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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“We’re Going to Try To Crash-land …” – Read an Excerpt from Tracer, the Debut Novel by Rob Boffard

TracerOrbit Books have shared an excerpt from Tracer by Rob Boffard.

The publisher describes the book as “The Bourne Identity meets Gravity … the most exciting action thriller set in space you’ll ever read”.

Sarah Lotz, author of The Three, calls it: “Fast, exhilarating and unforgettable, and once you start it you can’t stop.”

Boffard was born in Johannesburg, and studied journalism at Rhodes University. He now splits his time between Vancouver, London and Johannesburg, and has written for The Guardian, Wired Magazine, Huck Magazine, the BBC, and io9.

Tracer is the first book of a planned trilogy.

Read the excerpt:

Seven years ago

The ship is breaking up around them.

The hull is twisting and creaking, like it’s trying to tear away from the heat of re-entry. The outer panels are snapping off, hurtling past the cockpit viewports, black blurs against a dull orange glow.

The ship’s second-in-command, Singh, is tearing at her seat straps, as if getting loose will be enough to save her. She’s yelling at the captain, seated beside her, but he pays her no attention. The flight deck below them is a sea of flashing red, the crew spinning in their chairs, hunting for something, anything they can use.

They have checklists for these situations. But there’s no checklist for when a ship, plunging belly-down through Earth’s atmosphere to maximise the drag, gets flipped over by an explosion deep in the guts of the engine, sending it first into a spin and then into a screaming nosedive. Now it’s spearing through the atmosphere, the friction tearing it to pieces.

The captain doesn’t raise his voice. “We have to eject the rear module,” he says.

Singh’s eyes go wide. “Captain—”

He ignores her, reaching up to touch the communicator in his ear. “Officer Yamamoto,” he says, speaking as clearly as he can. “Cut the rear module loose.”

Koji Yamamoto stares up at him. His eyes are huge, his mouth slightly open. He’s the youngest crew member, barely eighteen. The captain has to say his name again before he turns and hammers on the touch-screens.

The loudest bang of all shudders through the ship as its entire rear third explodes away. Now the ship and its crew are tumbling end over end, the movement forcing them back in their seats. The captain’s stomach feels like it’s broken free of its moorings. He waits for the tumbling to stop, for the ship to right itself. Three seconds. Five.

He sees his wife’s face, his daughter’s. No, don’t think about them. Think about the ship.

“Guidance systems are gone,” McCallister shouts, her voice distorting over the comms. “The core’s down. I got nothing.”

“Command’s heard our mayday,” Dominguez says. “They—”

McCallister’s straps snap. She’s hurled out of her chair, thudding off the control panel, leaving a dark red spatter of blood across a screen. Yamamoto reaches for her, forgetting that he’s still strapped in. Singh is screaming.

“Dominguez,” says the captain. “Patch me through.”

Dominguez tears his eyes away from the injured McCallister.

A second later, his hands are flying across the controls. A burst of static sounds in the captain’s comms unit, followed by two quick beeps.

He doesn’t bother with radio protocol. “Ship is on a collision path. We’re going to try to crash-land. If we—”


Foster doesn’t have to identify himself. His voice is etched into the captain’s memory from dozens of flight briefings and planning sessions and quiet conversations in the pilots’ bar.

The captain doesn’t know if the rest of flight command are listening in, and he doesn’t care. “Marshall,” he says. “I think I can bring the ship down. We’ll activate our emergency beacon; sit tight until you can get to us.”

“I’m sorry, John. There’s nothing I can do.”

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