatic figure from a secret agency tying everything to a Chinese conspiracy. After three of the Mars Four go into space on a mission to rescue the crew of a disabled space station, fade to sunset as they reunite at the beach cottage of their youth. In made-for-Disney prose, this facile effort makes a fast read. $150,000 marketing campaign; 20-city author tour. (May) FYI: Aldrin is the head of a foundation called ShareSpace, which advocates civilian space travel.
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