(2023) M. D. Lachlan, Gollancz, £18.99, trdpbk, 324pp, ISBN 978-0-575-11525-5
Commonly, major SF tropes are used and re-used countless times – space or time travel, robotics, artificial intelligence etc. – and the is nothing wrong with that. Every now and then there is something that comes close to an earlier SF classic but sufficiently different and/or far away in time as to be more fresh, and with Lachlan's Celestial we have one of these and there is nothing wrong with that.
To cut to the chase, Celestial treads similar ground to that of Stanislaw Lem's 1961 story Solaris which some of you may only know through the 2003 film Solaris which in turn was based on a 1972 cinematic adaptation.
It is 1977 but not the 1977 we know it. The Apollo Moon missions have happened and ended, but the Russians have their own lunar exploration programme.
Ziggy Da Luca is an ancient language linguist recruited by NASA for reasons she can't quite get. Then NASA intercepts a Russian transmission from the Moon not far off an earlier Apollo landing. It seems as if the Russian have found a mysterious hatch in the surface of the Moon and the cosmonauts that have gone inside have not returned. Due to the symbols found, Ziggy is included on a mission to find out what it is the Russians have discovered. Meanwhile the Russians too are hot on the trail…
OK, we have had discovered hatches and gateways before with Stephen Baxter's Ultima being but one example and the Stargate film and TV franchise being an obvious other. This is not that and, as alluded to above, is more in Solaris territory with some perception warping intelligence at work. Any more would constitute a spoiler. Suffice to say, like Solaris our protagonists have to make sense with what they see. Like Solaris this forms the bulk of the story and for some this makes Solaris something of a marmite novel: like the British marmite yeast spread you will either love it or hate it with little in-between ground. Celestial is likely to have a similar effect on readers.
For me, this, in its tone and feel, took me back to some of the SF stories I read back in the 1970s and '80s and for that I am grateful.
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