My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is The Martian for readers who don’t want all the science and technical jargon. Largely character driven; and fairly predictable if you’ve read a good chunk of sci-fi books (which I have); and yet I really loved how fast, suspenseful and well written it is. The average science fiction reader will likely dislike this; but anyone who likes a bestselling thriller and likes an astronaut being the lead character is probably going to love this.
For a debut novel Lisa A. Nichols has done a wonderful job writing a gripping, page turning story. I read this in no time flat and didn’t want to put it down. But, besides there being some space travel and astronauts; nothing about Vessel feels like science fiction. It lacks the core explanations that would satisfy someone who wants to know the ‘real’ science behind the idea. There is no science here beyond what the average person is likely to already know (lighter gravity effects, space travel needing fuel, etc). Very simple basic concepts.
Does the Audience Matter?
If I had gone into Vessel expecting a gritty sci-fi book (like The Martian or anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Blake Crouch) I would likely have been very disappointed. As I didn’t go in with really any expectations I didn’t mind that this was more of a character driven thriller with space, astronauts and habitable planets.
If marketed to say, readers who love Dan Brown books, it would be a smashing success. Does that mean it’s not a good book? Of course not. It just means that getting the right demographic of reader is important (and difficult for a book whose entire plot revolves around an astronaut and space travel).
There is also the narrative order/format to consider here. Both timelines we read from are from the POV of our leading lady, a highly regarded astronaut who left behind a husband and child to go on a 6 year mission. The main timeline starts upon her sudden (and unexpected) return to Earth after her mission had been out of contact. With years of no comma it was assumed the ship and crew were lost and dead. The second timeline we get is the good ol’ (ugh) flashback. Thankfully the snippets of what happened on the ship and planet, that our leading gal can’t remember, are also told from her POV and are not her narrating the events to anyone. This worked for me as while we are experiencing the amnesia frustration in our main story, the flashbacks are giving us the beginning nuggets to what might have happened during the mission. And yes, eventually all is revealed. Most will be able to predict the large “reveal” to some degree. It’s actually so obvious I can’t even say there’s a twist here. But because the book is more about the people, their emotions and reactions to extreme situations it didn’t matter to me that I knew what was the likely outcome. There was enough suspense and excitement to placate me and enjoy the ride. Vessel was more about the characters and their fate for me, than my need to reveal the plot points of the core story.
So Is It Good?
This is a fun, quick read. For me it would make a great beach read as it keeps the pages turning and isn’t too emotional or elaborate. The ending being what it is May be frustrating for those that like things all tied-up. I had a moment of being annoyed at the end; and then realized that it actually made perfect sense given the flow of the writing and story, right up to the last sentence.
So for me I think it’s a very good read, for what it is. It’s exciting, suspenseful (even if a bit obvious at times), characters that felt genuine and a frustrating non-ending ending (lol). All the characters are flawed in realistic ways and even the way the plot plays out is a very realistic outcome given the situation. These are all really good things and so I have rated Vessel based on its merit as a book meant for general entertainment and not as a typical science fiction novel. And let’s face it, 2001: A Space Odyssey is boring in places largely because of the hard science (brilliant book, but not fast-paced). In contrast, I found nothing dull about Vessel. Even when it was a seemingly boring travelling scene, where two characters share silly life stories (and where we see their emotional bond maturing), the narrative was funny enough to be amusing.
This is a fun, quick read. For me it’s a great beach read as it keeps the pages turning and isn’t too emotional or elaborate. The ending being what it is May be frustrating for those that like things all tied-up. I had a moment of being annoyed at the end; and then realized that it actually made perfect sense given the flow of the writing and story, right up to the last sentence.
I will definitely look to read Nichols next book regardless of the topic or genre as her writing and characters kept me entertained. Like The Martian the characters cope with extreme circumstances via sarcasm and humour that is clever enough. One of my favourite lines of the book is an astronaut letting off steam after being annoyed that machinery is not working as tested and says they want to write a letter to NASA:
"Dear Sirs; why were you not able to replicate working conditions precisely in a location no human had ever seen before?"How can you not chuckle at the obvious irony that Earth conditions couldn’t replicate a planet no one from Earth has ever been to?
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review
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