I am looking for a science fiction novel that I read in ~2015 (English paperback). It could have been older, though, since I got it from a second-hand-books stall. I unfortunately gave it away some years later and cannot recall neither its title nor its author.

I remember only scattered elements about the plot:

  1. The main protagonist is a human woman
  2. In her first chapter, when she introduces herself, she begins by noting how she had "her 'first time' in zero gravity" with her future husband (lover?) who was the pilot of the starship she was travelling on (to Mars, if I remember correctly).
  3. She is sent together with other people in space for a first contact mission (?) with (what I seem to recall being) insectoid-ish aliens.
  4. As a part of the crew, there are three people in a legal polycule (one woman and two men).
  5. One of the men is a former army officer, who survived a biochemical attack that destroyed his country completely (this event was called 'Gehenna' in the book).
  6. The attack in question was a two-part nano-machine-based weapon. The first part was administered by tampering with the water supply of the country, the second triggered by a second chemical attack. Once a victim got both components, they stopped breathing and died of asphyxia. The man recalls having seen his mother performing a tracheotomy on herself to survive, only for it to fail and her to die anyway. He also recalls of another army officer that died years later, after having escaped Gehenna, just because he wore an old uniform that still carried traces of the second part of the bioweapon.
  7. The aliens send a construct in the shape of a human to communicate with the crew.
  8. At the end of the novel, the aliens destroy the Moon as a warning shot for Earthlings, using the human construct as a proxy to send their message on a worldwide broadcast.

I have tried googling for the above story points and checking TV Tropes (specifically the Moon Detonation page) with no success. I originally thought it was the novel called Judas Unchained, only to find out that that was instead another book from a series I read at that time (Commonwealth) and that had nothing to do with it.

  • 1
    H Beam Piper used "Gehenna" in some of his works, but (as I'm sure you found out) a real place, as well as a biblical punishment. However, I don't think Piper had any female lead protagonists.
    – bob1
    Commented Apr 16 at 21:01
  • 2
    @bob1 Take a gander at Omnilingual for a Piper female protagonist. Commented Apr 16 at 22:33
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    @OrganicMarble I had completely forgotten that one. One of the good ones too.
    – bob1
    Commented Apr 17 at 0:08
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    @bob1 Yes, great story! Commented Apr 17 at 0:27
  • @Andrea Jens I don't think that it makes any sense to take a ride to Mars. Commented Apr 21 at 2:12

1 Answer 1


I believe this is the Marsbound trilogy by Joe Haldeman, composed of Marsbound, Starbound, and Earthbound.

In the backstory of that trilogy, the entire population of Israel is killed by a two-component agent that prevents breathing (as you describe). The heroine is a teen girl who goes to Mars with her family, and encounters aliens. Another character survived the attack on Israel because he was never exposed to the second component - and he notes that the second component can be dangerous even years later.

The interstellar voyage occurs in Starbound - when the humans seek the creators of the artificial life forms on Mars, created to observe humanity.

In Marsbound, there's this quote about Gehenna:

Whoever caused Gehenna had started it months before, by contaminating the water supplies of Tel Aviv and Hefa. People who had lived in those cities even for a few days became carriers of the azazel, an initially harmless nano-organism that migrated to the lungs, to wait. It wasn't even organic, just a submicroscopic machine. Then the second part came.

  • 1
    JOE HALDEMAN! Thanks! This seems like it! The country was Israel, it rings a bell! Also, thanks to that link I remembered where I actually read it - in the 2012 Italian translation called "Verso le Stelle" (Starbound)! I will wait a little bit to accept it, but it really sounds like you got it! Commented Apr 16 at 21:10
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    If I've gotten it right, you can click the checkmark next to my answer- thanks
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 17 at 1:02
  • You did, I just needed to cross check it, so I waited before accepting the answer just to be 100% sure. From checking another couple of synopsis online, I confirmed it's Starbound. Thanks a lot! Commented Apr 17 at 5:07
  • 1
    Thanks. Cross-checking is a good idea.
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 17 at 10:14

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