Novella: Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

February 2, 2020

There’s definitely something to be said for a story that ends on the perfect note. Greg Egan’s Perihelion Summer (2019) is such a work, a solid hard SF tale that hammers a succinct, infuriating point home in its final moments. The story follows Matt, the designer of the Mandjet, a seabound, self-sustaining aquaculture vessel. When a black hole moves into the solar system, astronomers are uncertain whether it’s going to be a doomsday event for the Earth or a cosmic near-miss. Matt and his colleagues decide to take no chances; they’ll ride it out in the Indian Ocean on the Mandjet, just in case there are catastrophic tidal impacts from the black hole’s passing. Most of their friends and family, however, are reluctant to leave the comforts of civilization behind, so can’t be persuaded to join them. As it turns out, the event turns out to be neither an apocalypse nor a non-event; it’s something in-between that proves not only harrowing, but a sustained threat to humanity’s survival.

Egan is a giant of hard science fiction, whose work ought to be more widely known. Perihelion Summer is another impressive accomplishment, a climate-change disaster tale that celebrates human cooperation and ingenuity even as it skewers civilization’s short-sighted reaction to environmental stewardship. Matt is a likeable protagonist, flawed but earnest and brave, and Egan surrounds him with memorable friends and colleagues as they react and respond to each escalating crisis. As I was nearing the end of this one, I had it pegged as a decent, gripping hard SF survival adventure, with intrepid multicultural scientists working together to solve problems as conditions on Earth go sideways. But Egan sticks the landing with a brilliant little outrage of dialogue that casts the journey into a scathing new light. Gripping, sharp, and resonant stuff.