Titan by Stephen Baxter

This is one of those deep deep science fiction reads; lots of science and engineering concepts that must’ve taken an eon to research and tie together into a story.

Titan tells the tale of the first manned expedition to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons that is believed to be capable of supporting life. (The scientists have evidence that somewhere on the moon, something is breathing.)

Now, this definitely isn’t the same kind of adventure as the galaxy spanning Noumenon Trilogy, where thousands of highly-trained clones set off highly advanced starships, on a journey that will take centuries to complete.

No, this book starts in 2008, and takes a handful of astronauts on a six-year journey to a Titan, travelling on an old shuttle cobbled together from whatever parts NASA has lying around, before the whole Administration is subsumed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Needless to say, no one (least of all, the astronauts) expects the team to return. Indeed, they all signed on knowing that, in all likelihood, the mission is a one-way trip.

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Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter

Well, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finished the Noumenon Trilogy, and it really has been an epic journey (for me, as well as the writer).

The story of the explorers continues where Noumenon Infinity left us: the explorers and their sentient computer have settled on Noumenon, where they discover an entirely new native species has begun to evolve. Together, they continue the work of the original designers of the alien megastructures, even if they’re not entirely sure the effect they will have on the galaxy when they’re switched on.

Noumenon Ultra
Noumenon Ultra

As it turns out, the true purpose of the megastructure machine is bigger than any of them imagined, and will, eventually, lead mankind to its ultimate exploration mission.

And that’s all I’m going to say; anything more would spoil it for you.

What I will say is this: Noumenon Ultra is the most complicated book in the deepest, most highly structured trilogy I’ve ever read. Now that I’ve reached the end, I can look back and really appreciate what Lostetter has crafted here: the sense of place; the depth of characterisation; the sheer number of characters and the time and care allotted to each of them.

And yes, there were places where I got lost in the prose – though this was probably due to my lack of attention rather than any shortcomings in the writing.

But the ending! Good grief, the ending …! Perfect! Stunning! Literally, brought a tear to the eye.

I get that with all the distractions we’re facing these days, folk feel they don’t have the time to invest in a good science-fiction epic. Well … invest in this one – but don’t attempt to read all three back to back; allow time for your brain to cool down between each book.

Verdict: Epic!