Published in 1997, Baxter’s Voyage is an alternate history novel. It chronicles a time of space exploration in the United States between the early days of the space program in the late 1950ies, through 1986. President Kennedy survived the assassination attempt in November of 1963, albeit confined to a wheelchair. Johnson succeeded him because he was medically disabled, but Kennedy continued to provide vision and motivation to the people and the government regarding the space program, and sending manned missions to Mars. In Voyage, we follow real historic characters, like Neil Armstrong, Nixon, Agnew and many contributors in the space program, interspersed with fictional characters, like Natalie York, the first woman to set foot on Mars.
In the 766 page novel, Baxter does an excellent job developing the characters and creating a plausible story and a possible approach to a manned mission to Mars in the decade of the eighties. Indeed, this was Nixon’s plan when we succeeded in landing on the moon.
Here is a link to information about von Braun’s plans and proposals to the Nixon Administration in August 1969, right on the heels of the successful first moon landing. This site also shows some good concept drawings of the technology required to accomplish the plans.
The story in Voyage follows this von Braun and Nixon plan in concept and elaborates on it.
Baxter has researched the topics extensively. He describes details of the Apollo missions and technical minutiae that make it hard to believe he was not himself an astronaut on these missions. He takes us right on the missions, and we participate, sometimes white knuckled, in daring feats in spacecraft, real or imagined.
I didn’t finish reading this book. In fact, I only read the first 10% or so, then skimmed around in the middle and read the end. I did this not because the story didn’t captivate me. I am intensely interested in the space program – and the lack thereof right now. I just decided there were too many books on my reading shelf that needed attention, and I didn’t want to divert my time into fictional stories of an age now long past, musing about what might have been.