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James R. Martin
Silhouettes and Shadows

Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Moving beyond rocket propulsion while defying world powers, a private corporation secretly builds ships to explore Mars and the Solar System. To survive, they must initially defend their discoveries and goals against a right-wing government, corporate competitors, and foreign countries. The story starts today, quickly moving into a dangerous future. A host of characters teams up to make a dream come true. Will they complete their quest before Homo sapiens destroy Earth? Each of the many characters has their reasons for beginning this journey. The Silhouettes And Shadows story combines the grim realities of the current Earth's existence with a science-fiction possibility that could alter the course of humanity's history. However, there is a satirical undercurrent regarding the political situation in the U.S. as the team builds their dream.
“Our actions over the next ten years can change the course of history on the planet,” Sam Arroyo, the son of the genius owners of a private aerospace company, declares early in Martin’s fiction debut. If anything, Sam’s downplaying the leap his family’s ushering humanity towards: a propulsion drive that manipulates gravitational fields, allowing space flight without rockets—and potentially eliminating our need for fossil fuels. The Arroyos understand how much the powers that be will want to control or eliminate this technology (and a cloaking device another son’s developing). That’s especially true of a greedy American president who fancies himself a king. But that won’t stop the Arroyos from building spacecraft and plotting a mission to Mars and possibly beyond, all of which Martin games out in vivid, conversational detail.

This is upbeat, big-picture science-fiction, alert to the technical complexities of Arroyo Aerospace’s ambitions but not bogged down in them. Martin, a documentarian and author of many nonfiction books, prizes convincing scenes of decision-making and problem-solving. That’s not to say the novel lacks tension—it starts in a 2017 rocked by right-wing militias, with the intelligence agencies sniffing around the Arroyos’ progress. As they prepare the Galaxy Two for launch over the next few years, the family faces the fraught politics of the real world in that era, from the pandemic to election denialism.

Crisp dialogue carries the story, though tense shifts and an expository tone mean the storytelling’s not as polished as it could be. The blunt emphasis on contemporary politics, including a conservative Arroyo sister who initially is kept out of the loop because of her affiliations, will put some readers off, but Martin’s ultimately empathetic with her—and he’s invested in how great things might be accomplished within our current Earthly systems. As their new space age dawns, complete with a space station, the Arroyos explore PR campaigns, private-public partnerships, deals with corporations, and other practical approaches.

Takeaway: This upbeat novel imagines a family-owned aerospace company’s new space age.

Comparable Titles: Daniel Suarez’s Delta-v, Kim Stanley Robinson.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A