Believe it or not, before reading Voyage to Alpha Centauri, I had never actually read another thing by Michael D. O’Brien. I know, I know. Where had I been hiding to not have been exposed to the veritable rock star of modern Catholic fiction over the past [almost] 20 years? I mean, when I first heard of him, sometime within the past year, I had a similar feeling to when my brother first mentioned the Harry Potter series years ago years after the series had started. Harry who? I tried to read some of that series, to no real end. Thankfully, with my sudden, late exposure to O’Brien, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at finding a current author after my own Catholic, sci fi fan girl heart.
In a nutshell, the book follows the first voyage of man to the solar system of Alpha Centauri, which supposedly contains a planet remarkably like earth. The entire trip is made possible because of the theoretical work of the protagonist, Dr. Neil de Hoyos, and the book is written as if it is his personal journal, written during the flight. Set about 80 years into the future, the world has changed a great deal from the one in which we live and at the same time, is scarily not at all far off from the path society is currently on. For instance, the “New World Order” camp has won, and the earth is under the direction of a global president. There is constant surveillance and most people living have never known a time when this wasn’t so. China’s one child policy has spread and it is hinted that it is now either a worldwide one or worse yet, that couples are not allowed to simply procreate on their own. For their own good, things such as procreation and child rearing may have been taken out of the hands of parents and placed in the clutches of government personnel.
Essentially, the family unit, the backbone of all society, has been dismantled and society has fallen, although not in the way it fell in the Dark Ages. There is still learning, still “art,” still technology. It’s just that the focus of all of it is all wrong. It’s like the Renaissance gone horribly, horribly wrong. Mankind has given in to its basest desires and thrown the Church aside. All the churches, really. If man has God, then man has hope and knows that he must rely on something greater than himself (and the government). Without the churches, many have fallen away from their faith, making it easier to see the society as God. If I had to choose the central theme in a novel that tackles so much, I would have to say it is this: A society that turns away from God is turning toward evil and will never survive it’s own selfishness.
One finds throughout the book that it both is and isn’t as black as all that. While the world may be gleefully going to hell in an enormous hand basket, there are still people who believe, and the believers have a way of finding each other. They share each other’s strength, and somehow manage to hang on to the best humanity has to offer. Most of these people, it turns out, are scientists. Perhaps O’Brien is pointing out that faith and reason do in fact go hand in hand. Although they have been taught their religion in secret because their parents were maligned, even killed for their beliefs, it is the Christians who turn out to be the very best people aboard the ship. This may be taking it a step too far on the author’s part, but after seeing the current media trend to trash Christians at every turn for being [insert terrible thing here], I found it refreshing to read a book where we were actually the good guys.
Although I often wanted to smack Neil over the head (I get a little too attached to characters in books I read) because of his seeming inability to see what was clearly in front of his face, I found him endearing. He was, as were all the characters, well-written, and well rounded. There were surprises along the way from many of them. Neil is someone I think most readers will be able to relate to, even though he is a two time Nobel award winner. There is something about him, perhaps it’s his cowboy boots, or his limp, or his sense of humor which is ever apparent, that makes him likable. In the end, it is both literally and figuratively Neil who carries the entire book.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri is not a good science fiction book. It is not a good futuristic book. It is not even a good book on the issues of governmental interference in the lives of men. It is, simply, a good book. It is a book about personal redemption and responsibility. It is a book about living one’s faith in the midst of danger and darkness. It is a book about life itself and that is what makes it sure an excellent read, whether or not one is, as I am, a fan of the genre.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri
Author: Michael D. O’Brien
Publisher: Ignatius Press