12:00 AM, September 15, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 15, 2007

Sci-fi that excites the adult imagination

Hasan Ali Imam goes visiting intergalactic space and likes it

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First Ark to Alpha Centauri 2
The True Price of Immortality
A. Ahad
PublishAmerica, Baltimore, USA

The True Price of Immortality is a sequel to Abdul Ahad's award-winning first novel, First Ark to Alpha Centauri, released August 2005. It is a young adult sci-fi fantasy series about mankind's survival in the far distant future on a long duration interstellar voyage to Alpha Centauri.
The opening chapter takes us to an extraordinary planet named Pritibee, existing in another part of our Milky Way galaxy at the very dawn of time, long before the Sun was born and the Earth came into being. In that world, set on the edge of a breathtakingly spectacular astronomical phenomenon called a 'globular cluster', the author introduces us to the last surviving family of a race of beings who are on the brink of extinction. A deadly blood-thirsty Empire is cannibalising a weaker variant of its own species on the planet Pritibee. After the slaying of both her parents and one younger sister, an eight-year old female named Roopban is taken prisoner by the predatory race of warriors and entombed along with them inside a frozen chamber, destined to sleep for an everlasting eternity. Meanwhile, their desert home world of Pritibee gets sucked out of existence in a violent encounter with a black hole, the most ferocious monster of dark forces and dark energy prevailing in that part of the universe. Pritibee has a circling moon, however - named Chad - which manages to break free out of orbit in the violent gravitational encounter with the black hole and is thrown out into deep space. It carries within its deep, frozen underground caverns the last surviving life forms of Pritibee. After an endless eternity of wandering the celestial dark and cold reaches of intergalactic space, Chad is eventually captured by the gravitational force of our present day Sun into a distant orbit that puts it into the flight path of the outbound Earth ship named the Centauri Princess (abbreviated CP by its residents).
The first volume in the series introduced the reader to the dreamlike living environment inside the giant world ship, named the Centauri Princess. It gave a detailed insight into how the Ark was first built by world leaders in the late 23rd century in a bid to launch the first humans to New Earth - a planet discovered to be orbiting Alpha Centauri B. The treatise of the first volume covered the entire mission blueprint, from mining of comets and planetoids en route to how the miniature world was being governed by a succession of presidential rulers and the Mission Management Committee (MMC) on its 50,000 year long projected voyage duration. The story was initially set on Earth, then fast forwarded by 2,000 years to an era when the residents of Utopia were haunted by mysterious, winged “wolf-like” demons in both their sleep and awakened states, through a complex interdimensional wormholing effect that brought them into contact with an alien race. Having resolved that crisis, with serious psychological damage and the loss of two dearly missed girls who were taken by the winged aliens from Utopia's Midsummer Crescent, the Centauri Princess was once again cruising on her silent voyage toward Alpha Centauri. An immensely long 48,000 years of remaining mission time was left to go.
This new novel is set two years after the ending point of the first book, and many of the characters have since moved on in their lives. Caroline Fiorello (now married, was in the previous book still single and known as Caroline Polansky) is haunted in her sleep by a series of harrowing and future-sensing premonitions. It takes a while for her and her husband to figure out what those dreams are about: an impending shortage of uranium fuel - the key lifeblood of all electricity and power needs on board the Ark. To top up the dwindling reserves, commander Nikolaus Zakarov (the lead character in the story) takes a mining crew of seven with him down to the surface of a dark ice world they have found drifting in the Solar System's Oort cloud. Named Delta's ice world by the crew, Zakarov and his people in fact find themselves landed on Chad, the once escaped moon of that far away planet named Pritibee, where the alien race that buried itself all those aeons ago are waiting for revival from their eternal state of suspended animation.
With as much scientific justification as possible, The True Price of Immortality takes the reader beyond the limits of accepted reality by exploring life, death, suspended animation and alternate cosmic existences that make this a fast-paced, enthralling sci-fi saga.
This is the first novel by any known author to place the reader into a true interstellar location, beyond the immediate confines of our Solar System. The ice world, Delta, was first visited by a robotic probe launched by the Ark's MMC several years earlier. It is characterised in the novel as a “perpetual Night World, gripped in an Eternal Winter.” From that vantage point, going forty two point five degrees south of the Solar System's ecliptic plane, the Sun is just another star-like point in the sky and the colonists are surrounded by a permanent night where dawn would quite simply never break. That unique setting in itself adds to the heart racing suspense and intrigue for the horror elements of the story. The mouth watering details of the night sky and 3D visualisations of space are sure to leave astronomy buffs and intellectuals wanting more.
Abdul Ahad once famously stated: “Ever since the first people on Earth stepped out of their humble cave dwellings into the dark and looked up to see those tiny pin-pricks of light flickering across the night sky, there has been a sense of dreaming and wonder about what's actually up there and whether we could some day ever hope to reach these eternally distant jewels...” The title of this, his second novel, is apt in that sense. It acknowledges immortality to be a prerequisite to fulfil humanity's biggest dream. Since physical distances separating us from the nearby stars are to all intents and purposes “near infinite”, then one has to be immortal in order to reach a planet circling one of them. That is what the underlying theme of the novel is and the reader learns this from about half way through the book.
The True Price of Immortality is actually unquantifiable, except maybe by the loss of three human lives in a deadly battle with the ice world's resurrected aliens. That unattainable dream of wanting to reach New Earth within his own lifetime causes Zed Lincoln, the dictatorial presidential ruler, to abandon his current existence on the Ark through deception and by fabricating intriguing untruths. The book reaches an exciting and unpredictable climax towards the end, when Lincoln leaves behind his daughter, Sabrina Lincoln, to lead the voyage toward “distant and unimagined worlds circling the Alpha Centauri system” for a further 48,000 years.
The author is famed for many noted discoveries in astronomy, including the 'Ahad radius'. For his full contributions to science, please visit his Wikipedia biography. Abdul Ahad characterises the plot, the setting and events in his writings from a unique perspective of being a Western Muslim, a British-Bangladeshi and a respected astronomer by intellectual background. Indeed, 'Pritibee' means 'earth' and 'Chad' means moon in Bengali, Abdul Ahad's native language. By drawing on his scientific wisdom, cultural background and a towering imagination, he creates a fantasy tale worthy of enjoyment by readers of all genres and age groups. We unreservedly rate the book 5 stars.
Hasan Ali Imam writes from London.

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