Michael McBain's debut novel The Vast is a singularly flippant sci-fi thriller. A cryogenically frozen astronaut's deep space mission in 2099 takes a decidedly comic turn when he meets a really hostile race of mucous-covered, loogey-hawking aliens. The Vast doesn't run along the familiarly punny lines of, say, Piers Anthony's Xanth or Terry Pratchett's Discworld. We're talking The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets "Mars Attacks" meets "Robocop" here.
Astronaut Alec Sullivan is watching the millenial riots of 2099 on the news (a public disappointed by the world's refusal to end on New Year's 2000 are trying again) when he learns of his wife's death in a car accident. Believing there's nothing on an overcrowded and over-automated Earth to keep him there, he agrees to accept the space mission that directors of the International Space Pioneering Association have been hounding him about. Unaware of the ISPA's hand in his wife's death, Alec heads for the Moon to begin training for his lonely mission. He will be cryogenically frozen and sent into deep space in the hopes that his scout ship will, with luck, run into intelligent life somewhere out there.
Japanese agents of espionage and a Mexican uprising conspire to push the mission schedule ahead, and the ISPA shoots Alec out on a trajectory that will take him far out from the solar systerm he calls home. While the lone traveler speeds out into the cosmos, the powers that be (and an arrogant, ignorant, paranoid bunch they be) back on Earth and the Moon manage to start World War III. It doesn't take long for things to come to a nuclear head.
Oblivious to the crisis he left behind, Alec is awakened a decade and a half later by a mucous-covered band of space pirates. The aliens promptly kill the human and feed his body to their "dogs." Lucky for Alec, they store his brain and eyes in a machine they've salvaged from previous victims, hoping that he will show them how to get to Earth so they might pillage a fresh planet. When he won't, they toss him without fanfare onto the trash heap. Again luckily for the intrepid spaceman, the machine storing the last of his biological self is an ultra-sophisticated computer. Alec is able to rebuild himself a robotic body and plot a desperate escape so that he might warn humanity of the threat of alien annihilation.
It takes a few chapters for The Vast to hit its stride; a consistent tone is missing early on in the novel. It is when McBain finds his unabashedly comic voice that the story finds the groove missing in the beginning. Not too shabby a first effort for an amateur computer-generated film maker from South Texas -- McBain gives strong indications that he'll clean up nice.