by Ian Sales
25 Words or Less:
Nine astronauts are stranded on the moon, with escape only possible for four of them — but there’s a still bigger problem lying in wait overhead…
Not bad. I like the minimalism, and (as a physical book) I expect it would look striking in the hand. The previous cover had something about it too.
Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:
Professional, no errors noted, British English.
Sales delivers what at first appears a flat, unadorned text, but there are hints at something a bit more substantial to the vocabulary peeking through. He also embraces use of Cormac McCarthyite minimal punctuation, at least regarding dialogue, which eschews quotation marks to delineate narrative text from the spoken word. They show up elsewhere, though, as do other symbols from the keyboard not limited to full-stops and commas. Cormac McCarthy-lite, then.
Characterisation & Dialogue:
Colonel Vance Peterson, USAF, is commanding officer of a military moon base with eight personnel under his command. His is a subdued viewpoint from which to explore the world, and rightly so, for reasons soon to become clear. In short order we also encounter Major Philip Scott, USMC, his executive officer; Lieutenant Robert McKay, USN, his communications officer; and Kendall, a goatee-bearded civilian (I presume) whose area of study should mark him out for mad-scientist status, but who in fact is just a bit thorny and not a fan of Peterson.
All these personalities are established quickly and concisely. The only misstep, for me, was in Peterson’s momentary reverie about the world he’d lost, in which his family were dashed off as “his blond wife and tow-headed son”. The strict limitation of colour in his current environment is made something of in the text, grey being oppressively dominant, but this detail felt a touch too much a characterisation shorthand, making him seem shallower rather than deeper. Still, a minor point.
Was I enticed by the story so far? Yes. Much like the similar off-planet (or off-Terra at least) disaster novel The Martian, we arrive in the story with the first big deal already in the past, and in its broadest strokes with the same results as well: a hero trapped in a hostile environment, far from any hope of rescue. The situational set-up is much the same between the two books: limited resources, fallible technology and a very loudly ticking clock. Beyond that, things diverge.
Whereas in The Martian the protagonist is absolutely alone and must survive (or not) by his own resourcefulness, in Adrift the isolation is both lesser and greater. There are nine surviving members of this lunar mission, outnumbering the berths on their sole escape vehicle by more than two-to-one. But even if they drew straws and the lucky four said their goodbyes, there is nowhere for them to go.
The Earth has been consumed by nuclear war. Two years later there is nothing to indicate any survivors apart from themselves, and there seems little to hold out hope for. Yet there is a hope… of a sort. A key reason the team is on the moon in the first place is in order to study the effects of a fantastical device, apparently captured from the Nazis: the torsion field generator, aka “the bell”, is capable of relocating the entire base between realities, which means there is a chance that the survivors could find a version of earth that has not been destroyed for them to return to. Some of them, anyway.
However, time is running out. There is every chance this constant usage will cause the bell to break down before they find a new refuge — and in just six months their supplies will be exhausted…
As with The Martian, Adrift features a fairly blatant bit of “black box” technology, although in this case I’m totally okay with it. The Martian is labelled hard sci-fi, which seems fine, it’s all about one man surviving on his skill-set against a mundanely deadly situation… but the fact that he has a magic machine capable of providing him with limitless free oxygen softens the science in much the same way boiling water softens rice. It feels like a gigantic dodge around an insurmountable obstacle, which rather undermines the cold hard reality bit.
Here, the magic machine is vastly more magical (well, I guess that’s arguable come to think of it), in that it bounces the survivors between parallel universes (or some such thing) in the hope of locating a non-apocalyptic home to return to. However, ultimately this has no impact on (what I assume will be) the core dilemma of the story: the decision over who will get to go home and who will be left on the moon to die. It’s simply another cool trapping of a more escalated story world.
The hard sci-fi version of this crisis would have to lose the torsion field generator and the nuclear apocalypse, but would otherwise present the same challenge to the characters. The truly hard sci-fi version of The Martian would have its hero suffocating face-down in an inadequate bed of moss long before any help arrived, probably wishing there was more air coming out of it…
Adrift on the Sea of Rains sets up an oppressive, low-key crisis situation in a suitably sparse and chilly style. Definitely on my radar for the near future.
TO BUY LIST
= Technicalities =
Title: Adrift on the Sea of Rains (The Apollo Quartet #1)
Author: Ian Sales
Price: $2.99 (July 2015)