Customer Reviews: Voyage
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on January 24, 2000
VOYAGE was the second book by Stephen Baxter that I've read, but it's the best one. I have to say it--Baxter's got stones--big ones. He tackles an alternate history's journey to Mars in 1986 with ease. Everything is researched to the letter and feels real, from the inner workings of NASA to the tragedy of a nuclear-powered Apollo flight (shades of the Challenger disaster) to the characters themselves. Here is a writer who actually gives a damn about the characters he creates, and does not give them the short strift just to lavish everything on the technology. True, I wished there could have been more on the astronauts' exploration on Mars, but that was not Baxter's point. It's _how_ we get to the Red Planet and _why_ we should go that's important. He also shows the scientific cost--no space shuttle, no Voyager or Viking missions... To put everything in simple terms--if you like science fiction, if you are interested in the space program, or if you just like books that are damned good--read VOYAGE.
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on July 21, 2004
Stephen Baxter's VOYAGE takes place in an alternate past: What if John F. Kennedy had survived assassination and lobbied for NASA to send astronauts to Mars in the 1980s, instead of building the space shuttle? It's a fascinating premise and certainly one worthy of a unique Mars novel.

Baxter himself holds a doctorate in engineering, so it's no surprise that he really knows his way around the technical stuff of spaceflight. He's quite knowledgeable in space history, as well. He presents an impressive amount of authentic detail, far more than I've seen in any other novel of its kind. Perhaps too much, in fact, because many spaceflight scenes repeat events and dialogue from real-life missions almost verbatim. On the whole, VOYAGE feels quite faithful to the era described, even if it's somewhat too faithful. It's also interesting to catch him using a few historic dates in spaceflight -- July 1976, April 1981, January 1986 -- so we can contemplate the differences in his alternate past.

Geologist Natalie York is VOYAGE's most reliable protagonist; she comes across as determined but not easy to root for. Baxter makes a few generalizations based on astronaut mythology, and he rarely hides his disdain for NASA's old "pilot vs. scientist" culture. One veteran astronaut is so surly that in the real space program he would have been permanently shelved from flight status (a la Wally Schirra). Nonetheless, Baxter avoids many of the stilted stereotypes of Ben Bova's Mars novels, so at least these characters are more subtle and level-headed. For the most part, he steers clear of the soap-opera style plotting that cripples most Mars books, and that alone is commendable.

VOYAGE's "major malfunction" is that Baxter spends far too much time laying the groundwork for going to Mars, and it dominates the pace of the novel. Almost nine tenths of this book is back story. The launch of the Mars flight opens the book, but by page 200 we're only up to Day 3 and we've barely left the earth behind us. At page 466, we've reached Day 171 of the flight, yet we've only arrived at the swingby of Venus, and we're still almost seven months away from the red planet!

While the author deserves praise for presenting a credible rationale for going to Mars, you can only go so far with a book about a Mars flight without actually describing the flight. I kept pleading for Baxter to get away from the project's early days and get to the damn point, but it practically never happens. Once I figured out how diminished the Mars flight was, it took me ages to finish reading. Because it is so dominated by background, this 772-page story unfolds in almost geologic time.

