Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective - the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship's AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.
As tensions rise and personal and political agendas play out in the ship's cramped confines, the crew finally reach the planet Horizon, where everything they know will be challenged.
I'm the author of the sf thriller Horizon. My next book Traitor's Run (book 1 of The Lenticular trilogy) is out in October 2023. I'm also a past editor of Aurealis - Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine from 2001 to 2004. I hosted 30 episodes of the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction Podcast, and edited and published Dimension6 the free Australian speculative fiction electronic magazine from 2014 to 2020.
Horizon is Keith Stevenson’s debut novel and what a debut it turns out to be. As a fairly prolific reader and slightly (read: lots) less prolific book reviewer, the frustrated author inside me wishes that my first book will be this slick… err.. if I ever get around to writing one that is.
Set in the relatively near future as human kind is just starting to explore interstellar space we are introduced to the crew of the deep space exploration ship the Magellan. The ship is crewed by a multinational team of seven scientists and is on a fifty year mission to the planet Horizon, a planet which just could be the saviour to the human race as Earth more and more quickly descends into environmental and political chaos.
Our introduction is not a gentle one, Cait the mission commander is jolted violently out of deep sleep early to discover Sharpe, her second in command dead. The ship’s all powerful A.I. offline along with most of the rest of the ships systems and Bren a “bio-jack” an augmented human with a chip inside her heads that talks directly to the A.I. in a unexplained coma.
Cait has no clues as to what happened, no idea if she can get her ship back on course, whether she can trust what’s left of her crew, or even herself.
With the world they left behind 45 years ago now a very different place, the crew has to come to terms with new personal and political alliances. Can they stay on their mission, was Sharpe’s death accidental, or is there a killer aboard, can they even keep from killing each other as tensions and accusations rise on board.
Horizon is much more than just a murder mystery in space. Stevenson starts us off in the confined environment of the disabled spaceship, which really does feel quite claustrophobic. There’s a good amount of hard science to show just how precarious hurtling along in an out of control experimental space ship 45 years away from Earth really is.
We’re gradually introduced to more and more influences from outside the ship and it’s this drip feed of information makes really makes us feel a bit like the crew. Just as the crew copes with a new crisis, or piece of information, we know that something else is just around the corner, and that keeps everyone, including the reader on edge. It’s a technique that is carried off with great precision and makes this book a real page turner.
Horizon is a very assured debut, tightly woven, genuinely suspenseful and builds to a great finish. The characters are well rounded and the world in which they inhabit is fresh and new. I wonder if there will be a sequel, it’s a setting that I would like to revisit… soon.
Source: Supplied in e-book format via Netgalley
IBR Rating: ★★★★
Recommendation: Great science fiction debut, just enough hard science to satisfy the most hard core sci-fi fan, and plenty of tense thriller action to satisfy everyone else. One for the library and an author to look out for in the future.
The most likely way for humans to first travel beyond the Solar System is through some form of hibernation, most often referred to in sci-fi as deepsleep. The prospect is rife with dramatic potential for a good book – what would it be like to be the same age and yet years older than friends and family, or to never see them, or anyone else, ever again?
What Horizon does very well is take the whole idea in a new direction. What if you went to sleep when the world was at a politically precarious peace and when you woke up, everything had changed, including your interstellar mission?
An uneasy alliance of Earth’s political superpowers – Pax Americana, the Compact, the United Northern States and the European Union – get the first interstellar spaceship off the ground and stick an equally uneasy complement of crew members aboard, each with their own agendas, ethics and political leanings. When they come out of deepsleep fifty years later, everything back home has changed. The Earth is on the brink of environmental collapse and power struggles in the wake of the crisis have reset the political landscape.
As if that weren’t enough, one of the crew is dead and the AI that runs the whole ship is going a bit haywire. In a cloud of suspicion, paranoia and resentment, the crew have to try to figure out what’s going wrong with the ship while coming to terms with mind-boggling changes at home and what, if anything, those changes should mean to them.
