Daniel Suarez’s latest novel – Delta-v is a palatable near future space race story about a group of characters who get stuck in space. It’s a slow burner but worth it for the ending.
I have enjoyed the action-oriented and dystopian science fiction style of Suarez’ early novels – Daemon, FreedomTM, Kill Decision. These were fast-paced and convincingly creative in their ideas.
Delta-v takes Suarez into a new direction – space. The delta-v, or Δv, is a mathematical symbol for a change in velocity, which is central to navigating in space in this novel.
The future is still where it happens with the science fiction elements focused on the journey into space. In effect, this is a hard science novel. The density comes in the space mining; I am not a fan of hard science but Suarez keeps the physics toned down and focuses on the plot.
There are three broad stages to this novel –firstly on earth, secondly, in space, and thirdly, back to earth. We begin with how the crew come together and the motivations of an entrepreneur, Nathan Joyce, to lead the space race.
Nathan Joyce is in a competition to monetise and revolutionise mining space’s resources and take them to earth. This is not that central to the story and does not rear its ugly head until a rival space ship suddenly joins them. The characters are the story. Whilst the seven individuals have unique and varying backgrounds characterisation is not a strong point – they got on with each just too easily.
The novel is told through James “J.T.” Tighe, a professional cave diver. There is a long build up when the team go through elimination rounds as they undertake their training for being in space. As the leader of an eight-man team on a four-year-long journey to an asteroid he comes across as a strong protagonist.
The twists in the story occur when the crew are out mining an asteroid, but only after half way through when the story had waded through a thin plot line. We learn about Joyce and how he is not who we thought he is. Still, there was missing a sense of the shock and anxiety of their predicament.
I cannot but respect the research that has gone into technology of mining an asteroid and building a space ship in space. The trials of being in space for four years with solar flairs are well documented, if a little dry. However, I struggled to agree with the logic that no one or any organisation saw them leave, saw them out there, and saw them return. Since there is a global industry devoted to watching out for other life it is odd no one saw this space ship.
The third stage, the return to earth was undeniably gripping. Prior to the return to earth there was the prelude of an exchange firstly with the new owners of the company, and secondly the original ground control crew. This is a rare moment of how Suarez can write incisive dialogue.
A side plot concerns a lawyer who Joyce adopts to get his mission supposedly legally launched. Lukas Rochat’s job is to find loopholes around those laws to ensure that Joyce’s team are not caught out until they are already in space. Even then, there was scope to debate the law in more detail.
Ultimately, there is no final twist in the tale, it is the journey back that grips us. As much as Suarez uses the science to make the journey back to earth highly readable, it is at times a meandering story.