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on 23 May 2014
Ian Sales' Apollo Quartet is an unabashed glorification of the heydays of NASA infused with speculative science fiction. The first story, a novella titled "Adrift on the Sea of Rains" (2012), is heavily based on material researched from NASA's moon landing integrated with the lore of Nazi wonder-weapons or powerful tools, generally called Wunderwaffe (unrelated to Sales' similarly titled shortstory [2012]).

Before approaching "Adrift on the Sea of Rains", the reader should possess or otherwise assume three attributes: (1) glorify the science and personages of early NASA to the point of idolization, (2) have a high toleration for acronyms (for which there is an appendix), and (3) able to suspend belief for the enjoyment of a story.

The 53 pages of the EPUB file contains 39 pages of story and 11 pages of appendices which feature a list of abbreviations, a glossary, a bibliography, and a list of online resources. The glossary is a mix of NASA historical fact mixed with speculation about an alternative reality of NASA's space program (beyond Apollo 17).

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Initially, NASA's space mission were an attempt to supersede Soviet prowess in the same field of study and to gain the upper hand on the new battlefield miles above the Earth, but the American people fell in love with the lore of astronauts and the glory of victory. NASA continued the mission in the name of science, leaving Americans disenfranchised with the glow of space victory. Science began to reign supreme, legends became myth and the whole charade of space exploration became merely a tool of science.

Colonel Vance Peterson, USAF, is station on the moon. That base, Falcon Base, was established in 1984 with modified modules destined for America's space station named Freedom. The original four members were later joined by a crew of eight. The central focus of Falcon Base is The Bell, a relic of Nazi science left over from World War II, which the Americans stole and have been experimenting with for years. The primary scientist, Kendall, said that the only way to truly test The Bell's function was to put it in near-Vacuum. So, up The Bell went to the moon, to Falcon Base with its 100-kilowatt nuclear reactor.

The atmosphere at the base, once driven by routine and command, falls into uncertainty when the war blankets Earth. The American bases carry no word to the moon and soon the Earth is obliviously a dead planet. The men on the moon are the last humans alive, all abandoned by their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues and government. However, their one hope rests on Kendall's persistent meddling with The Bell, a construction "nine feet in diameter and twelve feet high" which houses the central experiment of a substance called "Xerum-525" (sounds exactly like this mythical Nazi wonder-weapon).

Fortunately for the crew of Falcon Base, The Bell offers hope. Though only Kendall may understand, sometimes superficially at that, the device, the result of the Nazi gadget is a jump through alternative worlds. Before each jump, Peterson is sent to the moon's surface to witness any visual change on Earth. After so many successive rounds of jumping, the Earth, home, has remained a barren landscape scarred by the tensions between the Americans and the Soviets.

Peterson has had his own run-ins with the Soviets and has even had the rare pleasure of killing a communist while flying. His hatred of the Soviets know no end while his ache for his return to America holds aloft the hope he meekly instills in The Bell. Though the others in the crew are not as disciplined as Peterson, he keeps himself sane by running through his routine and hoping to find an Earth that is close to the one that had seen die before their eyes...

...then one appears, a beautiful blue marble. While "the men on Falcon Base can listen, but they cannot be heard" (21-22), no one responds to their calls. One thing is noticeable though: there' s one space station in orbit around the Earth. Memories of America's station, Freedom, offers them additional hope that rescue or acknowledgement of their plight is possible. In order to secure that possibility of rescue, the astronauts-cum-scientists brainstorm or ways on reaching either Earth or Freedom. When the numbers are tabulated, trajectories plotted and fuel concentrated, the likelihood of escaping from moon's desolation looks good.

Peterson begins his ascent from the moon and descent toward Earth.

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Obviously, this must be a pet project of Sales. The amount of detail imparts an authenticity to the novella, a deft touch of attention to detail that shows careful consideration. While this detail doesn't exactly make for light reading, it does add an element of first-person perspective to the story--what's important to the astronaut is carried through the narrative, be it the physics of flight control or controlling the waves of uncertainty.

With Peterson's fixation of hope comes the obverse niggling doubt; he doesn't understand The Bell and finds it difficult to place hope on a piece of Nazi construction and its borderline batty scientist, Kendall. Regardless of all subjective observations, there is one truth to Peterson: he is stuck on the moon, over three hundred thousand miles away from a dead Earth. Among the subjective observations and objective truths lay the emotional states of his past and present; he fosters distaste for Commies while feeling nostalgia for being in cockpit of various jets (e.g., the SR-91 and the F-108D). These mission characterize Peterson as a brash, gung-ho pilot unfazed by danger or confrontation.

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Considering the series is a thematic Quartet, I hope to see the remaining three stories follow a similar feel: a foundation of hard details supporting a speculative wonder clouded by an atmosphere of isolation and desperation. The remaining stories in the Quartet are:
· Book 2, novella: "The Eye Which the Universe Beholds Itself" (2013)
· Book 3, novella: "Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above" (2013)
· Book 4, "All That Outer Space Allows" (yet-to-be published)
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on 8 August 2013
To start with this is not the normal type of book that I would choose to read, and it is not a full length, rather a novella.

Set in an alternative time line where the world suffered a third world war in the 1980′s and has been shattered by nuclear armageddon. The only known survivors are a group of US astronauts living on the moon, isolated and alone they face a rather bleak future, with only a faint hope in the form of a device recovered from the Nazi's at the end of World War II

The above might make the book seem to be some Science Fantasy romp, but it is not, probably one of the most `hard' Science Fiction books I have read, where in many ways the emphasis is on the science. It is easy to believe that the lunar base is real, that spaceflight is real because the information we are supplied with, the description and science feels real. It is obvious that Sales knows his stuff and his research is in depth and encompassing. I would imagine it would have easy to hit the reader again and again with in a lot more detail, but he has in fact hit the balance just right. Not too much, rather just enough to give the feeling that what is being read could be real.

