A surprising and gripping YA sci-fi thriller with a killer twist



Hi readers!

Are you ready for some more book love, with no strings attached? This month's recommendation comes to you from our amazing guest contributor, Lorna Eifflaender. Lauren James’ third novel, THE LONELIEST GIRL IN THE UNIVERSE, will have you asking: can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to—someone who is light years away?

Lorna loves this brilliant YA sci-fi thriller because:

  1. Romy is a compelling main character whose personal and emotional struggles are very identifiable, even though she’s light years away.

  2. Fan fiction. Romy writes fanfic. It’s IN THE BOOK. Do we need any more reason to love her?

  3. Lauren James’ background is in science, so she calculated the relative speeds of the Infinity and the Eternity to work out when each of the messages would arrive. As a scientist myself, this made me geek out more than a little!

Will it be love at first chapter for you?

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The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on the Infinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.


Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.


Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of the Eternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….


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CHAPTER ONE


LIFT-OFF FOR FIRST MANNED INTERSTELLAR SHIP

26/06/2048 | CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, USA


Early yesterday morning, NASA successfully launched the first ever manned spacecraft destined to travel to a different star system.


The spacecraft, named The Infinity, is projected to reach the star system Alpha Centauri in less than fifty years, where it will enter orbit around Planet HT 3485 c. This exoplanet has a 99.999 per cent probability of being habitable, making it the highest scored planet outside our solar system.


The Infinity is the result of billions of dollars of investment into solar sail technology. Space travel using this method of propulsion allows the craft to accelerate to the previously impossible velocity of 0.09 light years.


Current calculations predict that The Infinity will reach Planet HT 3485 c in early 2092. Once in orbit around the planet, The Infinity will begin eighteen months of analysis to determine whether the planet’s surface can safely support human life.


If Planet HT 3485 c is deemed unsuitable, The Infinity will continue onwards to the nearest star system predicted to have an above 99.99 per cent chance of habitability.


The main mission of The Infinity is stated by NASA as being to “guarantee the longterm survival of the human race, by founding extra-terrestrial communities outside of planet Earth”.

The crew of The Infinity were chosen in a gruelling decade-long application process which analysed every aspect of their personal and genetic history. This screening process was followed by five years of intense NASA training.


The Infinity will officially pass out of our solar system at 22.54 EST tomorrow.

  • Check back for live minute-by-minute updates on the launch.

  • Click here to learn more about the crew of The Infinity or follow their journey via the official The Infinity social media accounts.

  • Don’t forget to register to vote in the global referendum to name Planet HT 3485 c.

  • Read about the new commercial stasis service that is promising to help civilians live long enough to see The Infinity land on Planet HT 3485 c.


DAYS SINCE THE INFINITY LEFT EARTH: 6817

I’m reading fanfiction in my pyjamas when I hear a nightmarish sound: the emergency alarm. Pulling an oxygen mask out of the nearest wall panel, I sprint to the helm with my heart in my throat.


There’s a glowing red message on the screen, which reads:

ASTEROID COLLISION IMMINENT

AUTOMATIC TRAJECTORY ADJUSTMENT FAILED

ENGAGE MANUAL CONTROL


I’m abruptly filled with complete and utter fear. The guidance system has crashed. I need to take manual control, otherwise we’re going to be hit by an asteroid within the next few minutes.


For what must be the millionth time, I wish that Dad was here to help. I try to calm down, taking slow, steady breaths as I tell myself that I’m brave and strong enough to do this – and even if that’s not true, I have no choice but to do it anyway.


There’s no time to panic, no time to do anything except go.


My attention narrows. This is something I’ve practised: I’ve been in simulations using force propulsion to minutely adjust the course of the ship since I could count. Dad trained me to operate the emergency program in case there was a problem that he couldn’t take control of himself. He joked that if there was ever an emergency before 7 a.m., I would have to deal with it because he wasn’t giving up his lie-in.


I do exactly what I’ve practised in the simulations, and use the joystick to line up the thrusters with the propulsion metrics on the screen.


The Infinity is travelling too fast to slow down much, but a minute adjustment of direction is all that’s needed to make sure the asteroid misses us, if only by an arm’s length. I check and agree to the trajectory angle calculated by the computer and initiate the adjustment.


I watch the screen, waiting. Outside the ship, precious fuel is being used to shoot nanoparticles into space. The force of the blast into the vacuum of space will turn the ship and change the trajectory – or at least, it’s supposed to. I have no idea if it’s working. If for some reason the propulsion thrusters don’t work, or they respond too slowly, we could fly right into the asteroid.


I just have to hold on, and hope the ship can move in time.


Minutes pass.


Eventually, when I’ve long since started to brace myself for bad news or a horrific explosion, the alarm dies down and the screen clears.


COLLISION AVOIDED


I sigh in relief. By the time the asteroid nears The Infinity, our course will have been adjusted just enough that we narrowly pass each other.


