Book Review: Space Station Down by Ben Bova and Doug Beason

Title: Space Station Down

Author: Ben Bova and Doug Beason

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: Aug 4, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction

Shelves: Female-fronted

While it falls apart a bit upon any sort of deeper reflection, with too many things left unexplained or glossed over, there’s no denying that Space Station Down was a fun, dramatic, action-packed read that I blew through in an afternoon. It’s a popcorn sci-fi thriller that would work beautifully on the big screen.

It was the “Die Hard happening two hundred and fifty miles above the earth” reviewer blurb from Steve Berry that drew me to this, and if you add “with nods to The Martian,” that is precisely what you get. Ben Bova and Doug Beason waste no time getting started, killing off astronauts and isolating Kimberly in a matter of chapters, and from then on in it’s just one dramatic rescue, one dramatic escape, and one dramatic pause from beginning to end. She’s a tough, brave, courageous woman who takes her father’s advice of “Don’t get mad, get even,” to heart, but she’s also a brilliant woman with an almost bewildering knowledge of science and spaceflight. She can hold her own when it comes to zero-gravity grappling, but the real appeal here is her MacGyver-like ingenuity in beating the terrorists at their own game.

I was a bit concerned when her ex-husband (and fellow astronaut) kept pushing to be part of a rescue mission but, without getting into spoiler territory, Kimberly is no damsel-in-distress and she doesn’t need anybody to rescue her. This is her story, from beginning to end, and everything – from hacking computer systems, to weaponizing school kids’ experiments, to spacewalking and avoiding killer missiles – falls solely on her shoulders. Fortunately, as banged up, battered, and bruised as she becomes, even when facing oxygen deprivation and the bends, she’s still up to the task.

This was a fun, fast read, and so long as I was racing from chapter to chapter, I was wholly immersed, enthusiastically rooting for Kimberly to succeed. Once I finished . . . that’s when the thinness of certain parts and the holes in others began to become apparent. We never really do get a proper explanation for the terrorist’s true motives, and the whole issue of a powerful nation-state backing them is left unresolved. There’s something fishy with the Chinese involvement, but that’s never fully explored either. And given Kimberly’s background, there’s a huge missed opportunity to talk about racism and religion, relegating the subject to one offhand Presidential comment and a single silent scene of her parents (Japanese and Saudi) watching the civil unrest on television.

With a plethora of government agencies to credit, a lot of things happen just because they need to, not because they make sense or are justified within the narrative. And, the more I think back on it, the more I begin asking questions like why didn’t the terrorists just disable or block the hatch on the Japanese Module (like Kimberly did theirs later), or turn off her power sooner, or lure her into a trap (as she does to them so many times), or so many other simple things.

Nagging, nitpicky questions aside, Space Station Down was a fun read with a racially diverse female protagonist who doesn’t need a man to rescue her or tell her she did a good job.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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