What would happen if a black hole entered our solar system? Even, if it didn’t damage any of the existing planets, including Earth, would there still be ill effects? Well, Greg Egan’s latest book, PERIHELION SUMMER, seeks to play out that extraordinary(and terrifying) scenario.
We follow Matt, and his friends who have created a mobile aquaculture rig, the Mandjet, which is entirely self-sufficient, who decide to wait out the event out on open water. They quickly realize that they only prepared for the initial contact with the black hole and not for what would come after. What follows is a desperate story of how humanity can innovate even in ever changing circumstances.
While the catalyst of the impending global catastrophe is pretty out of left field, the story following Matt, Yuki, and the rest is a pretty standard hard sci fi survival plot. Using a black hole is pretty novel and the mechanics of the Mandjet are fun, but overall it contained the normal set pieces that these stories have. There’s the fall out and the question of rescuing family, all of which Egan is able to give with skill and ease, since his prose is actually quite wonderful to read. Yet, it does not offer anything else that is newer to the genre itself, even within climate fiction, aside from possible new sustainability solutions.
There are some heartfelt moments of characterization, but otherwise the characters often feel like arbiters of exposition or merely heads to spell out the science for the reader. This is both by virtue of the sub-genre and the survival narrative that is playing out, but they still feel like missed opportunities. If you can ignore these, then don’t let those elements get in the way.
PERIHELION SUMMER reads like a thoroughly researched conference paper, but carries itself like a well-paced thriller, which is only due to Egan’s precision of sentence structure and care for plot. Fans of THE MARTIAN and similar stories will enjoy this watery jaunt.