A SUDDEN CHANGE OF COURSE
To the teachers and students of Seattle’s Garfield High School, the trip was just a public relations lark – for helping a wealthy Pacific island open a science museum, they were to get a free trip around the world. It all seemed too easy. It was. As their chartered 747 crossed the Pacific, a huge spacecraft swooped down, cut off its wings, swallowed it up, and headed deep into outer space. Next stop: Charon, the moon of Pluto.
Suddenly the flight crew, the students, and their teacher found themselves the unwilling guests of unseen and unreliable hosts whose life-support systems were breaking down.
Even worse, the humans were caught in a deadly cross-fire between the rapidly failing aliens and a mad computer program that considered only itself indispensable – and whose intentions clearly were to destroy Earth…
Charon’s Ark is an entertaining but grim novel that apparently is Rick Gauger’s only full-length work. The premise is that Pluto and its moon, Charon, were built by aliens as a nature preserve to save Earth’s dinosaurs. Charon is a hollow sphere with a tiny black hole in its center providing gravity, while a laser drawing its energy from Pluto provides light and heat. As crazy as the science sounds, Gauger pulls it off convincingly (well, as convincingly as any other Big Dumb Object). The aliens who built the preserve are still around but need some fresh bodies to continue their mission, so they hijack an airliner full of teens to take their place as caretakers of the moon.
The cover blurb may lure readers into thinking Charon’s Ark is nothing more than a light-hearted romp for young readers. That’s hardly the case. The novel is mercilessly grim, and many kids die horrible, painful deaths throughout its pages. Still, the novel works quite well as a science fiction adventure with an appropriate sense of wonder, although the dinosaurs here are more for color rather than a central part of the plot.
- Charon’s Ark was meant as the first book of a trilogy. The publisher didn’t pick up the sequels, Charon’s Children and Charon is Coming, but both have since self-published electronically.
- Science fiction artist Don Dixon created the book’s cover art. A prolific painter, Dixon told SF Site that Charon’s Ark remains his favorite cover.