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‘The Oortian Summer’ is a powerful science fiction adventure centering on work colleague relationships in an astronomical observatory as two massive comets approach the Earth. Unlike similar themes in the past, the unusual twist in this story involves a perilous attempt to bring the comets even closer to the Earth in order to prevent an impending geomagnetic flip.
This is the hardcover version of the book, 408 pages: €30.96.
As Luper walked through the sunlit sycamore forest towards the escarpment, he couldn’t help feeling excited because the twins were starting today. The dappled white trunks of the sycamore trees drew his eyes up to a canopy of shimmering lime-green leaves, through which he could occasionally glimpse the darker green pine forest. Above that, the gigantic 50-metre telescope dominated the top of the mountain. Looming even higher, a final outcrop of rock seemed to touch the vast ocean of almost pure blue light above. And the fading image of a silvery Moon still lingered in the brightening sky on that morning of Thursday, 23 May 2024.
Luper’s boss, Professor Walter Hally, had invited two brilliant girls to carry out post-doctoral research for one year at the observatory. Luper normally cycled up to the campus the long way around the mountain, but today he was taking a more strenuous short cut. He lived in the village at the foot of the mountain where he rented a spare room in the gardener’s house. Bartle Boyn, the gardener, also worked in the campus. He looked after the kitchen’s self-sufficient supply of root vegetables and greens, as well as keeping the trees, lawns and flowerbeds in order.
After about an hour of climbing along the storm rivulets etched into the scree, Luper reached the pine forest where the path became easier. This was where a small stream weaved gently through the undergrowth on its way to the lower lake. Luper crossed the winding stream, forward and back, several times during his long walk to the fence. At the point where the stream trickled out of the main grounds, it was possible to scramble under the fence and save half an hour’s detour to the nearest gate. The fence surrounded a number of high security facilities on the campus including the colossal telescope which was the most powerful in the world.
Little Amy, Bartle’s seven-year-old daughter, came running eagerly as soon as Luper emerged from the undergrowth.
“Hello, Luper,” she shouted.
“Hello, Amy. What are you doing today?” he replied.
“I’m playing with my boat—look,” she said, running back to the pond.
A sudden gust of wind blew the boat out into the pond, but Amy wasn’t bothered. She started throwing stones to drive the boat back within reach of her stick.
“It might rain later,” Luper said, becoming aware of a cloud coming up behind the outcrop.
The weather often changed suddenly on the campus, blowing rain in from the far side of the mountain. As the air became colder, Luper heard the noisy old car belonging to Professor Hally approaching the front gates.
“I have to go to work now. See you later, Amy,” he said, waving good buy.
Dr Tom Green appeared at the door as Luper walked up the main drive to the main building.
“Great weekend,” he roared as Luper approached.
“Yes, it was,” Luper replied. “When are they arriving?”
“Oh, the twins … around ten o’clock … I think,” Tom said. “Why do you ask?” he added with a wry smirk.
Luper ignored the jibe. He was used to Tom winding him up because he didn’t have a steady girlfriend.
Most of the staff had already arrived and several were having a quick cup of tea in the Common Room by the time Tom and Luper arrived. The smell of the espresso coffee machine was very welcoming.
Suddenly, Professor Hally walked in. He had the flushed and puffy appearance of someone who had been drinking over the weekend. His eyes were watery with a tinge of red in the corners. There was a slight rosy rash around the corners of his nose. Luper stood back to let him get his cup first.
“Good morning, Professor,” he said.
“Morning,” the professor grunted, stirring three spoons of sugar into his tea. “Did you work out those results for me yet?” he continued.
“No, but they’re nearly done,” Luper said.
“Perhaps you could make them you’re top priority today?”
“Yes, sure,” Luper said with a sinking feeling in his gut.
“Phew,” Tom whispered as Luper sat down beside him. “You’d think he’d be in a good mood today.”
As soon as Professor Hally finished bolting his tea, everyone got up and readied themselves for work, except Tom. He was beyond all that, having only a year to go before retirement.
Walter picked up his tatty briefcase and asked Tom, “Are you coming?”
“Oh, yeah, in a minute,” Tom said unconvincingly.
Luper went straight to his office and unlocked the door. He felt annoyed at the professor’s turn of phrase, ‘Did you work out those results for me yet?’ After all, the results had been recorded by Luper and were joint property. Of course, he was going to give them to ‘Wally’ when he had time to analyse them fully; that was understood. There was no need for him to demand them so rudely.
Just then, the phone rang, interrupting Luper’s gloomy reverie. He picked it up and heard the secretary speaking.
“Hi, Jayne here. Just to let you know that the twins won’t be arriving until late afternoon. There was a delay at the airport and they have to take a later flight. I thought you’d want to know.”
Luper loved his office. It was very large and well stocked with the latest computers and peripherals. Several letters addressed to Luper Beauchamps had been dropped in late on the previous Friday, but he was so busy analyzing the new results, he hadn’t got around to opening them. Hesitating for a minute, he decided to disregard them and get straight down to work. He turned on two computers and started running the database. This contained a recording of all the signals picked up in April from Adhara, the second brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major. Ordinarily, it would take a several days to analyse the data, but with the new super-speed technology, it only took about five hours. Luper was the only person on the campus who could use the new system properly. He already held a master’s in information analysis and was completing a PhD on the application of Fourier transformations and filters to extraterrestrial signals. The reason he wanted to hold on to the results a little longer was the fact that in recently there seemed to be an increase in some of the high frequency signals. He needed time to compare the results for the past few months, to find a pattern which might predict future changes.
