Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Review: Adrift on the Sea of Rains

A few months ago, I misguidedly promised Ian Sales that I'd read his (rather beautifully, it must be said) self-published novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains and that if I enjoyed it I'd say something nice about it in public.  I figured I could get away with reading a page or two, dismissing it and then quietly forgetting about the whole thing, having at least been nice enough to splash out on a copy.

Now, maybe I should have guessed from the fact that so many big name authors have expressed their admiration for Adrift - see, for example, Lavie Tidhar's gushing praise here - that my scheme was flawed.  Probably I'd just assumed Ian had preyed upon the basic weakness of every writer and plied them with free booze.  Needless to say, I wasn't banking on Adrift on the Sea of Rains turning out to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

But it was, and a month on from reading it, with nothing else pressing to talk about, it still is ... so I guess it's time I said something nice.

I won't spoil too much of the story, since Adrift unfolds in such a delicate and careful fashion, in such neatly unfolding layers, that you're better coming to it with minimal foreknowledge.  Our cast are a crew of astronauts - or lunanauts? - trapped in an impossible situation by a cruel yet very plausible twist of geopolitical fate, and then offered a tiny sliver of hope and an ever-diminishing window in which to take advantage of it.  How they go about doing so, along with a parallel back-story that steadily fills in the gaps of why things went so wrong in the first place, is the meat of Ian's tale.  Try and imagine something akin to Clarke's A Fall of Moondust had it been written with some of Gene Wolfe's elusiveness and you'll have a fair idea of what to expect.

I know Ian's proud of the hard science aspects of Adrift, and justifiably so; he's brought a physicality and a richness of detail to his tale that's terrifically hard to get right without falling into nitpicking, and without sacrificing the all-important sense of awe that a story like this needs.  But what makes it that bit more fun (and for something so determined to be scientifically rigorous, Adrift is a whole hell of a lot of fun) is how all that rich scientific realism is coupled to such a basically preposterous plot; that Ian takes his believable characters and their believable setting and hurls them at a concept that include Nazi mad science, inter-dimensional travel and cold war paranoia at its most extreme.

It's preposterous, it has no right to work, and yet it does, with remarkable elegance.  It achieves everything a good story needs to and does all of it well, which is greater praise that it might seem on the surface.  And unless you're a certified expert on the US space program, it will probably even teach you stuff - not to mention igniting your interest to know more, so that you can begin to separate out Ian's carefully woven web of fact and fiction.  In short, it's small wonder of modern science-fiction and, if that sounds at like your thing, you really should go buy a copy.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this myself, and your review does it justice.