January 21, 2020

Review: Alpha Centauri by William Barton and Michael Capobianco.

A Science Fiction Classic!

This week, we here at Astroguyz are taking a break from bringing you the cutting edge commentary on up and coming science fiction and groundbreaking works of science that you’ve come to know and love and are instead reaching into our way back machine and reviewing a tale from our copious shelves. This week’s offering is Alpha Centauri by William Barton and Capobianco. Alpha Centauri is a tale of the first interstellar mission to the nearest star system, a mission that departs a desperately over-crowded and socially collapsing solar system. The star system itself of Alpha Centauri is FAR; located in the constellation Centaurus, the system is actually a trinary star system with two G2V and K1V-type stars in the center, and a red dwarf star Proxima Centauri about 15,000 Astronomical Units away from Alpha Centauri A-B components. At a distance of about 4.2 light years from Earth, this equates to about 265,084 astronomical units away; consider that Voyager 1 is now the most distant manmade object from our Sun at a current distance of 118.5 A.U.s, or about 0.05% of the way there (though its headed off in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus).

In the novel, man has learned to construct sub-light spacecraft that allow for the crew to cover the distance. Some hard science is worked in, as the crew must decelerate into the system and begin to explore their new environs. Much of the dilemmas faced are something right out of the recent 100 Year Star Ship Symposium held here in Orlando… I also thought that some of the descriptive passages of astronomy from the Alpha Centauri system (including being the first humans to look back at our own solar system) were a nice touch.

The world of man has also changed in the backdrop of the novel. A terrorist virus inducing sterility has found its way aboard the ship the Mother Night and, as ever, old school politics follow wherever humans go. Issues of sustainability and responsibility are brought to the fore as the crew explores the dead worlds that once housed magnificent civilizations in the Alpha Centauri system and an attempt is made to piece together what happened to them mystery novel style. Our views of future Terran civilization come via flashbacks of the crew and their former lives; confusingly, some rather lengthy passages involving sexual liaisons (Hey, this is a 90’s novel!) Tend to make the plotline a bit convoluted at times…

But don’t let that stop you from searching out this gem of a science fiction novel. It seems to have by-passed classic status but raises some good social and sustainability dilemmas and the science, even when highly speculative, is pretty solid throughout… are we the first species to explore the stars, or one of the last, long after the “heyday” of the stelliferous era? Heady stuff to contemplate as you dig into the science fiction universe that is Alpha Centauri! Now, when is that generational starship departing?



  1. Kidmat Eden says:

    Don’t know how I missed this one, never read it but I now will. Awesome review. Thank you!
    Kidmat Eden


  1. [...] Our neighbor has long been a setting for science fiction drama, from the recently reviewed novel Alpha Centauri by the same name, to the goal of the Robinson Family in Lost in Space, to the office where the [...]

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