I hope he writes in this genre again!
This novel deals with an expedition in the future aboard a massive, city-like ship the Kosmos to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. The main protagonist is a Noble prize winning physicist from the SW USA Neil de Hoyos. As one of the main contributors to the technology that makes the ship possible, he is a passenger with hundreds of other scientists and crew. The future setting is that of extreme totalitarianism, anti-Christian, post-Christian statist control. I don’t doubt that this is where O’Brien fears we are headed. He has worked with this context before. In any event, De Hoyos and his colleagues buck the system about Kosmos and have problems during their voyage.
The voyage itself slowly reveals itself to be another manifestation of our perennial struggle against the age old Enemy of mankind, the father of lies, the serpent.
I don’t want to offer any spoilers, and therefore I will make this a bit sketchy.
It is interesting that O’Brien has moved into science fiction. He has written about quite a few different contexts, contemporary and historical, but this is new for him and he did a fine job of it. The technology plays a role in the thrust of the narrative, as if it were a character: an important character. Moreover, the work is deeply Catholic and theological, even though there is very little that is overtly Catholic in the first part. It is Catholic in its worldview rather than in its surface trappings.
You might call this book “theological sci-fi”.
O’Brien is deeply concerned about human freedom and our dignity as images of God. Thus, in his books he often explores the problems caused by the expanding and encroaching State and about the evil, truly diabolical evil, that lurks behind attacks on human dignity. He is also convinced that we need to have clear archetypes and symbols, that evil should be recognizable as evil and good as good. This is something he has written about in reference to children’s literature in his A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle For Your Child’s Mind, which I recommend warmly for parents of young children and educators.
You will encounter in Voyage some leitmotifs which – if you are paying attention – will enrich your reading. O’Brien often works with symbols as motifs. Once you figure out his style, you’ll start picking them up pretty quickly.
From my reading of O’Brien over the years, I believe he has a strong mystical streak. Therefore, even as you might sometimes wish that he had a more aggressive editor, his books reward patience.
I wholeheartedly recommend Voyage.
I am tempted to have a discussion thread here, but I don’t want to offer spoilers. There are some twists and turns which I don’t want to ruin.