Ice (Johnson novel)
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1st edition paperback cover
|Cover artist||Alan Bean|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|Pages||396 (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||1-57856-548-0 (paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PS3560.O38638 I28 2002|
A fictional Apollo 19 mission suffers a major system failure, forcing its crew to strike out on their own.
Explanation of the novel's title
The characters discover a vast quantity of ice on the Moon—ice that is impossibly flat, and in a formation they cannot possibly explain until they make a much more momentous discovery.
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In February 1975, Apollo 19 lands near the Aitken Basin near the lunar south pole (called "Marlow" in the novel) following a discovery of a vast quantity of water ice at that location. (Observation data from the 1994 unmanned spacecraft Clementine has indicated the existence of subsurface water ice mixed with lunar soil, as confirmed by Lunar Prospector and subsequent missions, but exposed water ice on the moon's surface has not been recognized by the scientific community.) There the crew tests an experimental heavy Lunar rover, launched to their location earlier by a Saturn 1B and delivered to the Moon using a stand-alone LM descent stage called the "LM Truck." (Both of these vehicles might have been actually used on the Moon, according to Johnson, had not Project Apollo been cut short.)
All goes well until the astronauts are ready to lift off to return to the orbiting Apollo CSM. Unfortunately, their LM ascent engine fails to fire. Repeated attempts to restart that engine—the only part of the LM system without a backup—all end in failure. Finding themselves stranded, the mission commander and LM pilot say goodbye to their wives. The commander peremptorily orders his CM pilot, in orbit around the Moon, to return home. He and the LM pilot then abandon the LM and strike out on their own, driving their rover to the limit of its remaining driving range "to see what we can see." In their last message to Earth, they ask their colleague and Capsule Communicator to help their returning crewmate understand that he must not blame himself for their deaths.
Before their oxygen runs out entirely, they find a vast and incredible Out-of-place artifact that might save their lives - or kill them. It is an ancient, abandoned, but fully functioning Lunar base - which they find immediately before the last seconds of their air run out. The base contains technology far beyond the reach of human science and engineering, best exemplified in the "war room" that they find immediately upon entry. This leads the two men to argue whether extrasolar visitors built it. LM Pilot Charlie Shepherd, a fundamentalist Christian, refuses to admit the possibility, because the Bible contains no warrant for it. Both men agree, however, that whoever the base builders are (or were) would be able to conquer Earth easily, had they chosen to attack—though why they never did attack remains a mystery.
The two men soon find EVA suits that are one-third again as tall as human EVA suits are. Shortly thereafter, they find many members of the base crew—dead of various acts of violence, and in at least one case, a suicide. The suicide's living quarters contains multiple artworks depicting various scenes of torture, indicating that the base builders were a thoroughly evil people whose mania for causing suffering is incomprehensible.
Subsequently, Mission Commander Gary Lucas vanishes into an apparent journey into the past—specifically to the builders' home world. His friend, left on the base, searches it in vain for his friend, not realizing that his friend has entered a machine that can simulate events stored in its historical memory, based on input from a base-wide and planet-wide surveillance system. Shepherd finds a means of sustenance, and then finds a hangar—which turns out to be empty. Angered and desperate, Shepherd activates all the base' systems in the war room, except for one system that refuses to activate. In the process, he activates the base computer system, which regards him as non-human and starts broadcasting a distress signal to Earth.
That signal will turn out to be the salvation of the two astronauts—because Congress, on the point of cancelling Project Apollo completely, reverses itself and authorizes Apollo 20 in direct response to the signal, which clearly is coming from the Marlow Basin. They cannot read the message, but—at least subconsciously—they realize that its activation after the men of Apollo 19 were supposed to have died cannot be coincidental.
Gary Lucas has many perilous adventures in the "home world" simulation, which he accepts as entirely real. They begin with his rescue of a woman being assaulted, and continue with his capture by men bent on offering him as a human sacrifice and by his rescue by the woman's husband and brother-in-law. In gratitude, Lucas offers to join the workforce that is now applying the finishing touches to a vast granary that his hosts have been building and stocking. Meanwhile, Shepherd tries again to activate the last war-room system—and realizes, too late, that he has in fact started a self-destruct sequence. One by one, various base systems—gravity, climate control, and ultimately the food dispensary—begin to shut down.
Lucas is injured during the storehouse construction project and, after the householders have an apparent argument concerning him, is given a sedative. He awakes to find himself in an empty house and steps outside in time to hear the roar of an onrushing wall of water, which lifts the storehouse off its foundations (incredibly, without damaging it) and threatens to sweep Lucas to his death.
But then Lucas finds himself back on the base, in time to watch its crew destroy one another in mutiny, mayhem, murder, human sacrifice, and the eventual suicide of the base commander, who is the crew's last survivor. Following this, Lucas experiences an attack of vertigo. In fact the simulator machine has run its program, sounds three piercing alarm tones, and ejects him into the waiting arms of Shepherd just as the crew of Apollo 20 arrive to rescue them. That rescue is just in time—because after Apollo 20 completes trans-Earth injection, the self-destruct sequence runs its course, and the base destroys itself, apparently in a thermonuclear detonation.
Back on Earth, the mission commander studies the Bible—and realizes that he actually witnessed the Noachic Flood and even ate at Noah's table. Also, the base builders never attacked Earth, because they were from Earth originally—from Antediluvian Earth. He and Shepherd further realize that God has entrusted him with a warning, which he must convey to anyone who will listen.
