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The crew of the Ares mission has just made history, becoming the first men to walk on Mars. In exploring the red planet, harsh surface conditions separate an astronaut from his crew and communications go down. In the same instant, Houston becomes unresponsive. The NASA crew recover their commander and start the return journey, but on descent, the spacecraft is compromised and plummets to the ground. It is phenomenal that all of them have survived, but something else has happened: There is no welcome party, no Houston, no rescue. While they were away, the people have all vanished.  

The four crew members begin a full-scale search, finding an absence of humans anywhere. Science Officer Owen Beech investigates the firing room at Kennedy Space Center, discovering unusual video footage during their mission: "A view of the hallway just outside the Firing Room was displayed, with people coming and going in both directions. There was nothing remarkable about it at all. Chris blinked when every person on the screen vanished... ‘It gets worse,’ said Owen... ‘Wait for it.’ With that, he directed the satellite camera to pan back farther and farther until the entire southern seaboard was visible, from Virginia all the way to Texas. ‘What's that?’ asked Trisha. Burke saw it too. Owen merely shook his head." 

"In southeastern Texas, a brilliant white light was shining. It was gigantic in size, nearly as bright as the sun at its center, and giving off enough radiance to obscure much of the surrounding area. It was like staring directly into the sun through a pinhole, and Chris found it almost painful to his eyes."

Before the calamity, three of the four astronauts had someone to go home to. They rush to the homes of their loved ones only to confirm the worst. With no other purpose now, they follow the source of the brilliant light --- Houston --- and find that the world is a different place. Discarded cars block freeways, grocery stores are flooded and foul, electricity is gone, dams have broken, and streets are utterly silent. Everything is free for the taking, but food is scarce and what they find is mostly rotten. Car batteries are dead, and half-sunken ships have washed out to sea. Water-damaged buildings have become a hazard, ready to collapse on the spot. This is the outcome of humanity's absence. Among the wreckage, they find a lone girl, odd-looking and seeming to be the only one left. Mae is her name, and she has lived on the streets her whole life. The four of them raise the question of why she is the only one on Earth who has survived what looks like the end of humanity.

Author Robin Parrish has quite a flair for action, and readers will find OFFWORLD to be both sharp and thoughtful. An urgent tone and a number of combat scenes move the story along nicely. The novel manages not to be overly preachy but is still appealing to Christians, and though the ending is perhaps wrapped up a little too neatly, I immensely enjoyed the mystery unfolding --- especially with regard to the character Mae, who I spent the entire book trying to fathom. I also really appreciated the idea that the astronauts earn their stripes and prove themselves more than worthy of their titles. With NASA recently making headlines for the Mars exploration program, the release of this science fiction thriller comes at an exciting time.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on July 1, 2009

by Robin Parrish

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2009
  • Genres: Christian
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House
  • ISBN-10: 0764206060
  • ISBN-13: 9780764206061