Solar Express Review (Hard Science Fiction)


Solar Express: You can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union is Alayna’s friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in strange new ways, ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries—provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations. – Goodreads


Solar Express Review

I have very little good to say about Solar Express, so let me start and end with something positive. It seems obvious that L.E. Modesitt is very intelligent and has a great passion for writing. Lots of people have positive things to say about his works, which include fantasy and science fiction. I have gathered that this novel is not considered one of his best works, so I feel that perhaps my impression of the author’s talent is unfairly biased after reading this novel. I wish I could talk more positively in the following review. 

It’s kind of funny that not too long ago, I did  a post talking about how hard science fiction can be fun. That there are lots of hard science fiction out there that goes against the reader’s expectations. And then I read L.E. Modesitt’s Solar Express and realized that it’s a perfect ‘worst case’ example of it. This book is a brick that’s filled with information that is relayed in the most boring way possible. It never feels like anything happens, even though realistically you know stuff does.

Not only that, but Modesitt repeats himself so much that it adds what feels like an unnecessary 100+ pages in length. This is obvious very early on, and I don’t think it ever gets any better. I felt like he wrote the novel with the expectation that idiots were going to be reading it. He also doesn’t seem to understand that not every little thing needs explained. Such as in the following paragraph:

He made his way back to the cargo section and the extruder. There he programmed it to produce three lengths of heavy-duty carbon/nanorod tubing, each rod three meters long, close to the maxiumum length possible with the formulator aboard Recon three, which is why he needed three lengths. – L.E. Modesitt, Solar Express

How much of that paragraph (Well, two sentences, one being a monster run-on) did we actually need? “He programmed the extruder to produce three lengths of heavy-duty carbon/nanorod tubing, three meters long.”  See what I mean? You can feel your eyelids drooping just reading it!

Many people likened Solar Express to The Martian for its emphasis on human pluck. To a lesser extent also for the emphasis on written communication for plot development. Okay, sure, the main characters really do have some getup and go. Their determination is admirable. I’ll give him that. Unfortunately, they’re also almost completely lacking in the personality needed to become characters you can root for. The main thing that stands out in my mind about the male character is that he was always really, really tired. I can empathize with him, but why did the author feel the need to repeat it so much that it became his defining characteristic in a reader’s mind? And the written communication? It just doesn’t work in this book.

At the 52% point, I started skimming, desperately looking for a passage that would reignite my interest in the book. I found a couple of passages where  a few things actually happened, but considering most of the book was yawn worthy… Luckily it picked up near the end of the book a bit. Enough that I started properly reading again.

Sun Spot Granulations
via Nasa

One of my other issues with the book is one of the driving mysteries was something I couldn’t even visualize, much less get interested in. Is that the fault of the author? No. Well, maybe. I mean, he had to realize when he was writing it that most people were going to hear about sun mini-granulations and go glaze-eyed, right?  Even after looking what it was up, I still couldn’t find it in me to be interested. Suppose astrophysicists or such might be more interested in it than I was.

So given how many issues I obviously have with this book, why did I give it two stars instead of one? The writing, while boring, isn’t painful to read, and the world-building that is displayed is decent. There was obviously a lot of thought put into small details, and I appreciated that.  I also appreciated that the author was willing to tackle the fact that sometimes scientific theories aren’t perfect.

I did mildly enjoy the last one hundred pages or so. Unfortunately, that enjoyment wasn’t enough to lessen the rather dull impact the rest of the book had upon me.

Overall, my impression of Solar Express is far from positive, and I’d warn beginning sci-fi readers to stay far, far away from it. There are great books out there to introduce people to the hard science fiction genre. This is not one of them.

Title: Solar Express | Author: L.E. Modesitt Jr. (site) | Publisher: Tor Books (site) | Pub. Date: 2015-11-3 | Pages: 448 | ISBN13: 9780765381958 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 2 out of 5 | Source: Library