I run to the nearest porthole to watch, hopping from foot to foot. It’s coming too close – impossibly close. Glimmers of metal catch the light in the rough, uneven surface of the rock.

Its shadow reaches me first, passing over the porthole and casting me into darkness as the asteroid approaches. For a second, I think that the computer must have calculated the angles wrong. It looks like the asteroid is flying directly at The Infinity.


It’s going to crash straight into the fragile hull of my ship, crushing everything in its path. It’s going to destroy me. It’s going to—


Every single muscle in my body tenses in panic, a tight knot spreading from my neck down my spine as I brace for the impact.


I watch, wide-eyed, as the asteroid flies past the bulkhead in a graceful swoop.


There is no explosion, no crush of metal as the ship disintegrates against the rock. Instead there’s a wonderful silence as the side of the asteroid fills the porthole for two heartbeats. There’s enough time for me to see craters in the dull brown rock, marks left from millions of years of impacts.


The breath leaves my lungs without me noticing. Then the asteroid is gone, disappearing in the wake of the ship, falling off into deep space once more.


I throw my head back and spin in a circle, overwhelmed with joy. I did it. I managed to control my worrying long enough to get the job done. I knew what to do and I did it!


It’s only when the asteroid is a speck in the darkness, hidden among the bright stars, that I realize I’ve developed a raging headache.


By the time my headache has gone, it’s midday – and I’m starving. I sit at the helm in my dressing gown and eat a lukewarm rehydrated chicken korma, reading through the ship’s manuals.


The close call with the asteroid has kick-started my anxiety. I worry endlessly about things going wrong. On some days, it’s all I can think about. I’ll lie frozen in my bunk, overwhelmed by the responsibility resting on my shoulders. I can’t run this ship, not without Dad. Not on my own.


I need to be prepared for the next crisis. I have to know the ship inside out, from the boilers to the propulsion thrusters to the telecommunications and flight mapping. My schoolwork can wait – English literature is hardly going to be useful the next time there’s a crisis.


By the time I reach page 97 of 14,875 in the manual, I’m losing focus.


As I scrape the last few grains of rice from my lunch into the organic waste disposal, I remember I haven’t checked my messages yet.


I can’t believe I’ve forgotten. Reading the new uplink of data from Earth is usually the first thing I do. Hearing from NASA is always the best part of my day – often it’s the only part of my day.


I scroll through my inbox, skimming past the files of news articles until I reach the message from Molly.


From: NASA Earth Sent: 20/06/2065

To: The Infinity Received: 23/02/2067

Attachments: UC-podcast,zip [8 MB]; Worksheets.txt [20 KB]

Audio transcript: Hi Romy! Hope you’re well, sweetie. Have you been finishing all your schoolwork? Your last message said you were struggling with some of the maths. I hope you’ve sorted it out by now. I used to find maths really hard when I was at school too! It’ll all come together in the end. I’m sending you some more worksheets, in case you’ve completed the ones you’ve already got. By the time you read this, I think you’ll be working on three-dimensional propulsion mechanics, so that’s what the attached exercises focus on. Let us know if there’s anything you want us to send. I’ve also attached a new episode of the podcast you like – it’s funny.

Enjoy!

Talk to you tomorrow.


Molly is my therapist and miscellaneous pillar of support. She was assigned to me by NASA after my parents died, to help me deal with their deaths – and my unexpected promotion to commander of The Infinity.


I receive messages from her every day, without fail, to make sure I don’t get too lonely. Her first message was two hours long. I think I listened to it over a hundred times – maybe more. It was my constant soundtrack for months.


I’ve been alone on this spaceship since my parents died. The last time I hugged someone, smelt their shampoo, or even just spoke to them face to face, was 25 February 2062. Five years ago.


Right now I’m officially further away from any other human being than anyone else has been since the evolution of the species.


I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten what other people feel like.


When I dream, I dream in screens. A line of text, a voice in my ear. Nothing real.


The things people take for granted, like seeing the sky, walking on soil, feeling the wind on your skin – well, I’ve never experienced any of that. I was born on The Infinity. I’ve only ever known its clean white walls; its sterilized atmosphere and artificial gravity; its grey floors, curving around the ship’s hull.


I circle the same small space over and over every day, and nothing changes and nothing is different.


I know I sound ungrateful to be here. But I didn’t choose this life. Just because my parents were clever and multitalented enough to be picked to run The Infinity doesn’t mean I’m anything special.


I’m nothing like they were. I should feel proud that my parents were chosen to run this mission. I should be proud to be the first human to land on a planet and create a new civilization. I get to carve out a new home for humanity among the stars.


But some days it’s hard to remember the exciting parts. I get stuck in the memories. It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting.


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Was it Love at First Chapter?

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ABOUT LAUREN JAMES

Lauren James is the author of Young Adult science fiction, including The Next Together series and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

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