WASHINGTON, January 27, 2014 – There is something indelibly graceful about reading the old masterworks of literature. Whereas many modern authors craft engaging stories that also serve as microcosms of their own existential angst and moral dysfunction, the old masters were often able to spin us a great yarn capable of ennobling our spirits while also providing potent lessons in history, philosophy and theology.
In our own times, Michael O’Brien has joined the small group of writers who have eschewed popular modernism in favor of writing rich, meaningful works concerned with the nature of things as they truly are.
Despite being rejected by major publishers early in his career for committing the seemingly cardinal offense of expressing an incarnational worldview in his writings, Michael O’Brien has found a home with Ignatius Press, a publisher whose small fiction catalog represents some of the most original new writing available today, building a worldwide following in the process.
With his most recent effort, “Voyage to Alpha Centauri,” O’Brien jumps genres into the realm of science fiction, continuing the long tradition of writing theologically meaningful sci-fi that was begun by authors such as C.S. Lewis. The comparison to Lewis is no exaggeration. In this recent volume, Michael O’Brien has penned an engaging and anthropocentric science fiction novel, one that moves beyond imaginary technology and implausible scenarios into a refreshingly human story.
This first-person novel is written in the voice of Neil Ruiz de Hoyos, a New Mexico-born physicist whose Nobel Prize-winning work leads to the construction of the first space ship capable of traveling to another galaxy. This ship, the “Kosmos,” is set to explore a potentially life-supporting planet located in the closest star system to our own.
Considering the fact that NASA has already begun testing warp technology in Texas, O’Brien’s imaginary scenario, which envisions mankind visiting potentially habitable planets within 80 years, may be too plausible to be labeled “science fiction.” On the other hand, his social predictions are painfully uncomfortable, given our current situation.
The eccentric and fiercely independent Hoyos gladly accepts the offer of an honorary seat on this 18-year round trip, if only to escape the increasing soft-tyranny of the surveillance state in which he lives. As one reads Hoyos’ journal entries, it becomes clear that this expedition will not be a relaxing interstellar vacation. The Kosmos will become a microcosm of Earth’s greatest light and darkness, while the discoveries scientists will make at their destination will literally change the course of human history.
The future world imagined by Michael O’Brien grows out of his keen observations of our own disintegrating culture as well as our astounding current scientific advances, allowing his near-future scenario to ring true. Like the epic journey of Alex Graham in “A Father’s Tale” or the searing experiences of Josip Lasta in “Island of the World,” the journey of De Hoyos and the Kosmos is one that can sear itself into your memory and remaining with you long after you have devoured the final page.
We see not only the development of storylines in O’Brien’s novels, but the growth and atrophy of souls contained within. For attentive readers, an O’Brien novel will expose you to all manner of cultural references while potentially leaving you with a list of new things to explore. Sensitive readers may find that these novels can imprint themselves on their own souls. There is little more that one can ask of a work of fiction.
Intellectually engaging, emotionally wrenching and convincingly researched, “Voyage to Alpha Centauri” delivers on every level.
Rating: *** ½ (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)