Gravity, by Tess Gerritsen

I had a mixed reaction to this book. I had a hard time sticking with it for the first third or so, but once the action really kicked in, I got wrapped up in it. I stayed up past 1:00 a.m. Friday night to finish it, feeling about 70% “what’s going to happen?!” and 30% “let’s just get this over with.”

On the positive side, Gerritsen’s experience as a doctor and research into NASA richly inform the work. Any time the action turns to medical or space-technology issues, her writing is vibrant and detailed. (Note: she is perhaps a bit too detailed with some of the grue. I can’t recommend this as a lunch-time read, unless you’re dieting; some of the scenes will put you right off your sammich.) Sadly, the book goes quite flat any time it turns away from these topics and onto, say, the characters, their thoughts, motivations, or interactions. It gave the book a strange sort of pop-up effect, in which one is buzzing along through mediocre character scenes and all of a sudden, these colorful and fully-realized interludes of medical emergencies and life-or-death dramas in space leap off the page.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. There were compelling images (the difficulty of trying to do CPR in microgravity, for instance), nuggets of excellence randomly distributed through a matrix of wooden characterization and trite dialogue. Several times, we’re informed that “any man would be in love with” our heroine, Emma Watson, but we’re not shown why that should be. The supporting cast is”¦well, decide for yourself: the British astronaut is an icy, reserved blonde, frequently described as “not really human” and “a robot” by her colleagues; there’s a Japanese astronaut who never talks because he’s shy about his poor grasp of English; Emma’s soon-to-be ex-husband, who although an upstanding, right-thinking all-American man, is divorcing the woman “˜any man would be in love with’ because he can’t stand that she made it as an astronaut and he washed out (but who then breaks all the rules to go to her rescue when she’s imperiled, natch); the stoic Flight Commander, whom we are told, and told, and TOLD is called “˜the Sphinx’ because he never betrays emotion (he should hook up with Britty McStiffupperlip, but of course, he, like all men, is secretly in love with Emma.) Oh, and I can’t forget the severe, possibly evil, Presidential advisor who hides the truth about the rapidly-mutating, completely fatal pathogen infecting the crew and advocates a scorched-astronaut policy to keep Earth safe from the contagion on the space station. I mean, really? I’m surprised that guy had time to put in an appearance in this book, given his hectic schedule of serving as the villain in every sweeps-month disaster movie ever produced for network TV.

The comparison to disaster-of-the-week films is right on target, but it wasn’t until the closing scenes of the book that it hit me: this isn’t a novel. It’s a sci-fi/horror/action movie script presented in novel form. No wonder she didn’t put any effort into the characters or dialogue; it’ll just be stripped out again when the script goes in for studio approval. The characters don’t need to be any deeper than their descriptions on an audition call-sheet; the F/X scenes are going to absorb most of the running time, so there won’t be much time to get to know the meat””er, “˜crew.’ Just pull them in from Central Casting and get on with it. The jacket blurb from Stephen King compares the book favorably to Michael Crichton’s work, and the comparison is apt: it’s clear Gerritsen is gunning not just for Crichton’s book sales, but also his “Now a Major Motion Picture” empire, as well.

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