The Apollo Murders
(c) 2021 Chris Hadfield
It’s 1973, and the Apollo program is nearly at its end. One more mission is planned — but it won’t be the mission executed. Instead, the all-military crew of Apollo 18 will be given a secret mission, one even most NASA support staff don’t know about. The Russians are up to something, and it’s vital to find out what. Not only do they have a rover sniffing around on the Moon, but they have a spy satellite in orbit, one that will compromise any and all daylight military operations, Its capabilities and weaknesses need to be assessed, and the rover’s mission on the lunar surface likewise investigated. But even if last-minute mission alterations weren’t a large enough challenge — ops like this require months of sim-testing — there are flies in the soup no one is aware of. Not only do the Russians have more out there than is known, but there’s a rouge element within NASA itself….and they’re perfectly willing to kill to achieve what they desire. The Apollo Murders is a unique thriller, one that begins as a pure technical drama before shifting to one of political intrigue and military action in space. Written by a veteran astronaut, drawing on an often-overlooked aspect of the space race (the USAAF’s Manned Orbiting Lab), and mixing new characters with historical ones like Al Shephard and Gene Kranz, The Apollo Murders is all kinds of interesting.
In real life, Apollo 18 never happened: the last few Apollo missions were cancelled to save money, so the last time men walked on the moon was December 19th, 1972. This gives Hadfield room to play, and he invents a handful of new characters and throws them on a familiar stage — though this is unlike any other Apollo mission. In the wake of intelligence that indicates the Soviets are up to all kinds of mischief, the scientific aspects of 18 are quietly dropped, along with its rover: instead, the crew are given a straightforward military mission that involves surveillance , assessment, and — if possible without being obvious — sabotage. The mission is marked by incidents, though: the original commander dies in a freak accident aboard a Bell helicopter, and then the crew realizes their voice uplink with Houston isn’t working. They can hear instructions, but not communicate back — and boy, do they need to communicate, because the Russians have a few surprises waiting. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on some of the most interesting parts of this novel without giving away the astonishing developments. Let’s just say, though, that Hadfield offers us looks at pioneering space combat (think of scout pilots in 1914 trying to hit each other with revolvers, ‘fighters’ having not yet been conceived of), as well as an unprecedented diplomatic challenge. And then there’s the rouge element….and the woman.
Having previously read Hadfield’s space memoir, and being something of an Apollo junkie, I had high hopes for this. They were not disappointed, though there were some oddities, like a 1970s newspaper using 2020s conventions. This is so unlike anything I’ve read that I was spellbound by it to the very end. There’s not much out there in the way of realistic space fiction (Stephen Baxter’s Voyage is the only other book I’m familiar with), so I’m glad Hadfield tried his hand at fiction. It succeeded enormously in my reckoning!
Sounds interesting. Rings bells with ‘For All Mankind’ too…. Only seen clips on YouTube (inevitably) but it looks the part.
Ooh, nice. I have another astronaut written novel I may try to read next week — Buzz Aldrin’s “Encounter with Tiber”.
Sounds like a great concept. It is always interesting to read science fiction done well.