by Ray Blackhall
Review by Paul Haggerty
Sparkling Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0976356554
Date: 28 November, 2006 List Price $22.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Stealth Planet is the first novel by Ray Blackhall, and there are pluses and minuses to be found. The fact that it's a first novel is readily apparent. Much of the dialog reads like a script rather than people talking. Pacing is uneven in places, especially where geology is concerned. The fact that Blackhall is a geologist by trade is readily apparent in the selection of which parts of the plot are considered worthy of the most attention and detail. There are also a few major science holes that, to me, were glaringly obvious. The most damning of which is that a planet the size of Mars, even cloaked against detection from visible light would still be readily be apparent on a gravitic survey. There's a line or two in the book trying to get around this, but it just isn't convincing. A planet the size of Mars in the middle of the outer solar system would have shown up long long ago. There are other nit picky problems with nanotechnology, NASA culture, and politics, but it's probable that I'm just biased on some of these and that other readers will never notice.
So, those are the problems. But there's plenty to enjoy in this book as well. Ray Blackhall conjures up a slightly future world, not too different from our own, where some of the annoying aspects of space flight have been overcome and brand new cutting edge tech is now becoming available to overcome others. In order to meet a rather inconceivably tight launch scheduled, nanotechnology is employed, not only to help build the ship, but to function as its auto-repair system. Anyone who has ever seen a science fiction horror movie just knows this is going to end up being a problem.
Launched into the darkness with a crew of seventeen, including David and Margie, the HobieKat races outwards, pushed along by new and better engines which will allow them to make the journey out and back within two years time. During the trip there are your usual, and not so usual interpersonal complications, dangers from the depths of space, various bouts of rule breaking, and generally tales of people cooped up in too small a space. The exploration of Enigma, as the stealth planet is named, takes up barely one third of the book, but is probably the most colorful. Sent to land on the mysterious planet, the astronauts find mysteries and danger, their high technology alternately saving them and failing them as they face dangers that all explorers have faced when venturing into a new land. And geology of course, lots and lots of geology.
Ray Blackhall has clearly given his planet a lot of thought, and the science really holds together fairly well, with the minor problems mentioned earlier. Even by the end of the book, what we really know about conditions on Enigma is so slight that another expedition could easily be sent with little repetition of events.