Review: THE SECOND STAR Burns Almost Bright Enough

The Second Star 
Written by Alma Alexander
Published by Crossroad Press
July 1st, 2020
Paperback, 432 pages

It’s an interesting premise: the first humans to venture out into deep space return two hundred years later — only they’re not the same when they come back. They now each have multiple personalities. Was it caused by something they encountered? Or did they succumb to madness due to the crushing isolation of being out in the middle of nowhere?

Upon their return to Earth, the crew of the Parada are quarantined, and the military pulls in psychologist Dr. Stella Froud and Jesuit priest Fr. Philip Carter to determine whether or not the six astronauts pose a threat to humanity. In the course of their investigation, as they get to know the astronauts better, they start to realize there’s more to the story than they initially expected. What started out as a simple psychological evaluation turns into a conflict between the civilians and the military officers. And while Lt. Col. Martin Peck seems to sometimes straddle the line between priorities, he’s partially set up to be the “hindrance” character for Stella (a name that means “star” and yes, that factors into the story a bit).

On the whole, I thought this was a pretty solid story. It holds together well, escalates the stakes at the right pace, and it’s an intriguing premise that has you wondering just what’s causing the Dissociative Personality Disorder that afflicts the crew of the Parada. If it’s just a psychotic break, what circumstances would obtain for everyone to be affected? And what does it matter that there are twins among the astronauts?

Having said that, I think the story breaks down a bit at the end, with the resolution — and the questions that resolution raises — feeling a little tossed in, because the implications of what it means for humanity could generate its own 300-page book in itself. But it doesn’t feel like enough weight is given to that moment, other than how it affects Philip. It doesn’t feel rushed, really, but it feels… incomplete, let’s say. We spend so much time in one location (the quarantine facility) that when we finally get outside, we don’t spend enough time in the world to get a sense of what impact it could have to re-integrate the astronauts into society. There’s a lot of talk about it, but we don’t actually get to see it.

Additionally, there are plenty of places where the dialogue feels … forced? Things get repeated a lot, and there are passages where it feels like characters are giving speeches instead of having conversations, and some of those speeches repeat back to a character what that character actually just said. Also, there are quite a few passages explaining Dissociative Personality Disorder, that feel like they’ve been lifted from medical texts and massaged a bit to fit the character who’s speaking. It’s not distracting enough to pull me out of the story, but it’s distracting enough that I notice it and wonder why it’s there for me to notice.

Staying inside one place makes the world-building easy, as there’s only a little of that necessary. But really, this is a story about the people, and it’s applicable enough to work in any time period, not just the future.  Which is good, because I think there’s plenty of opportunity for stories to get into the long-term mental effects of space travel. It’s still a fairly untapped vein of material to mine.

While the story didn’t go where I expected, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking story that makes you consider the long-term effects of space travel and what mental health concerns should be considered as we return to space. Worth a read.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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