Haunted by her last failed mission as NASA’s leading astronaut, Sally Jansen believed her time in space to be over, but as Earth discovers a large object that has entered its solar system on a direct course for the planet, they’ve no choice but to try and communicate. Leading a mission is their last chance to try and get answers and possibly save the world, yet it’s not so straightforward, and for Sally Jansen, it’ll prove to be the most challenging assignment of her life.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
I’ve never denied that science fiction typically intimidates me, but being somewhat familiar with Wellington from the past – I adored his two-book werewolf series almost ten years ago – coupled with a few stellar reviews from those I follow, I decided to try the audio version of The Last Astronaut. It took me a little while to get fully into it, as even with promising the intricacies of a first contact scenario, the actual meat of the story followed a build-up that consisted of the gathering and debriefing of the crew, as well as various interviews relating to the situation; it didn’t lend as much anticipation as I would’ve liked. Once the plot got into the flow of things however, that’s when I found excitement and thrills that didn’t disappoint. There were twists that got my attention, a visual scope that prompted striking imagery, and characters that were forced to deal with an impossible task. The coupling of horror and space can definitely create something vast and incredible, and that infinite dark certainly has the ability to make me feel particularly uneasy.
I’ll be honest in stating that I wasn’t initially fond of the main character, Sally Jansen. All Jansen seemed to do was reach the pinnacle of unprofessionalism, but the further I progressed, the more she grew on me with her stubbornness and determination. Let’s also not forget Parminder Rao, who proved to be quite the memorable heroine alongside Jansen; the overall dynamics of the crew had its faults, granted, but benefited from the inner conflict. Here’s the thing about Wellington: he writes women well. They’re flawed yet realistic, and strong without being distinguished by their physical assets – it’s something to appreciate. Despite my warming to the crew, the object known as 2I was seriously the best thing about the entire novel; there’s really nothing like the exploration of alien terrain. The venture into its depths set an unnerving atmosphere that had a lot to do with sensory deprivation and how the mind reacts to a complete lack of light. I loved this portion when sanity was threatened and survival was a struggle – it was the quiet moments of reflection as well as the edge-of-your-seat suspense that made it compelling.
As for my thoughts on the the quality of the audiobook, I liked Megan Tusing’s performance, she added a great deal of emotion, especially when events turned bleak. My issue instead lay with the unnecessary and intrusive use of sound effects that, at times, made it difficult to concentrate. I’m all for building up the atmosphere, but not at the expense of encroaching upon the story.
In conclusion: The Last Astronaut was a book within a book, detailing NASA’s mission to communicate with an alien structure headed toward Earth. I found the first quarter or so to be the weakest segment, but events got rolling and it was especially gripping from then on. The characters were by no means perfect, but if anything they represented realistic human beings under copious amounts of stress. Their trek into unknown territory was a real adventure, Wellington’s writing excelling in the sense of hopelessness he conveyed. I also found emotion in the beautiful yet tragic ending, it was worth it.
She’d spent her entire career looking for this, for contact. And now she had it, and it was a dark reflection of her dreams, it was the harsh laughter of the Void.
© Red Lace 2020