Friday, June 4, 2021

The Long Iapetan Night, by Julie Nováková

European Astrobiology Institute, May 2021 (original publication 2020)

This is the story of the start of a new space age, beginning about a century after two major disasters in close succession largely crashed technological civilization on Earth. First, the Phlegraean Fields volcano experienced a VEI-8 eruption, destroying Naples and plunging the world into a volcanic winter. This was bad enough, but almost a year later, an extreme solar eruption knocks the human race out of the satellite age, and even destroys much of the electronic infrastructure on Earth.

People survived, and preserved enough that, slowly, they were able to recover, to the point of launching a new space program, to return to the places--the Moon, Mars, and Saturn's moons Titan and Iapetus--where there had been colonies at the time of the collapse. They don't know whether the colonists at the more distant colonies tried to return to Earth, or decided to stay, but they didn't make it back, and weren't equipped to survive in isolation from Earth.

This novella follows a new expedition returning to Iapetus, and chapters alternate between Lev, a member of the new expedition, and a member of the earlier colony expedition, whose name we don't get.

The new expedition finds possible evidence of alien life, not recent and not living on Iapetus, but possible alien life. There's evidence of some strange projects by the original expedition, including creation of a large, dish-like structure on the surface that looks like a solar collector--but how useful could that be on Iapetus? And when they start to investigate the first expedition's station, strange events start to happen--and some members of the new expedition believe the place is trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, we are getting the story of that one member of the first expedition, and the conflicts among the members of that expedition once the news of the twin disasters on Earth reaches them, and contact with Earth is lost altogether.

Overall, it's a dark story, yet with some hope at the end.

And yet, and yet. It's overall a dark story, and feels incomplete. I'm hoping to see more, where we learn something more about those signs of alien life.

I received this as a gift that's part of a Kickstarter project, for an anthology about alien life, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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