Even with my complaints, VOYAGE is easily the most technically accomplished and reasonable Mars novel I've ever read, and I've read a great many of them. It is frequently interesting and packed with details, but I just wish Baxter had spent more effort flying the mission instead of building his case. It is a solid four-star novel if not for the heavy reliance on background.
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on May 12, 2000
You have to ask yourself if the alternate history scenarios portrayed within this amazing book would have meant a more glorious space program. Would sacrificing half of the Apollo lunar missions, the Viking landers, the Voyager probes and the Space Shuttle have been worth it for one, single flight to Mars? That is a question Baxter makes you ask yourself through implication. This novel is one of the finest creations of 1990s science fiction. But I was a bit annoyed when I read it, as I was researching to write a very similar book to this! (aw, shucks) All the flashbacks within the story should have been annoying but Steve Baxter makes it all work very well. In an ideal world with lots of funding, ALL the Apollo lunar missions would have been retained, there would have been a series of Skylab space stations and mankind would have worked and lived on Mars. ALL this before the 21st Century. SIGH...
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on August 9, 2001
I suppose I'm glad Stephen Baxter didn't manage to become an astronaut! I think he is still longing to go into space, and his novels give him -and us - the opportunity to go after all.
This longing is very obvious in 'Voyage'. Baxter decides to take a crucial point in the history of the U.S. space program - Kennedy's call to go to the moon and Mars. Kennedy here survives the assassination attempt and goes on proclaiming manned space missions. At the end of the sixties, Nixon decides to expand the manned missions to go to Mars as well...
A fever possesses NASA. Almost everything goes to Ares - the name for the Mars mission. And almost a generation later, in the mid-eighties, 'man' (i.e. woman) stands on Mars... Ohhh yes, it would have been so nice.
The Ares mission to Mars has an expensive price ticket. A lot of other missions have to be cancelled, there is simply not enough money for them in the NASA budget. So, there are never more then just three Apollo missions; there is no space shuttle. Many other missions are cut down: no Magellan to Venus, no Voyagers 1 & 2 to the gas giants. We don't know anything about them that we do know in our own universe.
Are we better off in this alternate universe? Maybe not for non-Martian planetary scientists. But by going to Mars so soon, NASA and at least the U.S. commit themselves to the red planet - and maybe other nation will get Mars fever as well, and start lowering their weapon budgets. I suppose NASA in the 'Voyage' universe will get a huge increase in their post-Ares budget
Buy and read this book!
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on April 10, 2015
This is an alternate history of the post-Apollo NASA space program. The story line is trite; it's a roman a clef, but the key is easy to find. Example: for "Udet" at Huntsville, read Ernst Stuhlinger, the Nazi who ran KZ Dora (the Mittelwerk) where the V2 was built. But it's full of errors too. E.g. The official name of the V-2 was not A-2 but rather A-4. And many more serious technical-historical ones.

The characters are all flat as steam rolled pancakes.

And the translation to Kindle is awful. 'Jones', a major character is frequently referred to as ')ones' in Kindle-ese.
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on March 18, 2015
Similar to his "Titan" novel, which is another "what if politics had gone differently, and we had a manned mission to Titan?" Well this one is to mars, and the politics are radically different. In Titan, he goes very in-depth into the mission of the crew, in Voyage, he concentrates on the personalities. The Mars landing and exploration itself are accepted as dry fact. A very good read - entirely plausible if Kennedy had survived to see the moon landing.
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on December 24, 2015
This is the real deal. It's flawless. The Kindle edition is badly flawed, though. It would be mortifying to Baxter, the perfectionist. Hey, clean up your s___, guys!

Not that I understand all the technical terminology.With no glossary or diagrams it really flew over my head, as a lay person who lived through the "space age" but didn't follow it that closely. Gosh, if NASA spokespeople could write like Baxter it would be a different world. This is the book that gives you everything you wanted to know about the space program, all the real insider information, painlessly. There was another book that did that approximately, Space by James Michener, but it only touched on the people involved, and portrayed them much more positively. This is the best of Baxter's NASA trilogy, being the only one filled with gritty, detailed reality; for the same reason, it's probably the best of Mars novels too. I enjoyed the female perspective, and applaud Baxter for that. Of course, he can also write a Mars book from an elephant's perspective, and he has! (Icebones)

This book, and Baxter's work in general, ought to have a much wider following. He is so versatile, deeply talented, and a highly trained engineer too! He's pessimistic, but that's life. I look forward to trying to get my hands on more of his earlier works.
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on September 7, 2015
Just couldn't finish this one and I have really enjoyed Baxter's others. This story just devolves into a soap opera with characters totally lacking in credibility. Really the first female who manages to get into the space program has to be told: stop whining, be a team player and get with the program? Makes no sense. By all means read his others this one is just flat by comparison.
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on December 9, 2015
An extremely riveting book. One of the best Alternate History Space novels (if there any) I've ever read. Stephen Baxter's novel weaves together technical facts and a story that would have been possible if the Apollo Applications Program wasn't cancelled. Granted, it may show only around 60-80 pages of actually getting in the Martian Environment, but the journey there is a steady ride that makes you feel you're riding along with Natalie York along the entire Journey, from her upstart as a grad student as one of the first to walk on Mars.
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on November 6, 2002
I am a fan of 'Sciene Probable'. That is to say, science fiction that is based on fact and known science.
This book hits that mark dead on.
The adherence to the technicals and history of the Apollo program is well done and worked seemlessly into this alternate history. The description of science is detailed enough for those so inclined while not going so overboard as to bore the less technical reader.
The structure of the writing is perfect for a story that must cover such a long period of time. Baxter is able to carry the story over decades without ever losing momentum or the interest of the reader.
The character development is great. The story is progressively told from the perspective of different characters, in the third person.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. One of the best I've read.
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