Reviewers Note: February 1, 2003. I finished reading Oxygen at 8:30 AM EST. It was a few hours later when I first heard the news about Space Shuttle Columbia. The combined effects from finishing a truly wonderful and emotional novel coupled with the tragic and catastrophic events were overwhelming. Perhaps it is because of the lifelike characters created in the novel that I felt extra connected to the seven astronauts who lost their lives this morning. This made a growing appreciation for the novel. It made me realize these trips into space are never "routine". I will never feel that way about a mission again.
Oxygen is the story of a space expedition to Mars. A few decades ago, such a novel might seem like pure science fiction, something that could never happen. This type of an adventure is not far fetched any longer. A trip like this will be possible in the not-too-distant future.
In this novel, a trip to Mars is scheduled for launch on January 14, 2014. It is on July 4, 2014 that the shuttle is expected to land on Mars -- a significant day for Americans. Four NASA astronauts have been selected to man the ship: Bob Kaganovski, the crew's mechanical engineer; Mission Commander Josh Bennett; Dr. Alexis Ohta; and pilot Kennedy Hampton. Training is going great. Everything is on schedule. It is less than two years before the countdown to January 14th that NASA selects Dr. Valkerie Jansen as a new Astronaut Candidate.
One of the original mission team members is asked to resign from taking the trip to Mars. Valkerie will be the replacement astronaut. Suspicion levels are raised with the rest of the team, for Val seems to have come out of nowhere. She has split up a team of astronauts that has known each other and been training together for years. For the sake of the mission, everyone agrees to move forward.
After a shaky launch, some of the exterior equipment is damaged. During a spacewalk to check out the damage more closely and hopefully repair it, a bomb is detected under the canvas of solar panels. When it is detonated, the lifelong dream of a trip to Mars suddenly becomes a nightmarish race against time. Think Apollo 13. Only instead of a failed mission to the moon, the astronauts on the Aries 10 are more than halfway to Mars. They cannot turn around and come home. There is barely enough oxygen to make it to the desolate planet where oxygen tanks and other equipment await their arrival.
NASA security had been tight before the launch; only a limited number of personnel had access to the ship -- six people, to be exact: the crew members and Nate Harrington, the Mars Mission Director. Some seem to have a reason for wanting the mission to fail, some seem to have mysterious or buried pasts, and others seem too eager and determined. One thing is for sure: no one trusts anyone, and that is no way to run an intergalactic mission. Blind faith becomes their only hope for survival.
Did you ever read a book and wish everyone in the world could read it? Olson and Ingermanson have written such a book. It is a compelling novel, breathtakingly intense. Written with a poetic flow, the prose comes off elegant and casual—not too technical. The dialogue and narrative are genuine. It is a story about trust, friendship, love, suspicion, excitement, anticipation, fear and paranoia.
If you have things to do, get them done before you start reading Oxygen. This is the kind of book that demands your attention. And when you get toward the end, take a break, grab a box of tissues, hold your breath and settle in for the final emotional chapters. These two gifted authors deliver on their journey and finish this novel with a well-written, well thought-out climax. Oxygen is gripping from the beginning until the ending. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I cannot wait to begin reading the sequel, The Fifth Man.