Ray Andrews examines nothing less weighty in his debut novel than what exactly it means to be human. Walking in the footsteps of science fiction giants such as Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin, Andrews has penned a significant book in Covenant, the first installment in his Horizon Trilogy. By turns philosophical and suspenseful, Covenant tells the story of failure and hope, of humanity lost and humanity regained.
In an uncharacteristic show of accord, the nations of Earth join forces in the early 21st century to send a manned space mission to distant Pluto. For nearly 100 years, a steady but unidentified signal has been coming from the small cold planet at the solar system's edge. Man's curiosity can no longer be contained. This mission is to discover the source of the signal and, if possible, to make contact with the signal's originators. The voyage to Pluto and back to Earth will take half a human lifetime; the crew of fourteen have undergone a rigorous selection process and sacrificed the hope of a normal life to win a coveted position aboard the Ambassador.
The tensions of forced intimacy and close quarters begin to tell on the crew halfway to the distant planet that is their goal. The discovery of weapons on board the "peaceful" Ambassador nearly brings the mission to a halt, but the tiny ship forges on. The damage done to the fragile relationships in the microcosm, however, is permanent. At long last, after 17 years, captain, pilot and crew prepare to rendezvous with their goal: Pluto.
What the band of explorers does not discover when they arrive is as important as what they do. The source of the persistent signal remains unclear. What is all too apparent is what will become of the mission's members if they fail to adapt when a crash landing cripples their only means back to Earth. Stranded on a frozen planet and unable to communicate with mission control, these orphaned few begin what may be humanity's grandest experiment. One thought gives them hope: that someday, somehow, they might make it back home.
At times profoundly poetic and at others filled with gripping gritty-detailed action, Covenant does everything a good sci-fi novel should. It makes the once-impossible plausible, it excites the imagination, it moves the reader and pushes the boundaries of his sensibilities. Most importantly, Covenant reveals that the most important thing man might find in his quest for other intelligent life is a more perfect understanding of himself.