This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

20 November, 2013


Cover by Kay Sales


ISBN: 978-0-9571883-6-5
Pages: 71
Publisher: Whippleshield Books
Published: 30 November 2013

On the cover:

 It is April 1962. The Korean War has escalated and the US is struggling to keep the Russians and Chinese north of the 38th parallel. All the men are away fighting, but that doesn’t mean the Space Race is lost. NASA decides to look elsewhere for its astronauts: the thirteen women pilots who passed the same tests as the original male candidates. These are the Mercury 13: Jerrie Cobb, Janey Hart, Myrtle Cagle, Jerri Sloan, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Bernice Steadman, Wally Funk, Sarah Gorelick, Gene Nora Stumbough, Jean Hixson, Rhea Hurrle and Irene Leverton. One of these women will be the first American in space. Another will be the first American to spacewalk. Perhaps one will even be the first human being to walk on the Moon.

Beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, deep in the Puerto Rico Trench north of San Juan, lies a film bucket from a KH-4 Corona spy satellite. It should have been caught in mid-air by a C-130 from the 6549th Test Group. That didn’t happen. So the US Navy bathyscaphe Trieste II must descend twenty thousand feet to retrieve the bucket, down where light has never reached and the pressure is four tons per square inch. But there is more in the depths than anyone had expected, much more.

This is not our world. But it very nearly was.

    Having previously enjoyed the first two Apollo Quartet books (reviews here and here), I was really looking forward to see what Sales would do this time. That's one of the strengths of the Apollo Quartet; the books are themed around the US space program that led to the Moon landing, but Sales does something different with it each time. This time we get pure Alternate History, the timeline doesn't even reach 1970. But Sales sticks to the science so judiciously that this in many ways reads like Hard SF, or more precisely like Hard SF of the 1950s could have been.

   There's two very distinct story threads this time around. The main one concerns female astronauts. And before I even go into this book, I have to commend Sales for digging up some history on this part of the story. Some of that is shown in a short section at the end of the book, but it really is something I want to look into further.
   The story of the female astronauts is also a very gripping one. There's a lot of tension in some of the things that are going on. This is solid storytelling, and it will come out favourably compared to any Science Fiction concerned with human near-Earth space travel. It may feel a bit old-fashioned because of the time it is set in, but that doesn't detract from it as a very compelling story in my opinion.
   With the solid factual base behind it, and Sales' excellent extrapolations from it, this reads very much like a history of human space exploration. Sales also gives us a plausible explanation for why events have turned the way they have in this timeline, and you can see how easily this could have been our world.

   In the other story Sales goes off at the deep end, literally. We're taken on a very deep sea dive outside of Puerto Rico. There's the same kind of tense excitement here as in the other story thread, we are after all in another environment that is hostile to human life.
   We get a slightly different type of story here though, this has a bit more of the Spy Thriller in it, and there's even an element here that comes straight from the fringes of UFOlogy. That is not to say that this lacks in realism in any way. In fact there's not really anything that says this isn't what really happened. At least until the very end.

   Both of the stories are more introspective than action oriented. We follow the inner thoughts of the two protagonists and these are important to the novella. I never missed any action, or more outright Science Fiction elements though.They are simply not needed here, and would just get in the way of what Sales wants to tell us.

   The characters become important in stories such as these, and how you feel about them can be integral to your enjoyment of what you are reading. The two we meet here are nice to get acquainted with. Although this is a novella we do get fairly close to them, and can see what makes them tick in the situations we see them. That the level of characterisation is so good makes this feel like it spans over a much greater number of pages. Sales manages to convey a lot in the few pages he has allowed himself.

   All in all this is a very good novella. The story is compelling in itself but the history behind it, that is given an alternate twist, gives it more depth and punch. This is a story that has importance outside of genre, and deserves to be read widely far outside the confines of SFF.
   This is absolutely brilliant Alternate History, it covers angles that is (as far as I know) ignored within that genre, and stands as a great testament to how serious and close to reality you can get within this genre.
   Sales is again showing that he can write very engaging fiction about space exploration while sticking to the rules of Hard SF. This is fascinating and engaging storytelling with enough depth to satisfy the most discerning reader.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the author.

REVIEWS: Adrift on the Sea of Rains  The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself

LINKS: Ian Sales  Whippleshield Books

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