Ascent (novel)

Ascent is a novel published in 2007, written by Jed Mercurio. It follows the career of Yevgeni Yeremin, an orphan of Stalingrad, from his days as a MiG-15 pilot in the Korean War, where he becomes a leading ace. However, at the end of the war he is captured by the UN side after crash-landing in a plane bearing USSR insignia. On cessation of hostilities he is exiled in disgrace to a polar base. He has been befriended by one of his groundcrew, (throughout referred to as 'The Widow'), who follows him north, and he eventually marries her. He becomes a trainee cosmonaut, with little hope of a mission; he eventually volunteers for a risky mission to attempt a lunar landing ahead of Apollo 11, in an untested lunar craft. He knows that if he fails, his death will lead to little comment, and be denied by the USSR. He succeeds in achieving a landing, on the dark side of the Moon, but the lander rocket has malfunctioned, leaving him no hope of return. The novel ends with his descending from the doomed craft to walk on the lunar surface, as the lights in the stranded craft gradually go out.

The novel was serialised in 10 episodes in the BBC's Book at Bedtime in August 2007.

Literary significance and reception

Reviews of Ascent were mixed. Booklist called it a "stunning debut from a writer who bears close attention." The San Diego Union-Tribune said that absent the human components that would have made the journey more complete. But in space, untethered, it's a nerve-shredding, unsettling and, ultimately, a deeply satisfying techno-adventure." Kirkus Reviews were more critical in their commentary saying "the author displays high ambition, covering themes of duty, disgrace and redemption, and Yefgenii's story possesses a certain grandeur. But the character himself is a cipher, a prop to build a plot around. The protagonist never quite comes alive, and so neither does the novel." Publishers Weekly had similar thoughts on the character of Yeremin saying "too many details of training pad out a short book, and nothing in it really tells us enough about Yeremin to make us care what happens to him.


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