The novel ends when it shifts to somewhere on the surface of Mars, where another base similar to the one found on the Moon, ominously activates by itself.
- Astronaut Gary Lucas, Apollo 19 Mission Commander: Gary Lucas became an astronaut in 1965. During his training, he met and married his wife, Diane, in Cocoa Beach, Florida. They have one son, Jeff, who is ten years old at the time in which the novel takes place. Gary Lucas, lands near the Moon's south pole, near the Marlow Basin (this is the Aitken Basin in real life). He and his friend, LM Pilot Charles Shepherd, intend to explore this basin, which they believe is a massive meteoric impact crater that might contain fragments of lunar bedrock. Indeed, they find a large quantity of precious and semiprecious stones, the most colorful and valuable yet found on the Moon.
- Diane "Annie" Lucas, his wife
- Jeffrey Lucas, his son
- Astronaut Charles Shepherd, Apollo 19 Lunar Module Pilot: Charles Shepherd failed of selection as an astronaut when he first applied. But that failure afforded him the opportunity to meet his wife, Carol, also a believer. They have one young son, Joseph ("Joey"). Shortly before the launch of Apollo 19, Shepherd participated in a gambling pool to see whether his commander would succeed in making a precision landing closer than the record set by astronaut Pete Conrad in Apollo 12. The precision landing is required because part of their mission equipment is a new kind of heavy rover, delivered previously aboard an Apollo LM Truck. Astronaut Shepherd is inordinately proud of his commander, because the commander has bested Pete Conrad's old precision-landing record, thus winning Shepherd a hundred dollars in a gambling pool (see back story above). He is even happier when he and Gary Lucas, driving their heavy rover in the Marlow Basin (actually the Aitken Basin), discover an outcropping of precious and semi-precious stones—easily the most colorful geological samples ever recovered from the Moon.
- Carol Shepherd, his wife
- Joseph "Joey" Shepherd, his son
- Astronaut Victor Kendall, Apollo 19 Command Module Pilot, afterwards CapCom on White Team. He serves as the Apollo CSM pilot on this mission to the Lunar south pole. He shares in the joy that his friends, Mission Commander Gary Lucas and LM Pilot Charlie Shepherd, feel when they discover semi-precious gemstones in their landing zone—gemstones that might contribute to a debate on the continuation of Project Apollo, now slated to close down after this mission.
- Katie Kendall, his wife
- Astronaut Bruce Cortney, CapCom on White Team, afterwards Apollo 20 Mission Commander
- Astronaut James Irwin, Apollo 20 Lunar Module Pilot
- Astronaut Donald K. Slayton, Director, Astronaut Office, and Apollo 20 Command Module Pilot
- Gene Kranz, Flight Director, White Team
- Wife of Noah
- Shem, Ham, and Japheth, sons of Noah
- Wives of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, one of whom is attacked in a burning town and escapes serious injury only with the intervention of astronaut Lucas
- Unnamed Base Commander and crew of the Antediluvian Lunar base
History of Project Apollo, Bible history (specifically of Noah and the Great Flood that bears his name), speculation on the nature of Antediluvian civilization, the utility of prayer, and the Providential nature of God.
Allusions/references to other works
- Ice makes one allusion to Star Trek, and specifically to the fabled technology of food preparation in the twenty-third century.
- Ice also makes an allusion to the motion picture Dr. Strangelove, when astronaut Shepherd states that a "war room" on the lunar base reminds him of a similar room in that film.
Literary significance and criticism
Ice highlights the Christianity of many Apollo astronauts (one of them wrote the foreword to this work). It touches on several themes at once: the history of Project Apollo, how the nation would have handled what would have been an appallingly demoralizing disaster, the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation of the earth in modern or ancient times, and speculation about the Flood.
Ice attracted little notice beyond the Christian readership to which Johnson directed it, and it is now out-of-print. She had intended a sequel to this novel, titled Fire, based on a similar encounter on the planet Mars. But at last report[when?], the publisher canceled that project.
Awards and nominations
Ice was a finalist for the Christy Award for the best futuristic Christian novel of 2002. It lost to Time Lottery. The other finalist in the category was The Fifth Man, a novel about a fictional mission to Mars.
Allusions to actual history
In various scenes, this novel re-creates an entire J-mission profile, including a launch sequence for an equally fictional Apollo 20 mission flown with the stated objective of reclaiming the astronauts' remains using the Skylab Rescue CSM for the mission, rather than leave dead astronauts' bodies in space, something that has never happened in the history of manned spaceflight. (The Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 capsules returned their cosmonauts' bodies to Earth while Challenger and Columbia disintegrated, leaving scattered remains.) Johnson clearly demonstrates extensive knowledge of Project Apollo mission hardware and systems, from the Saturn V down to the EVA suits that Apollo astronauts wore. A number of actual persons appear in fictional scenes, including CBS News Managing Editor Walter Cronkite, Flight Director Gene Kranz, and astronauts Jim Lovell, James Irwin and Donald K. Slayton. The novel references the precision landing made by astronaut Pete Conrad during Apollo 12 and to the nearly disastrous Apollo 13. (It also features a foreword from astronaut Charles Duke and a cover painting by astronaut Alan Bean.)
In addition, Ice lays out a theory of how the Moon came to be the pockmarked, meteor-scarred body that we know today and of how the Biblical Flood took place.