Even the more fantastical elements of the story, in this instance The Bell are things that have been drawn from reality, or at least reported in reality. The space-station that appears towards the end of the story really existed. The technology is real. So there is that feeling that this really is an alternative universe, somewhere close to our own, where the Moon program continued well beyond where it did in our own.

Unfortunately, as stated that is not the only change, and nuclear war happened too. And this plays a major part in narrative, as the main story is interspersed with `flashback' sequences, each one a little further back in time, featuring the principal character, ending with a little twist where we find the moment where our realities diverge.

It is highly entertaining reading, easily capturing the depression and near despair of the men trapped on the moon, and delivering opposing emotional responses as the story continues, while giving an ending that will make you want to throw the book across the room - in a good way.

In all, well written, a good story, and it made me keep reading even though it is not my normal fare? What more can I say?
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on 24 February 2015
The general scenario for this had me civilisation the offset - A small group of men, engineers, scientists, military, stranded on the moon as the Earth dies in a nuclear holocaust. The only hope of salvation lies with a 'gadget' that may help them find an alternative/parallel Earth. If they succeed, though, will they be able to reach it with their limited resources and what kind of Earth will they find?

This is a tightly written and tense, atmospheric book. I don't tend to use phrases like "not a word wasted" but in this case I will. There is a sense of loss and desperation amongst the men that is palpable.You also get a backstory of the lead character that fills in the details of what leads. up to the final days of life on Earth

I will say there are a lot of abbreviations both scientific and military but worry not, there's a glossary at the back.

Not a long book but a lot of story all the same, and just the right length. As the first in a quartet it does the job by making me want to read the rest.

A job well done.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2012
I bought this book because of a review in Interzone magazine, the problem I found is getting hold of it. Eventually I found the best way is via the Whippleshield Books website (easily found via a quick internet search). £5.99 buys you a hardback signed copy, you can't ask for better value than that and it is a fantastic read.
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on 27 August 2014
This is a relatively easy read, and is quite short, not bad to occupy some time without requiring too much thought. There is a fair amount of technical jargon, to the extent that a glossary is included, though that didn't detract from the narrative for me, though I'm one of those geeky people who lived through the Apollo programme as a schoolboy and soaked this all up back then - it may be offputting to someone new to this. It's really an Apollo 'fan-fiction' novel of an alternative future timeline when the programme wasn't cancelled, when there was a 3rd World War, and there was some incredible Nazi technology to give the few remaining survivors hope. Personally I think the stretch is too big to accept when it comes to 'secret Nazi technology', and jarred with the otherwise meticulous attention to technical detail. If Dr Who had come strolling across the moon with sonic screwdriver in hand I wouldn't have been surprised.
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on 23 September 2014
I have a problem sometimes with alternative histories, in that they tend towards extremes. It’s natural. Authors try to show why its good the Axis powers lost or bad the native Americans did. But the exaggerations can overwhelm. This is not one of those times. The seams here are so tight someone reading ‘Adrift’ 80 years from now will be double-checking their history. One of the ways Ian achieves this is through craft. This book reads like a story from the actual time (a time that doesn’t exist, but, you know, if it did) akin to reading James Michener’s Space had things unfolded differently. (It is thankfully much shorter and, the writing a little more to my liking.) It is also more taught. The tension that propels this story is not over-the-top, Hollywood style. No robots and laser rifles. It is the kind of tension that exists in the real world, making this one feel that much more authentic. Loved it.
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on 2 August 2013
A great SciFi story!

From the outset we find ourselves in the moon, as good as captive, staring at a death earth... when are we? How will we leave the moon? Can we recover the earth?

As we slowly unravel the 'now' we alternate and learn more from our characters and the build up to their current situation.

When you read it, please make sure to read the appendix detailing the chronology/history of the moon and space exploration programs.

A fantastic story with an amazing backdrop and a beautifully detailed, yet simple back story.

I look forward to the remainder of the Apollo Quartet!
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on 20 September 2014
Sales has produced a clever little novella that mixes all technical detail beloved of "hard" science fiction fans with smart, character driven storytelling. It's a balance that is unusual enough to make "Adrift of the Sea of Rains" seem like an rare, beautiful thing. If I have a reservation - and it's a minor one - I didn't think it quite lands the ending. But this shouldn't put you off. If you have any interest in science fiction, or even if you don't and want to try something well-written and intelligent in an unusual setting, this little book will reward your attention. Highly recommended - and so are the follow-ups.
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on 24 July 2015
The first book in this quartet sets the tone nicely: a disaffected astronaut, one of several, is marooned on the moon, and the only hope of returning to Earth lies in a strange device called a torsion field generator.

This story is short, but beautifully written and immaculatively researched. You still get a lot of bang for your buck. Sales sets up some wonderful resonances - but I won’t spoil it for you.

Overall, a great read, and exactly the kind of science fiction I’d like to spend my time reading: accessible, ambitious, genuine, and thoroughly researched.
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on 5 June 2015
Great retro SciFi with a sixties Apollo and cold war theme brings in many of the fiction obsessions of the era like Nazi super weapons, nuclear Armageddon and astronauts with the "Right Stuff" I particularly liked the flashback aerial combat sequences.
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