a couple of months ago

The mystery of Planet Nine goes unsolved in this novel

Amphitrite 2

In recent years astronomers have speculated about the existence of a ninth planet orbiting the sun somewhere within the vast outer reaches of the Solar System. After all, Planet Nine is said to lie somewhere within the Oort Cloud, circling the inner planets at a hypothetical distance of as much as 800 Astronomical Units (AU), or roughly 75 billion miles. A practiced author of hard science fiction might craft a fascinating story about a mission to Planet Nine. And Brandon Q. Morris seemed to be on that track with the publication of Amphitrite, the first novel in a trilogy. Sadly, his followup, inelegantly titled Amphitrite 2, goes wildly off the track. In a word, it’s not worth the time you might take to read the book. Fair warning: the characters in this novel don’t solve the mystery of Planet Nine.


Amphitrite 2 (Black Planet #2 of 3) by Brandon Q. Morris (2021) 333 pages ★★☆☆☆


Image of the Oort Cloud, which harbors the mystery of Planet Nine.
This image from Space Facts (not to scale) illustrates the relative distances of the existing eight planets and the Oort Cloud, which might contain the mysterious Planet Nine. One AU is about 93 million miles, the mean distance of the Earth from the sun.

Three of the five original characters remain after Book One

When Morris wraps up Amphitrite, only two of the four humans who journeyed to the mysterious black planet linger on the scene. Oscar, the impertinent cleaning robot who alternated between saving their lives and plunging them into danger, stays behind, too. (The other two characters had fled to Earth on the ship sent to reclaim the spaceship they’d hijacked.) Now, in the sequel, the fugitives Juri and Irina remain along with Oscar. They’re intent on investigating the startling mysteries they encountered on the surface of the planet.

So far, so good. Then everything gets murky—and stays that way.

A new character enters the scene

Morris introduces a new character, a sixty-four-year-old space scavenger named Doug who is bribed into speeding out to Amphitrite by a wealthy man, probably a criminal. The man hopes to establish a claim to the new planet’s mineral riches. What ensues is a succession of alternating chapters in which both Doug and the trio already on the scene each confront unlikely engineering challenges. Of course, Brandon Morris has them meet those challenges in excruciating detail. (Andy Weir did something similar in The Martian, but he was much, much more entertaining.)

Even all that contrived problem-solving might have been bearable if Morris had then proceeded to probe the mystery of Planet Nine. But no. Although he offers up a few tantalizing hints of the black planet’s true nature, he fails to explore them. And, to compound the problem, he leaves the story hanging, forcing any curious reader to purchase the third (as-yet-unwritten) book in the trilogy.

The author offers no apology for leaving us hanging

Here is his lame explanation in an Author’s Note:

“I know I’ve just left you at a very delicate point in the story. I suppose that is the dramaturgical fate of the second part of a trilogy. Book 2 brought our heroes and heroines into their darkest hours (which isn’t hard on Amphitrite), and in the third part . . . [Ellipsis in original.] I won’t give anything away. Do you already have an idea of how the book might end? Then you know more than I do. The protagonists only reveal this to me as I’m writing.”

Instead of inventing yet one more life-threatening emergency for Juri, Irina, or Doug to confront, Morris would have done far better to let his protagonists reveal a lot more about the mysterious planet at the heart of this tale.

For further reading

You’ll find my review of the first book in this trilogy at Amphitrite – Black Planet #1 (Journey to a newly discovered planet far out from the sun). As you’ll see, I enjoyed it a lot more.

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