RogerBW's Blog

Gravity, Tess Gerritsen 20 October 2015

1999 thriller. On board the International Space Station, a microbiological experiment has gone wrong. Dr Emma Watson tries to keep the rest of the crew, and herself, alive in an increasingly challenging environment. (Nothing to do with the 2013 film of the same name.)

Most people who know Gerritsen's work these days have probably seen her credit for the books which inspired the Rizzoli & Isles police procedural TV series; the books themselves are rather darker and more serious. Before that, in the late 1990s, Gerritsen was known for medical thrillers; before that she wrote romantic suspense.

And right in the middle of her medical thriller streak she came up with this. This is the only vaguely science-fictional work that Gerritsen has written, but she was wise enough to treat it as a thriller that happened to be set in space; it's firmly rooted in the real world, with only one significant piece of technology that didn't exist at the time of writing (and there were people trying to build it, or something very like it).

There's still the touch of personal tension that Gerritsen usually brought in from her romantic suspense days: Emma is in the process of divorcing her husband, Jack McCallum, another doctor and astronaut, who's banned from flight on medical grounds. When it becomes clear just how dangerous the outbreak is, Jack's the one who stands up for saving Emma rather than taking more absolute steps to contain the pathogen. Apart from that characterisation is frankly pretty minimal: enough to get by and keep track of who people are, but not so much that one regrets the loss of a unique and individual person when they're killed by the menace.

This reminds me in places of Elizabeth Moon's 1986 short story ABCs in Zero-G, which similarly considers the technical difficulties of even basic first-aid procedures when anything not fastened down will drift away and body weight isn't available to apply pressure. There's a lot of the surgical equivalent of rivets, and some frankly disgusting deaths.

The ending is perhaps a little rushed, but there's a lot to resolve (including just what's going on with that microorganism, and some borderline conspiracy stuff too). There's a little too much coincidence in the setup (two separate car crashes). But these are minor flaws in what has become my favourite of Gerritsen's books.

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