Take every bit of news and every promise that you’ve heard from the likes of SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos (and their fanboys), compile that into a novel, and you get Daniel Suarez’s novel Delta-V. A billionaire named Nathan Joyce recruits daredevil cave diver James Tighe to a secretive project: a crewed mission to an asteroid to kickstart a new industry for humanity.
Tighe is someone who is looking for the next thrill, and he’s dumped into an intense training school for Joyce’s potential astronauts. There, he and his fellow recruits are tested to their limits, given no privacy, then is eventually tasked with the first mission out to a remote asteroid to begin mining it. Alongside his adventure, Suarez recounts Joyce’s efforts to stand up his secretive project to kickstart this potentially-massive industry, while parroting many of the same talking points that you might have heard about the benefits of space exploration and space mining.
Delta-V is what I’d call a solid beach read. It’s breezy, brisk, and moves along at a nice clipped pace. You’ll recognize all of the characters here — confident men and women adventurers looking to get in on the ground floor of history, while thinly reskinned versions of Bezos and Musk pop up to talk about their ventures. Along the way, Suarez explores what such an industry might look like through the lens of Silicon Valley secrecy and ambition.
The book is a lot of fun, but it’s essentially an argument for private spaceflight wrapped up in a novel. Suarez has some interesting ideas: how established legal norms and regulations potentially hold back something like a privatized industry, while also holding up the predictable motivator for astronauts: adventure. The idea that we go to space for the next adventure and into a brand new, untapped frontier is already a well-worn path for science fiction authors and space proselytizers, and Suarez’s characters hit practical challenge after practical challenge as they work to mine the asteroid for materials. This is pretty par for the course for Suarez (I reviewed his book Influx a couple of years ago for io9 with pretty much the same conclusion). He’s part of a group of authors like Michael Crichton and Blake Crouch, who spin together a good adventure with a lot of plausible hard science, but which ultimately feel a bit like the end goal is fat paycheck from a movie studio for the next big-budget science fiction blockbuster — but who never really comes down on any sort of conclusion or thought about what the adventure means.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s a fun read, and I enjoyed the hell out of it (the audiobook is pretty good, too). I’m a firm advocate for some art being there just for the entertainment value, and that for every heady science fiction project like Arrival, you need something like Battle: LA, with lots of action and bright shiny things. Delta-V delivers all of that, and it’s a fun reaffirmation of the coming space race.