Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

Pillar to the Sky - William R. Forstchen

Review by John for Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen.

John’s quick take:   A science fiction novel that revolves around a seemingly fantastic concept – a space elevator that reaches from the equator to geosynchronous orbit and will help to solve many of the world’s problems. The technology is based on reasonable extrapolations of today’s science.

John’s description:   The earth is beset by a range of seemingly unsolvable issues that spell future disaster – environmental crises abound, oil supplies are dwindling causing oil prices to skyrocket, major economies are trying to overcome crippling deficits, and war is brewing in the Middle East. Meanwhile two brilliant and driven scientists have spent twenty years working on the science and engineering behind an incredible idea. They want to build an elevator that will reach 23,000 miles out into geosynchronous orbit, a project that would not only re-ignite space travel but would also help to solve many of the world’s energy problems – and ultimately help to abate environmental crises.

Gary and Eva Morgan have been quietly working under the guidance of their mentor, an ancient but revered rocket scientist who is something of a NASA legend. When they are told that the government can no longer fund their research budget, the project seems to be doomed and the Morgans are mortified. But their mentor has connections with legend Franklyn Smith, who has the vision, the immense wealth and the business savvy required to kick-start the project.

Slowly the team starts to turn the dream into a reality but they face huge odds – not just overwhelming technical challenges that need to be overcome, but also many powerful vested interests and some highly skeptical and vocal critics. The glittering goal cannot be reached without heroism, determination and sacrifice.

John’s thoughts:  I do love the idea behind the story (and incidentally it is not a new one – Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the creation of a space elevator in his 1979 novel, The Fountains of Paradise). It involves great vision, huge technological obstacles and possible salvation from some of mankind’s most intractable problems. And yet Forstchen makes it sound like this can be done using some reasonable extrapolations from technology that is available today; he makes the idea and the story feel plausible. He also creates some interesting and three-dimensional characters, has an accessible writing style and has crafted a fast-paced and interesting plot. The technology was interesting, fascinating actually, but it didn’t clog up the read.

Where he loses me a bit is in his endless eulogizing of NASA. The book jacket does say that it is a “NASA-inspired work of fiction” so I guess I was forewarned, but I did find it a bit over the top. Certainly it would be nice to think that pure science and visionary goals can win out over blinkered politics and a short-term view of financial and business interests, but having to read so many times how great NASA was (and could be again) just proved to be a distraction from the story.

Still, I did enjoy this read and would recommend it to any science fiction fans who like their stories to be based in the near future and founded on plausible technology. I’d rate this book three stars.

Tor Books | February 2014 | Hardcover | 400 pages

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