Today’s placeholder while I’m off working on new stuff is a retro review from November 12, 2012.
It should come as no surprise that, while I enjoyed the opening installment of the Apollo Quartet, I haven’t read any of the three remaining books. That should in no wayThey form a thematic series and not one based on plot or setting.
Mr. Sales is the writer behind the It Doesn’t Have to Be Right entry on the blog role, and I got a review copy of this via LibraryThing.
Review: Adrift on the Sea of Rains, Ian Sales, 2012.
Apart from Stephen Baxter’s NASA trilogy, I’m not aware of any alternate histories of the American space program. Of course, given the disappointment of manned American lunar exploration just stopping, such an alternate history would be expected to postulate the effort continuing beyond Apollo 17.
And that is exactly what Sales gives us, a program that goes to Apollo 25 and beyond, specifically to Falcon Base, a lunar base permanently manned by American military personnel.
I recommend this book for any “space nut” or fan of alternate histories or those bemoaning a lack of science fiction tales about realistic space exploration. But it’s a recommendation with reservation and not a recommendation exclusive to those three groups.
The plot? One of simple desolation and desperation. World War III has finally broken out, and the conflict of the United States and the USSR has stranded those at Falcon Base, and their supplies are running out.
Sales takes his space technology, historical and imagined, very seriously. 22 of 75 pages are his appendix detailing technology and events, defining acronyms, and providing an extensive paper and online bibliography. This saves Sales from having to provide clumsy exposition in his narrative. I may not be the ideal test case since I’ve picked up some knowledge, via osmosis from my wife who is a space buff, about a lot of these acronyms and tech before, so I seldom resorted to the appendix and read it on finishing the tale.
However, there is one bit of technology which is a bit dodgy in maintaining this verisimilitude, but the plot requires it: the Bell, a Nazi wonder weapon which can only be safely tested on the moon.
Alternate history fans will appreciate the detail lavished on the military conflicts and alternate technology the Cold War precipitated in this timeline, detailed through flashbacks of Cold Warrior, astronaut, and Falcon Base commander, Colonel Vance Peterson. You will, however, be a trifle disappointed you can’t determine the hinge, the point at where the past of this world deviated from our own. (At least, I didn’t see it.)
Sales does give us a tale of heroic astronauts and engineers as well as despondency. Telling the story through Vance’s past and present, is effective in getting inside the man’s head. And that’s a good thing because, at its end, this story takes a very surprising turn which I’m not sure works. But I’m not sure it doesn’t work and that’s because the successful characterization of Peterson.
Finally, I have to admit, for someone around the age of Sales and myself, mentioning things like the Warsaw Pact invading West Germany is probably going to evoke old memories of looming terror younger readers can’t relate to. But you don’t need that nostalgic anxiety to appreciate this story.
I liked this story, and I look forward to the rest of the Apollo Quartet.