Frequently, deepsleep tales focus on the isolation of being out of your time, but author Keith Stevenson focuses instead on the stagnation of it, the difficulty in adapting to 50 years of changes when your mind lives in the past. Not only do the crew struggle to understand and accept Earth’s political and ideological turmoil, they’re also flummoxed by the technology Earth now employs with ease. Instead of being isolated, this crew are outdated – in expertise, experience and understanding.
Behind it all is the fear that something has gone wrong on the ship and could kill any one of them, a constant low level dread that saps the crew’s patience with each other and makes things worse and worse. Like all the best survival-in-a-confined-space stories, Horizon is a great thriller and tying the crew’s mission to the changes back on Earth is a deft stroke that adds another layer to the mistrust between them.
In fact, Stevenson’s debut novel only stumbles when it comes to the ending, which is a bit too deus ex machina for my taste and rather defeats the work that’s gone into the characters’ growth throughout the crisis. Before the limp finish, however, Horizon is a tense page-turner with a fresh perspective that should put Stevenson firmly on folks’ one-to-watch list.
Publisher Description: Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective – the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship’s AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.
Review: This was masterfully written. When an author can take a limp story-line and failed plot and make that dialogue engaging, it speaks volumes about his technical ability. Where this failed was in the execution of the plot. So much time was spent in-ship, dialoguing about how this person died, or what each persons political motivations were or the endless petty and juvenile interactions and subsequent responses to EVERYTHING. Everyone has personal convictions, no doubt, but I really don’t want to read pages and pages about it when there is a bigger universe out there. So little time was spent on the SciFi aspect of the novel that it was rendered a space opera, rather than an epic “other world” alien adventure. Rather than building a novel around the character interaction, build the characters through engaging movement i.e. shorten the time spent in space/dialogue and more on Horizon.
The Earth and it’s political machinating entities and Cait’s subsequent plans to force the Compact and the UNS into collaborating/cooperating was fairly weak. If the goal of the novel was to bring this Uber awareness to societal parallels that we ourselves face (according to liberals) of a planet wasted of resources and on the brink of extinction, then this fails as a work of science fiction. I am not even sure that Horizons’ predicted outcome of inhabitability was useful, only in that it supported the plot.
When adult characters behave like spoiled children, especially on a space ship, you would think that due to their expertise and professionalism that they would not be mired in petty jealousies and imagined slights. There would be a willingness to grasp the bigger picture of discovery and work towards supporting each other, especially in light of their dire circumstances. So much easier, and plausible, to insert a mole that creates havoc rather than have a bunch of pissy scientists dialogue f-o-r-e-v-e-r.
Horizon is the debut novel of author Keith Stevenson. Stevenson has been active in the Australian speculative fiction scene as a publisher through his small press Coeur de Lion Publishing, which has developed a reputation for publishing some excellent fiction (the anthology X6, for instance, collected a swag of awards). He has had several short stories published, but Horizon is his first novel length work. It has been published by HarperVoyager digital imprint Impulse.
The story centres on humanity's first interstellar trip to explore an Earth-like planet, Horizon. Stevenson uses a range of plausible technologies to describe the means by which the journey is possible. It's clear that he has thought a lot about the implications of interstellar travel with our current level of technology, including the impacts of relativity.
The crew has been in a form of artificially induced hibernation for the journey, and while they have only aged a little, half a century has gone by on Earth. The changed geo-political status on Earth has a profound impact on the parameters of their mission.
While there is a heavy emphasis on technical verisimilitude, at its heart Horizon is a character driven story. There is mystery (the novel starts with the mysterious death of the mission's second in command), interpersonal tensions as the political situation on Earth changes relationships on the ship and some big ideas relating to our obligations to maintain an alien biosphere versus obligations to an Earth that is a materially different place to the one you left.
