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Book review: 'Solar Express' details journey of alien artifact mystery
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"Solar Express" is by Utah author L.E. Modesitt Jr. - photo by Sharon Haddock
"SOLAR EXPRESS," by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor Books, $27.99, 454 pages (f)

If a reader can hang in there long enough for the story to take flight, "Solar Express" by L.E. Modesitt Jr can be satisfying.

The problem is that Modesitt has been so meticulous with his descriptions of what it entails to be working in space as an astrophysicist or as a pilot heading off alone in a modified fusionjet that it becomes a little tedious.

But it also works as a reminder that space travel and living in space is not all glamour and fun. There's so much time and so much detail to take in that it would be easy to become complacent.

Then there's the issue of communication. Without the immediacy of real-time communication, every message and order or contemplation takes on layers of perhaps unintended meaning.

Essentially, Dr. Alayna Wong-Grant is studying space to solve a problems with mini-granulations when she notices what she first thinks is a new comet or asteroid.

This silvery alien artifact soon becomes something of much greater interest to her sponsors, her nation and two other factions who are vying to get at it first.

Pilot Chris Tavoian is sent to check it out and quickly become intrigued and greatly puzzled by what he finds. Material impervious to laser scans? An object that accelerates with no obvious means of propulsion?

The mystery deepens and Chris is endangered. His ship is not equipped for the long voyage or for battle. He is isolated and left to solve complicated problems and survive against powerful enemies as well as the quarreling Sinese and Indian governments.

The result is a story that is harrowing by minute degrees.

"Solar Express" has plenty of interjected material to break up the journey with inserts from the "Hot News!" news wire and minutes from the global congressional body. There are email messages and orders coming in frequently.

The relationship that builds through such telecommunication between Alayna and Chris is solid and believable.

Salt Lake City is mentioned. Global warming and a general lack of sufficient attention to what calamities come with climate change are part of the background.

Modesitt both warns and scolds mankind for its choices.

There is no sex or swearing. The described violence is limited to the physical damage that comes from explosions and impacts in space.