The Nominal Echo Chronicles by Manuel Panchana Moya

“If there was a chance to re-invent the world’s social constructs, what would they be like?” That’s the question Quentin Rossenbaum, a sociology professor at Ryerson University, finds himself trying to answer in the prologue of The Nominal Echo Chronicles.

The question may sound theoretical, but there’s a practical motivation behind it. The reason representatives from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have invited Rossenbaum to weigh in on the issue is simple: they anticipate the possibility that we may discover a planet habitable by humans, and they want to be prepared to get a future colony off to a good start. The philosophical nature of the prologue provides a taste of what to expect in the remainder of the book. Though there is action, there’s also plenty of introspection and debate as characters hash out various technical, social, and ethical issues related to the dream of colonizing other habitable planets.

Events in The Nominal Echo Chronicles span three-quarters of a century, starting with the prologue, set in 2001, and ending with the Epilogue, which takes place in 2075. Throughout the novel, we are given snippets of action spaced out in time. One of the earliest of these depicts the discovery of a prospective suitable planet, subsequently named Fides, in the Alpha Centauri system. NASA forms the Nominal Echo Project to plan and prepare for the colonization of Fides.

“Though there is action, there’s also plenty of introspection and debate as characters hash out various technical, social, and ethical issues related to the dream of colonizing other habitable planets.”

The proposed project consists of three phases. The first is to send probes to Fides to collect data. If the data verifies that the planet is suitable for human habitation, the next step would be to design and build space ships suitable for traversing the necessary distance. Finally, candidates would need to be selected, trained, and sent on their way to establish a colony.

At the proposal stage, the project leaders estimate it will take around 75 years to enact the entire plan. It’s a mind-boggling time span for such an undertaking. As one of the project leaders notes, “ ‘some of the people that will do key work for these projects have not even been born’.”

Through the novel’s events, we get a sense of the kind of challenges involved in executing a project of this nature. For example, as part of the first phase, probes must be dispatched. But to get the probes to travel the necessary distance in a reasonable amount of time, new technology is required. The probes will need to travel at 1/5 the speed of light, and even at that, will take 20 years to get to Fides. The data they collect will take four years to get back to Earth.

In addition to the sheer scope and difficulty of the mission, we get an insight into the staggering cost. Initially, the project is kept secret, with expenditures for various initiatives hidden under the guise of preparation for Mars missions so the project can, as one individual puts it, “ ‘hide in plain sight’.”

There’s a good reason for secrecy. Project leaders fear that widespread knowledge about the efforts might lead to protests. They’re right about that. When Nominal Echo becomes more widely known, there’s a split in public opinion. Some people support the venture and feel it’s a necessary part of humanity’s growth. Others are opposed to what they see as a waste of money that would be better spent solving problems here on our own planet. Protests and acts of terrorism ensue, and even these, we are given a front seat to, as the author makes us privy to the thoughts of someone opposed to the mission, as well as a project member who gets caught in the crossfire.

The Nominal Echo Chronicles doesn’t read like a traditional novel. Rather, it’s a chronology of events, told through the third-person viewpoint of a number of characters along the way. Though the events are interesting enough, The Nominal Echo Chronicles is also a bit of a thought piece, prompting the reader to ponder the implications of humanity’s quest for other habitable worlds. That being said, the author also does a good job of conveying the human impacts of an endeavour of this nature at the individual level.

I saw my first episode of Star Trek (The Original Series) at age eight or so, and read the novels of writers like Andre Norton and Robert A. Heinlein as a teenager. My affection for science fiction has continued throughout my life, and I have always found the notion of space travel intriguing. The Nominal Echo Chronicles provides a thought-provoking look at the complex issues around turning those fantasies into reality. It’s an interesting read for anyone who enjoys contemplating the possibility that we will one day reach the stars.

Manuel Panchana Moya is a Chilean-born Canadian author. Though he has been interested in writing since his youth in Montreal, The Nominal Echo Chronicles is his debut novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (Feb. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 315 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8714550355

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at

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