I enjoyed the writing, with clear and engaging prose which kept the story rocketing along. The use of a "who-dun-it" plot line was a great way to balance the other aspects of the book - without it, it would have been possible that some of the other themes (e.g. climate change) might have got a little preachy. Stevenson does a great job balancing these aspects of the story to make it accessible and keeping the reader engaged with the story.
I must admit that I did wonder at times how this crew was selected. There is a lot of interpersonal drama (very necessary for the story), but at times I did begin to question the competence of whatever psychologists signed off on this particular group of people to go into deep space together! The out of balance nature of the relationships can be somewhat explained by the deaths that happen and a last minute, politically motivated addition to the crew. But with billions of people on the planet, there weren't people equally competent who were also a bit more psychologically stable?
Minor quibble aside, this was an excellent book that I enjoyed reading very much. There isn't a lot of pure Australian science fiction, and Horizon does a lot to redress the balance.
A year and a half ago, I interviewed Stevenson for the Galactic Chat podcast. The interview is well before the publication of Horizon, but if you're interested in the man behind the book, it contains some interesting insights. You can find the podcast here.
Horizon by Keith Stevenson is a science fiction novel set in the medium future, mostly on a spaceship that's been sent to investigate the hopefully habitable planet Horizon and it's stellar system. I'm not really sure why the planet is on fire on the cover.
I had no specific expectations for this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly my least favourite part was the opening because of all the vomiting (I am a touch emetophobic) but after that was done with it was smooth sailing. I quite liked the mystery aspect that was established right from the start. The crew (mainly seen from Commander Cait's point of view) wake up from deepsleep to find one of their number dead and something difficult to ascertain wrong with the computer. It takes most of the book to work out what happened and why. They also receive confusing communications from Earth which don't make anything much clearer.
The action in Horizon centres on two causes: clashes of personality between all the crew, and external forces on Earth or more locally. Cait spends a lot of the book trying to strike a balance between personalities and situations. I really enjoyed her as a character. She had integrity and genuinely wanted the best for everyone. It was refreshing to read about a competent character trying to make the best of a difficult situation without being annoying (one of the other characters was annoying enough for the whole book) or making stupid mistakes. The other characters were also well-rounded with reasonably complex motivations.
The story was about half science half politics and I found the former more convincing. Not that the politics was bad, per se, but it was necessarily hazy — because the present Earth situation was a mystery to the characters — and the history was recounted only briefly. (I should note that there's a pre-launch history at the back of the book, but reading that after the story didn't really add much beyond the timeline aspect.) The science, on the other hand, was pretty good. Nothing made me angry (a good measure of accuracy) and there were only a couple of minor niggles I noticed that I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't. Stevenson is also consistent with noting the differences in manoeuvrability in low gravity throughout the book, instead of lazily cranking up the gravity (which was realistically generated through spin) and leaving it at that.
I want to talk about the ending but, of course, I don't want to go into major spoilers. I will just say that one aspect of the ending was a little too Arthur C Clarke for my liking. Not that I don't like Clarke, just that it had been done before and I didn't think it needed to be done again. That said, it wasn't a bad ending, taken in isolation.
I enjoyed Horizon and I would recommend it to all fans of science fiction. There's not a huge amount of Australian-authored SF out there and it's always nice to see more, especially when it's of this quality. SF fans who enjoy semi-science driven stories (it's not all about the science but the science is important to the story) will probably enjoy Horizon. I will certainly be keeping an eye on future novels Stevenson writes.
Keith Stevenson’s Horizon was released through HarperCollins’ digital imprint in November. Keith’s been a stalwart of the Australian speculative fiction scene for many a year, mainly in his editor/publisher role at Coeur de lion publishing. So it’s good to see him surface with this product from one of the majors.
Horizon is Keith’s debut novel. How has he fared, stepping away from short fiction and editing/publishing the longer works of others?
Very well I believe.
In my reading at least, I have perceived a tendency for science fiction novels to move toward the centre in terms of combining narrative and the science of science fiction i.e. we move toward what is scientifically plausible (with some subtle handwavium) and the story centres on character.
