ADRIFT ON THE SEA OFÂ RAINS by I Sales, Whippleshield Books, p/b, ebook http://www.whippleshieldbooks.com/
Reviewed by Glen Mehn
Ian Sales combines considerable talent with a vivid imagination and serious research to bring us ‘Adrift on the Sea of Rains’. This novella, coming in at 75 pages, manages to combine classic hard SF, including historical detail (hint: use the glossary of abbreviation in the appendices) to create an alternate present with real, vivid characters.
This novella shares a skeleton with stories like ‘Apollo 13′. At its most basic, it is a story of humans struggling against the most hostile environment possible: outer space. The characters come to life through their struggles. The story takes place on the moon, in a world where the Apollo programme has continued on, as has the Cold War. Nuclear annihilation has taken place on the planet, and all that seems to exist of humanity are the remaining 9 (of a dozen who’d initially survived â€“ the others had “rotated out” in Sales’ typical military euphemism for suicide) American astronauts, their supplies running low as they fruitlessly go through the motions of their posting.
Fortunately, one of them has a Nazi Wunderwaffe: A relic from the war which no one understands, but there is a scientist, completely out of his element and his depth, who has been researching it some years. It has the power to move the group through to alternate universes. Their task, the only task that matters, is to seek and find a live world they can return to. For eighteen months they have been searching, and nothing is going right. In fact, like Shackleton’s voyage, everything goes wrong, even when it goes right.
The magic of the story happens in the characters’ minds: Sales has captured with aplomb the minds of intelligent men given over to the rigours of military life; those men are put into a hopeless situation and must work together against odds to return home, a return which a thousand difficult tasks need to go right. The men are cracking under the strain, slowly.
The hopelessness of the Cold War seems like ancient history now, but there was a time â€“ just twenty years ago â€“ that global thermonuclear war was assumed; in primary school, we learned that “Stop, Drop, and Cover” wouldn’t do us any good, but that we still could destroy the world a dozen times over, with no end in sight. There was a sort of fatalist optimism in the mind, and Sales has taken that sense and laid it on top of of these men.
Sales builds the characters and situations up from many layers, military manhood, Cold War paranoia, Armageddon, hope in the face of grim reality, Yankee ingenuity, laid carefully on each other to create a gripping alternate present that you don’t want to visit, but that you’ll be thrilled to read about.
It is billed as the first of the Apollo Quartet, and I look forward to the following three.
n.b. – I’ve read the ebook version and the print version of this: Do yourself a favour and get the print version. About the size of your ereader, but the print version was done with real care, and is a joy to behold.