The Apollo Murders - Book Review
by Chris Hadfield
Alternate History/Political Thriller
I listened to this book on Audible.
A novel as exciting as it is technically precise, The Apollo Murders is a fun, alternative history, mystery, and political thriller that will please any fan of space flight and the Cold War.
1973: a final, top-secret mission to the Moon. Three astronauts in a tiny spaceship, a quarter million miles from home. A quarter million miles from help.
NASA is about to launch Apollo 18. While the mission has been billed as a scientific one, flight controller Kazimieras "Kaz" Zemeckis knows there is a darker objective. Intelligence has discovered a secret Soviet space station spying on America, and Apollo 18 may be the only chance to stop it.
But even as Kaz races to keep the NASA crew one step ahead of their Russian rivals, a deadly accident reveals that not everyone involved is quite who they were thought to be. With political stakes stretched to the breaking point, the White House and the Kremlin can only watch as their astronauts collide on the lunar surface, far beyond the reach of law or rescue.
I really really enjoyed this. It’s definitely a book that gets better as it progresses though, as it takes a while to build momentum. Hadfield has to set the stage first, and he provides a lot of detail on the astronaut program before the story really begins. Honestly, though, once you hit 30% it really starts to take off and the last half is fantastic.
What’s cool about this novel is Chris Hadfield is a real astronaut. He’s been on spacewalks and lived on the International Space Station. As such, you know his descriptions about what it’s like to be in space, walk in zero-G, and the physics behind spaceflight and vacuum is correct and accurate.
Now, he does tend to explain the science and nitty-gritty details ad nauseum. Perhaps that’s a bit too strong of a phrase, but he does provide a lot of technical explanations that, for me at least, bogged down the story a little bit. It drops off in the second half, as he’s explained everything already, but you do have to expect these things going in. At least now I know how helicopter rotors work?
The story unwinds in a way that is part mystery, part political thriller, where you’re not really sure who is playing who and why, but it’s fun to be along for the ride. I loved how all the small and big things tied together, but it didn’t feel forced or far-fetched.
The characters could have had a bit more depth - they were a little flat and there were so many of them - but the story is less character-driven than about politics and space, so I didn't mind.
I enjoyed the way women were included. We’re led to believe, according to movies from the 1970s at least, that women just weren’t there in the workforce at that time. Lots of political novels from the 70s (even written today set in the 70s) tend to reinforce this idea by only having women present as wives or secretaries. While it’s true, especially in STEM fields, that women were a minority and definitely weren’t given leadership roles most of the time, Hadfield includes women in his novel in ways they would have existed in a way that felt normalized and gratifying. There’s Laura (an ambitious geologist who doesn’t get lumped into the “cold career woman” or “sexy scientist” trope, despite being a love interest), an Australian switch operator, a technician mentioned in passing, and the awesome [SPOILER]! I definitely saw the latter coming, but it definitely elicited a “yes!” from me.
I can’t say too much else without getting into the plot, but I really enjoyed this novel and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes space, enjoys realistic alternate histories (or who enjoyed A History of What Comes Next, and those who like political novels surrounding the Cold War.