The Tranquility Alternative

Allen Steele, Author Ace Books $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-441-00299-3
An action-packed plot doesn't save Steele's follow-up to The Jericho Iteration (1994) from a dearth of well-developed ideas. In this novel of alternate history, space exploration, after establishing itself as necessary for America's growth and defense, has suffered from public disinterest and lack of funding until the last vestiges of the nation's space program are about to be sold to a private German company. The final U.S. space mission--to the moon, to destroy nuclear missiles planted there decades earlier--is commanded by Gene Parnell, an aging white male given to nostalgia. Accompanied by a multicultural set of passengers and crew, some of whom are spies and agents, Parnell leads the mission through a series of minor crises. By the final third of the novel, with the treacheries revealed and most of the cards played, the reader is prepared for a dramatic climax--but none comes. Several promising subplots, dealing with a lesbian love interest and computer net mores, aren't fully exploited, and Steele's world-building, never strong, is especially weak here, with many of the social and sociological developments poorly conceived. At least the title is right. This disappointing yarn will calm more demanding SF readers right down--and then put them to sleep. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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