I am thinking of James SA Corey’s works and closer to home, Patty Jansen. Space is generally a hostile place that puts characters under stress in extreme isolation. It’s fertile ground for human foibles to be pressured and exposed, for conflict to arise.
So that’s the approach Keith has taken with Horizon.
The exploration vessel Magellan has been sent on a 34 light year trip to the Iota Persei system to explore the distant earth like planet,Horizon. Staffed by a multinational crew it should be a testament to humanity’s ability to pull together in a crisis. Tensions between nations, however, play out between crew members even before they begin the Deepsleep (a half century of life suspension) portion of the mission. On waking, Commander Cait Dyson discovers her 2IC dead and their course changed. What was a bold mission into the unknown becomes a tense novel of suspense and second guessing. Can they trust each other, the ships AI, the half human half digital intelligence Bren? But most of all can they trust that the situation on Earth hasn’t changed in the 55 years they have been asleep?
Keith combines that sense of wonder we get from the extrapolation and explanation of big ideas (don’t worry, there’s no calculus) with tense mystery and suspense. There’s competing personalities and agendas, some social and ecological commentary. It proved to be a edge of the seat experience for much of my read.
Horizon’s strengths were in the presentation of the story world, the explanation of the workings of Magellan and the tense interplay between characters. I didn’t feel quite as convinced by the socio-cultural representation of Earth. Certainly there was nothing that derailed the story but I felt at times that Keith had done such a great job at other elements that the background for the political and cultural situation on Earth didn’t quite have the same depth.
If you are hankering for some science fiction that makes sense and a tension building read, buy it. Good entertainment doesn’t usually come this cheap.
What I want in a good sci-fi novel is an interesting story (usually set in the future), that has interesting characters, and that is plausible and doesn't excessively conflict with currently understood science. This book has all of these features. Two thumbs up!!
Caution, spoilers below . . .
A who-done-it that takes place 35 light years from earth on the first ship to leave earth's solar system. They are traveling at 0.6 c towards another solar system with a possibly habitable planet named Horizon.
Originally a crew of 6, plus a virtual assistant and the ship control computer, one crew member has died while the crew was in deep sleep for the long journey. The virtual assistant and the lone cybernetically enhanced crew member appear to be the main suspects.
As their ship reaches their destination solar system they learn that things have changed since they left home 55 earth-years before (45 ship-years). Earth is dying due to the actions and inactions of governments on earth since their departure. The crew urgently needs to make decisions that will affect the future of our species.
Nationalities and personalities of crew members get in the way and complicate the necessary decisions. "It had forced them to stop being exclusively scientists and explorers and start being real people again."
After the discovery of life on Horizon and they become aware that armed ships have been chasing them, and are about to arrive to take control of the mission by force. The crew's decisions become much more urgent and complicated as a result.
(As an aside, it's a bit of a coincidence that the crew arrives just at the moment of drastic planetary climate change that threatens the indigenous life on Horizon, but then I suppose it works for the plot.)
Do they facilitate human colonization of Horizon to permit humans to escape the dying earth along with the likely extermination of Horizon's native lifeform, or should they protect existing life on Horizon to the detriment of the human race? A moral dilemma.
The discovery that "post-human personalities" are operating within the ship's computer core explains the failures that have been happening but makes things even more complicated for the crew. In the end, all decisions are removed from their control by the post-humans to the eventual benefit of all.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley for a honest review.
While I didn’t find myself getting totally engrossed and swept away by this story, I did enjoy it. There was just something about it that kept me removed from what was going on. The pacing, the descriptions, or maybe the main character. It was an interesting story that I am glad I read, but I didn’t love it.
