This is a largish graphic novel, what we used to call a coffee table book, comprising a story of the first single person manned expedition to the nearest star system capable of harboring Earth like planets.
I found out about this book in this way:
- Watched "Alien Planet", the docufiction Discovery channel version of the book Expedition, on Netflix. Loved it.
- Researched the world of Expedition by Wayne Barlow.
- Stumbled into a mention of "Worlds" in one review of Expedition.
- Read the reviews of "Worlds" and eventually found the Youtube video released in 2013 of the making of the book.
- Found the book cheap on Ebay and bought a copy.
The book is written at a personal level: the traveler is one US citizen named Jefferson Brooks, who was part of a pool of interstellar astronaut candidates from multiple countries, groomed from childhood to be a viable candidate for the trip. The voyage is set around 2070. The two significant scientific jumps made in the backstory are an antimatter based propulsion system which enables near light speed travel for a good part of the trip; and human suspended animation.
As the forward written by James Cameron points out, the first interstellar exploration may well be made with an enormous propulsion system tethered to an extremely mass-limited payload consisting of the bare minimum in life support and supplies.
Brooks appears to be selected as a candidate for the "Worlds" program because he is both introverted and self motivated as well as physically superior to most men his age - an Olympian who is also an intellectual who can amuse himself.
A very brutal synopsis could be: "Worlds" is "Castaway." But without an ocean, without a possibility of quick rescue, without "Wilson," and without a clearly happy ending. (Fun fact about the author, Alec Gillis: He is a special effects expert who actually did work on the film "Castaway." I wonder if that influenced the story here?)
The plot of the story (without giving everything away) is essentially: the voyage to the star system, Proxima Centauri is perfect, by-the-book; reconnaissance of two different environmentally hostile worlds that bear very strange life forms is uneventful (except that some equipment is destroyed on one of those planets); forced landing on a third roughly Earth like planet that resembles the Earth a couple of billion years after planetary formation (IE, massive vulcanism) but also covered in significant green forests. Once on the planet Brooks discovers and relates to some life forms after a fashion; suffers a huge loss of life support equipment; struggles for survival; makes some incredible discoveries, including one that is mind blowing; and... that's it, folks. There is about as much square inchage devoted to story text as there is the photography, which is described in other reviews as cinema verite' style.
I had that giddy feeling of true discovery in reading the story, even though it's fictional. The team that produced this book did a superb job of creating a realistic, plausible story about a dedicated scientist and explorer and loving family man on a dangerous, ultimately fatal journey. I called it a "graphic novel". It's live photography and model based imagery but augmented with Photoshop. It's visually as stunning as is the story.
There is an exciting postscript to the main story in the last several pages, as Brook's daughter makes the same voyage a couple of decades later and makes additional stunning discoveries.
My big beefs: this book is TOO LITTLE, and the story begins and ends with this somewhat disregarded book. There is apparently no fan community, no audio book version, and no fanfic based on the story. I feel that a great major motion picture is possible using this story as its basis. The ending of the book sets things up for a sequel. And there is a possible backstory of galactic proportions (again, another spoiler) that would make a great additional franchise. The neat thing is, this story is set within the lifetime of today's children. That gives the story a lot of immediacy where most interstellar exploration stories are set centuries down the road.
For whatever reason, this book has gotten almost no attention and that's a shame. It's a masterpiece.