Kepler-186f is a planet in what is considered the “habitable zone,” which means it’s possible that it contains liquid water and breathable air. It’s also humanity’s last hope after they finally destroyed Earth. Not only is the environment beyond saving, but war after endless war have left a human race that doesn’t trust itself. Making it even worse is that many of the resources necessary to rebuild a broken planet are running out.
A colony ship of a few hundred people has been flung into the universe with the hopes that Kepler-186f will become humanity’s new home. It is called the Genesis Mission, and it may well be humanity’s last chance at survival. The ship houses soldiers and scientists, the best of the best that Earth has to offer, as well as a handful of candidates whose money bought them a seat among the colonists. It is a one way trip, but for Captain Nikkole Johnson, it is also an adventure.
Nikkole is a U.S. Army Ranger. She is tough, strong, and trained to handle just about anything that can be thrown at her. With a team or on her own, in a hostile environment or a safe one, she is one of the finest fighters possible. Dogged, loyal, dutiful, and, well, somewhat unimaginative. When her cryopod wakes her, Johnson finds herself the only one walking the dark, echoing hallways of what is left of her section of the ship. Unafraid, she does what she is supposed to do and wakes the other soldiers and scientists nearby, and then goes to scout the perimeter.
There she finds a monster. Which, of course, she kills. When given the honor of naming the first discovered native life form … she calls it “Thing.” I did mention unimaginative. But in a world where the air is thin, the water almost toxic, and giant monsters dive down from the skies to kill you, Nikkole doesn’t need an imagination. She needs her gun, her knife, and her wits about her. And when the truth of what has happened to their ship, to the colonists, and to the Captain of the ship is brought to light … well, maybe it’s just as well Nikkole’s not one easily spooked by ghost stories.
Told in a first-person perspective from Nikkole, this book is somewhat dry. Instead of descriptions of people and places, we get names, titles, and a sitrep. The trees are important for the cover they offer, not for their alien botany. Thing, the winged monster, is given a slapdash description, with more attention paid to how to fight it and win. Nikkole’s sourness at bed rest colors those sections of the books, and her joy at being able to move again makes the next chapters more vivid and alive. However, she is also stubborn, blind, and mulish, refusing to back down or admit fault, let alone sympathy or empathy when other characters are struggling to find their footing. None of this makes her a bad character, though it might make her a difficult person at best or a jerk at worst. Johnson is completely and utterly faithful to herself. The characterization is rock solid and unwavering, and she is a perfect straight man to everyone else, allowing the reader to see the story between the lies she tells herself and the truths she chooses to ignore.
The story itself, which I don’t want to spoil too much, is a classic sci-fi romp involving dangerous landscapes, alien monsters, and the question of the rest of the ship. Did any of them survive? If so, where are they? The whole situation is like being in a horror movie, but one you don’t get to leave. Winning only means surviving longer to make a new colony. Winning means living longer on a hostile world, far from Earth, bringing up future generations who will never know Earth. But losing means death, not only for Nikkole, but for everyone else.
I do have one small nitpick, hidden beneath the spoiler:
This is a fun book, but it is also a horror story, with some honestly gruesome and evocative moments. Nikkole is a soldier, the people around her are, for the most part, soldiers, and they are good at killing things. Many things die in this book, some badly, and if this is something you’re not comfortable with, then you might want to pass. But if you enjoyed the Alien movies, or like horror movies in general, then this book should be right up your alley.