The counterpart of faith is doubt, and their contradiction is explored fully in Oxygen. Science is a field that relies on experimentation and logic to ascertain truths about the universe. God becomes an improvable element through normal scientific channels, but when faced with the loneliness of space, these voyagers consider his presence with greater frequency the further they travel from Earth. After inducing comas in her comrades, Valkerie Jansen is left alone with her thoughts, which become prayer in outer space. Hurtling toward Mars, she contemplates her relationship with God and its impersonal nature. She asks for a sign; she hears the rumblings of a damaged spacecraft. Clear proof is evasive, yet when she tries to dismantle her faith through empirical examination, it refuses to abandon her.
Her shipmate Bob Kaganovski, an avowed skeptic despite twelve years of Catholic education, demands proof of God’s existence. His former fiancé, the born-again Christian Sarah Laval, was persuaded by friends not to marry “outside the yoke” (to a nonbeliever). Confronted with his own mortality, Kaganovski realizes what he must do before death: forgive Sarah and relinquish the bitterness he carried with him into space. With that burden lifted, he recovers his spiritual identity. His developing love for another believer, Jansen, and her Christian witness—expressed not in words but through selfless actions—lead him to repentance and acceptance.
Ethics is central to the novel’s focus on science and religion, strange bedfellows when events begin but wedded partners by the narrative’s end. Neither is perfect; both fields are revealed to suffer serious ethical lapses. NASA, spurred by fears of government cuts, hastens preparations for the Mars mission and launches in unfavorable...
(The entire section is 429 words.)