Friday, June 8, 2007


Title: Oxygen

Authors: John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson

Genre: Adult Near-future Science Fiction

Chapter One of Oxygen:

Valkerie woke up screaming. A viper bat clung to her face with fish-hook claws, smothering her with its thin, leathery body. She tore at her face, but the creature had dug in too deep. She could already feel its venom burning into her lungs, constricting her chest in a long, convulsive cough. Struggling for control, she traced the contours of her face with tingling fingertips. Slowly, the clinging creature melted into her skin, fading back into the world of dreams.

The nightmare gradually faded, giving way to a new, more gripping terror. Valkerie was wide awake now. There was no such thing as a viper bat. But she still couldn’t breathe.

Valkerie flung herself from the camping cot and thudded to the floor. She lay on her back, gasping for breath. She was hyperventilating, but the burning in her lungs grew worse. An acrid stench filled the cabin—the smell of sulfur dioxide—SO2.

“Oh no.” The volcano was venting. “Oh God, please…” Valkerie rolled over and fought her way up onto her hands and knees. Dim red light filtered in through the cabin window, illuminating a large duffel bag in the middle of the room. She crawled slowly toward the bag, struggling through the coughs that wracked her body.

“Please, God.” Squeezing her eyes shut against the pain in her cramping muscles, Valkerie inched forward until she felt the heavy canvas. She dug underneath a metallic thermal suit and pressed her breather to her face. Her lungs choked shut at the rush of acidic gas.

A microbial ecologist gets caught up in a manned mission to Mars mired in disaster.

The Writing: It’s hard to find anything to criticize in Oxygen. It still lacks that indescribable pull that some books have, but not for lack of good writing. Clear and concise, the story has three-dimensional characters propelled by a plot that moves rapidly most of the time. It does bog down in the middle some, caused by a necessary time jump that makes me feel like I’m restarting the book. But Olson and Ingermanson soon shake this slowness, and the plot twists, which I’m usually pretty good at figuring out, kept me guessing until the end.

The Story: A very clean story and not a sermon in sight! Very refreshing. But if you prefer stories that are brainless, this isn’t for you. Oxygen does not shy away from asking some challenging questions—not all of which it will answer.

Summary: A page-turner with thought-provoking content—you can’t lose with this combination.

Rating: 4.2 stars out of 5

(Fifth Man, the sequel to Oxygen, reviewed here.)

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