A loud knock at the door let Luper know it was Dr Tom.
“Come in,” he said.
“Did you finish the analysis yet?” Tom asked, entering the room.
“No, I haven’t,” Luper mumbled, “but come and take a look at this.”
“Just random noise, isn’t it?” Tom said.
“Well, yes—most of it. But look what happens when I apply the filter.”
“Okay, a bit of the extraneous signal remains. I don’t think it’s intelligent life calling!”
“I know that! But now compare the results I got in January,” Luper said, running the second computer.
“Same thing?” Tom said cautiously.
“It looks the same, but if I integrate the total residual signal, I get this density,” Luper said, pointing to the second computer. “Now look what happens when I integrate April’s result.”
“That’s strange,” Tom said.
“And when I plot all the densities from January to April, they increase progressively each month.”
“Did you tell Walter yet?”
“No,” Luper said, “I want to wait, until I can explain it.” Pausing for a moment, he added, “But I’ll give him what he asked for—the results for April—to get him off my back.”
The Oortian Summer by Richard Rydon
The Oortian Summer by Richard Rydon is a science fiction story set in the very near future of 2024. In it, he creates a competitive professional environment filled with real people that we can connect with. Then, in order to turn up the tension level, Rydon gives them a powerful, all-too-real doomsday scenario to solve: two comets careening towards Earth.
The story itself revolves around Luper Beauchamps, a young astronomer struggling in both career and love. He works at an astronomical observatory under the so-called guidance of Professor Walter Hally, a man obsessed with his own fame and prestige. This creates a less than desirable work environment for young Luper, and he turns to senior astronomer Tom Green, and twins Andrea and Andina Jorgenson for friendship and support during what will be the greatest discovery of his life.
In my opinion, two things make The Oortian Summer work: detail and setting.
Rydon uses a keen eye for detail and the knowledge earned from his years working in the science field to give us a glimpse of a day-in-the-life of an astronomer. This isn’t the exaggerated Hollywood fluff we’ve come to know, but honest, real-world experience. It’s competitive. It can be slow and tedious. It’s about getting enough money to fund your research. But, if you’re one of the lucky ones (and Luper Beauchamps is), you can make a discovery that will put your name forever in the annals of history.
Setting is another thing Rydon has a strong grasp of. Having the majority of the events take place in the confines of an astronomical observatory, and by describing it with meticulous detail, the reader can almost see the 50-meter telescope looming above. Not only does this give the feeling of credibility to the events that occur, but it permeates a type of closeness between us and the characters; it’s as if we have all been locked away together and have no choice but to get to know one another. Then, when the suspense hits, we’re all in it together. There is no place for the characters, or us, to run.
In conclusion, The Oortian Summer is a fine read. It’s scientific and technical, yet there aren’t pages of calculus equations that leave you rubbing your temples. It covers a common theme, but it covers it in an uncommon way. So, for those of you who read the part above about two comets making a b-line towards Earth and said, “Been there done that,” I can tell you, you’re wrong. I won’t tell you why, though—spoilers ruin all the fun. So, read The Oortian Summer. This is what science fiction was meant to be. And you won’t be disappointed.
Thomas Bolme, Jr.
For Independent Professional Book Reviewers
Rydon, Richard, The Oortian Summer
A team of astronomers wrangles with faulty equipment, scientific conundrums and each other in the face of an imminent comet attack. In the third decade of the 21st century, maverick doctoral student Luper Beauchamps is on top of his game. He’s just discovered not one but two new comets, and his keen and creative scientific mind is the envy of his colleagues.
Luper’s achievements especially needle away at the eminent professor Walter Hally, his boss at Tektite Ridge Observatory. Lately, Walter’s discoveries have been few and far between. He’s not about to let some young gun upstage him during what should be the pinnacle of his career, so he starts plotting deviously to prevent just that. Walter begins a campaign of academic sabotage that soon borders on professional malfeasance to sidetrack Luper’s career, cautioned against but ultimately abetted by his loyal friends and colleagues.
Thus commences a tale of scientific sleuthing and petty academic squabbling. In fact, sci-fi fans should be warned that The Oortian Summer reads more like Tenure Wars than Star Wars. The story’s pacing runs slowly at first and much of the scientific detail will be lost on readers who can’t tell a Fourier transformation from a Foucault pendulum.
At times, the story suffers slightly from its fishbowl focus. There are barely hints of the larger world outside the novel’s astronomic and scientific communities in Tektite Ridge. This, despite the premise that the planet is on a collision course with the comets Luper and his colleagues are studying and would no doubt be convulsing under the threat.
Nevertheless, Rydon has successfully combined plausible scientific detail with a frequently engaging portrait of the professional life of an astronomer and the thrill of scientific discovery. Readers with a high degree of scientific literacy will find much to appreciate here; others will find the experience less rewarding.
Kirkus Discoveries, Nielsen Business Media,
770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
tel 646-654-7277 fax 646-654-4706
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