So lets start with what I did enjoy about the story. I liked the questions the story brought up more than anything. I liked that this story set in the future humanity was still grappling with the same petty problems, only now they had global consequences that could no longer be ignored. It was a pretty grim prediction of human nature, but I fear probably an accurate one. This book is going to make people think about the real effects of our current course if we do not try to get along and work together or take care of our home. The technological advances were interesting too, especially how humans were able to interact with technology. This is a thought-provoking story and I hope people read it for that alone.
What didn’t work for me. I think the story could have been expanded. I wished there was more information about life on Earth and how history got to this point. There is a chart at the end, but I think a companion book or prequel would be nice to help set the story better. I was confused a bit to how the countries and governments were now broken up. We do get a good idea of what happen to the Earth, but the context was lost a little bit. I would have also loved to spend more time on Horizon herself. They went so far and so little time was actually spent discovering this new world. Granted I think this was more a study of human nature and character then a space exploration, but still a little more time looking around would have been nice.
I was satisfied with the end, like I said I would have liked to read more about this story set before Horizon. It is a good story, interesting, but wish it had something more.
Starts with a bang but ends with a whimper. The pace from the outset is relentless and the tension builds as the mystery of the crew death in the opening deepens with each twist.
There's minor hiccup early - the crew already at odds with each other, woken early, one dead, the ships AI missing then one of them sits back to wonder what's happening back on earth. I could see the need to introduce the information that ensues but it broke the tension and threw out me out of the story.
The real strengths of this tale are the interaction of the four principal characters left after the next crew member is killed (three of whom are female) and the believability of the speculative science used. It takes no great imagination to think this is how interstellar travel could be - if we ever get out there.
At the heart of the story though is the various responses of the crew to the ethical dilemmas facing the mission to examine Horizon as a potential new Earth. With humanity threatened its vital but two of the crew are diametrically opposed to colonising Horizon (which has life) just to save humanity. Our hero/commander has to mediate between them and a powerful but withdrawn trans-human offside. It's a complex and potent mix which makes you think while rapidly turning pages.
And so to the whimper. I was rooting the hero/captain to emerge triumphant. She does have a victory of sorts but the real winners, who are rarely seen, emerge from the background to claim the prize. I for one found this disappointing.
It's still a great read and I look forward to his next book - so long as I can get a hard copy, ebooks make my eyes water.
Awakened after 40+ years asleep during a trip to a distant planet, one of the crew dead and the onboard ships computer going a bit nutty - things just aren't going according to plan.
I enjoyed this book, it checked all the right boxes for me, sci-fi, limited scope so I can keep up with the characters without 17 follow-up books and a good strong story.
The characters were interesting and I did enjoy the story - I'd be interested in a follow-up, perhaps based on earth so we can see whats happening there and not just a timeline written up at the end of the book.
It did fall a little on it being a touch predictable in parts and glossing over some important character points early on (Bren is a trans-human - not to be confused with a post-human - but early on I had no idea what was going on with her) - and Phillips is the ships computer, but is referred to as a person throughout the start of the story (which makes more sense when you realize its an AI, but no physical construct) - but just made the start of the book a little bit of a slog.
Overall, it was a good read and I'd certainly be interested in seeing something based in the same universe.
** I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Keith Stevenson tells of a scientific expedition to the possible inhabited planet of Horizon (ebook from AUS Impulse) that takes forty-five years for a crew in deep sleep. But on the outskirts of the new solar system, the crew awakens to find one member dead and the A. I. guidance system crippled. A course change sent from Earth has code designed to destroy their ship. Cait Dyson, Mission Leader of The Magellan not only has to deal with the internal politics of her small crew, including one member who can connect directly to the ships computer, but also with politics of an Earth population facing famine because directed genetic diseases have wiped out food crops. The inhabitable planet might represent a place to plant a colony for humanity to make a new start and one of the Earth groups sent warships, leaving soon after the Magellan to ensure the crew makes the right decisions. A message sent from Earth gives direction on how to built a communicator that allow instantaneous communication with Earth and complicates the politics and morality even more. Fun. I gulped it down.Review printed in the Philadelphia Weekly Press
Book description: Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective – the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship’s AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.
