In The Last Astronaut, David Wellington turns his prolific imagination—which is more often associated with earthbound monsters like zombies, vampires, and werewolves—to the threat of an alien invasion.
Set in 2055, the novel introduces a NASA ill equipped to respond to the arrival of a massive object from another star system. The agency no longer has an astronaut corps, so it turns to the last astronaut it trained, 56-year-old Sally Jansen, who retired in disgrace years earlier after the death of an astronaut under her command.
Jansen and a crew of three, who are trained for space flight in just a few months, race to greet the massive 80-kilometer-long visitor, but the goal of each member of her team is as varied as their personalities. One wants to fulfill a life-long dream of being an astronaut; one wants to communicate with aliens; one wants to study them; and one wants to destroy them.
Wellington says his interest in science fiction goes back to when he was six and he himself aspired to be an astronaut. “I wrote a letter to NASA saying, ‘Can you tell me what I should do to become an astronaut?’ And they sent me back a very nice form letter telling me I should enlist in the military and learn how to fly a plane,” he tells me on New Books in Science Fiction. “They also sent me a manila envelope full of glossy 8-by-10 photographs of rocks on the moon and the Saturn 5 rocket and the Apollo lander and the Space Shuttle. Those photographs became some of my most prized possessions.”
The alien object in The Last Astronaut was inspired by ‘Oumuamua, which astronomers first observed in 2017 and had trouble classifying, first calling it an asteroid and now a comet. Because of its unusual trajectory and apparent interstellar origin, some even thought it could be an alien spaceship.
“This is definitely a horror story,” Wellington says. “There’s violence, there’s death … This is not The Martian. In the Martian, Andy Weir creates a situation of peril, but it’s all about solving that problem. My book is much more about surviving, if you can.”
As for the all-important question of whether he’d rather dine with a monster or a space alien, Wellington is quick to answer. “I’d much rather have dinner with an alien,” he says. “I would love to try to communicate with a creature from another planet.”
The Last Astronaut (Orbit) will be available July 23.