The Fifth Man
- By John B. Olson and Randall S. Ingermanson
- Grand Rapids, Michigan: Bethany House, 2002.
- ISBN 0764227327
- 361 pages, paperback
- Cover illustration by Lookout Design Group, Inc.
Explanation of the novel's title
The Mars mission crew consists of only four astronauts, but suffer repeated mishaps that strongly suggest the presence of a fifth man on Mars with them.
Eight months into their stay on Mars, the life-sciences specialist discovers a microbial fossil. Subsequent to this, the crew begin to suffer various mishaps, including damage to mission property and direct attacks upon themselves. Complicating the situation is the apparent psychiatric breakdown of the mission commander and his definite attempts to injure or kill his fellow crewmembers.
On Earth, the Mars Mission Director, working with an agent of the FBI, races to discover who sabotaged the mission before the crew even arrived on Mars—and who might be trying to strand the crew on Mars now that they're on it. He is shocked to discover that his own Flight Director committed the initial sabotage. (Former Astronaut Josh Bennett was trying to seed Mars with a bacterium that would be taken as evidence of life on Mars, thus ensuring continued funding of Project Ares, the official name for the program.)
But when the life-sciences specialist falls ill from an actual microbial infection (from live bacteria which she has subsequently discovered), the mishaps multiply, with a corresponding increase in the physical danger to the crew. Someone other than the Flight Director is responsible for this. At the very end, that someone is revealed to be a NASA engineer who fears that the crew, now on their way back to Earth, are bringing back a germ that could potentially kill millions of people—this although the crew clearly showed that the germ was sensitive to the antibiotics they had carried with them. The mission ends with the psychiatrically challenged commander sacrificing his own life to save the rest of the crew—and the marriage of the two mission specialists aboard their Earth Return Vehicle.
Spoilers end here.
Characters in The Fifth Man
- Astronaut Kennedy "The Hampster" Hampton, Mission Commander
- Astronaut Alexis "Lex" Ohta, Pilot Officer
- Astronaut Robert "Kaggo" Kaganovski, Mission Specialist, Engineering Systems
- Astronaut Valerie "Valkerie" Jansen, Mission Specialist, Life Sciences and Crew Medicine
- Astronaut Joshua "Josh" Bennett, Flight Director
- Nathan "Nate" Harrington, Mars Mission Director
- Steven Perez, NASA Administrator
- Special Agent Crystal Yamaguchi, FBI
- Cathe Willison, engineer
Allusions/references to other works
The Fifth Man is a sequel to Oxygen, an earlier novel in which the same crew suffers damage due to explosion that almost causes them to die of suffocation.
Allusions/references to actual history and current science
This novel, and its prequel, uses concepts adapted from the Mars Semi-Direct mission profile proposed, and under active research, by the Mars Society. As such, these novels are two of the most realistic novels yet written that describe what the first crewed mission to Mars, and the program of which it is a part, might look like and how it might actually work.
Literary significance & criticism
The Fifth Man continues the trend in Christian fiction away from the preachy, tract-like novels of the 1990's and toward novels with "crossover appeal." These are novels that a non-Christian might appreciate nearly as well as does a Christian. Christian science fiction is very rare, primarily because of the inherent restrictions that apply to a Christian novel—in this case, that such a novel may not create a character or a situation for which the Bible holds no warrant. Thus, while the title of this work strongly suggests an extrasolar visitor as an agent that assaults the astronauts (and ultimately murders one of them), no Christian novel can possibly accept such a concept. Thus the agent of the mayhem that plagues and pursues the astronauts must be a human agent. The realization of this fact has led some readers to criticize The Fifth Man severely, accusing the authors of the literary equivalent of bait-and-switch.
Yet a close read of this novel and its prequel Oxygen clearly shows that the same character responsible for killing Astronaut Hampton and almost killing the rest of the crew, was also responsible for the failed "lifeboat" mission in the earlier novel. More to the point, however, a Fifth Man does exist on Mars. The surviving astronauts see him very briefly before they make their hurried take-off. They do not recognize him, but anyone who has read Daniel 3 probably will. Thus the Fifth Man is extraterrestrial, after all, but not in the usual sense in modern popular culture.
Awards and nominations
Allusions/references from other works
No other works allude to The Fifth Man or its characters.
The motion picture rights to The Fifth Man are not known to have been sold to any motion-picture producer.