It has been awhile since I read a decent science fiction novel from a fellow Australian, but Horizon impressed me from the start. I enjoyed the plot and how the story progressed, and I found Stevensons world building intriguing and fascinating . His characters were interesting (Dyson especially), and I thought it was clever how he weaved real world issues like climate change and politics into his novel. All in all well worth purchase. I look forward to more in the future!
Tense drama set in the claustrophobic confines of a scientific survey ship on its way to explore the earthlike planet Horizon. The expedition commander Cait Dyson wakes from hypersleep to immediate catastrophe, and things only get worse from there as the bodies stack up and paranoia and misplaced loyalties grip the crew. Horizon is a tight, stuffy book that dwells on the mistrust, stress and mistakes that tear a team apart just when it needs to pull together. There's several mysteries layered in, and some unexpected pyrotechnics as well.
An intriguing premise - a crew sleeps its way to a distant planet while Earth's political status quo collapses, leaving the crew members to deal with the consequences when they wake up. Tense and fraught.
Horizon opens with a great hook - Cait awakes from deep sleep to find her co-pilot dead and the Magellan's AI unresponsive. Another member of the crew is also awake, but quickly passes out. Along with the remaining crew members, Cait needs to find out why they've been woken early, what happened to her co-pilot, and finish the mission - to reach the planet Horizon - she set out on almost fifty Earth years earlier. But Earth has changed in ways they couldn't have predicted, meaning both politics, and distrust within the crew itself, threaten both the mission and their survival.
I really enjoyed this Sci-fi novel by Aussie Author Keith Stevenson. The plot was reasonably solid, with a lot of mystery and tension throughout to keep you guessing, both at what was going on, who the "bad guy" really was, and what might happen next. All of the characters were mentally strong, capable, and smart, which made for some great intrigue. There were a couple of questions I had, like why two of them would hook before such an important mission beforehand, knowing how awkward it would be (and was) once it went pear-shaped. The background for each character going on the mission wasn't there, and I would have liked to have understood some of their motivations better.
The twist at the end was a good one, although I was a little disappointed that the overall ending was a little anti-climatic. Otherwise this was a quick and enjoyable read.
Horizon starts off quickly with the commander of a deep-space science vessel, Cait, being awoken from deep-sleep to find one crewmate dead and another injured. A mystery unfolds in the likes of a space-thriller with suspicions abound and none of the cast completely in the clear of being a suspect. Unfortunately, this thriller aspect begins to unravel early on into a slower-paced political/ethics conflict storyline. While this turn led to some good points of contention, the slow pace never really picks back up. This slow pace, along with a bit too much introspection on the part of Cait are the main reasons I found getting through the later half of the book a slog of page-skimming.
There are many ideas all thrown together into this book. There's deep-space exploration, a dying earth, the fact that they have been asleep for half a century, dealing with changes back home, a malfunctioning ship AI, transhumans, posthumans, scientific ethics vs human nature, etc. I think, perhaps, there may simply be too much. Too many ideas, all of them good, but not all of them given the full exploration I think they deserve.
It was a good read, one I enjoyed from the beginning. I just wish I had enjoyed the later half of the book as much as the first.
I am sorry, but it has to be said: This text would not have been accepted by any publisher in Europe. Its deficencies cannot by healed by editing.
The author doesn't know how to build up scenes and set focus. When you finally figure out after dozens of pages that there are four people in a spaceship, the next problem appears: Not one single idea.
The spaceship has no technology I don't have in my livingroom. The Earth has that tired supremacy superpower narration going on.
Thirdly, the author has a talent to destroy any rising conflict by making it uninteresting.
This was an engaging read that offered a nice mix of science/tech aspects, good character development, and an interesting plot with plenty of twists and turns. It also opened up an interesting dialogue about society, politics and the environment. It kept me turning the pages, and got me thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A recommended read.