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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly vivid high tech sci-fi, 21 Jan 2013
By 
A. Butler "tanj666" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (Kindle Edition)
Ian Sales seems to know a lot about NASA space flight. An awful lot. He seems to be able to write heaps and heaps of gorgeous techie data about the subject. So that's what he does in this series of books.

Masses of glorious techie detail.

This is NOT BAD THING. It adds so much depth to the stories, so much realism. You can put yourself in a Lander Module, you can see the switches, the gauges, feel the cramped conditions, everything!

The characters in these stories are ordinary folks, just doing their jobs. They have feelings and emotions just like the rest of us. Feelings and emotions that I defy any reader not to identify with.

This story is split into two constantly juxtaposing positions. In one part, the first man to land on Mars. In the second a man undertakes a mission to another planet. Two intertwined stories about the life and work of an astronaut, doing their jobs, pushing the boundaries for humanity.

Just like his earlier Apollo Quartet story, Adrift on The Sea Of Rains, the story is intensely engaging and totally unputdownable!

If you enjoyed 'Adrift', then you'll love this. Also look for one of his other books, 'Wonderwaffe' - another alternate history in a completely different vein.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another marvellous story ..., 21 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (Kindle Edition)
The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself is the second piece in Ian Sales' Apollo Quartet. It follows Adrift On The Sea Of Rains, an alternate history in which a continued Cold War between the USA and the USSR went hot, and resulted in a US station on the Moon, a station that was left to its own devices as the Earth was destroyed, and in which a Nazi wonder weapon offers a glimmer of hope, eventually revealing an Earth unravaged by nuclear war, with a space station clearly visible in Earth orbit, and a remote chance of rescue.

The Eye ... is a different story of the Apollo program and another alternate history. In this one a different cold war has progressed and led to the Apollo technology being used to put a man on Mars and return him home again, with an ultimately terrible secret. It's a secret that gives interstellar travel to the USA, but at an unknown and potentially unknowable cost, and at a very personal cost to the man involved. It is not the exact same universe as Adrift ..., but thematically it's the same. The Apollo technology is central to the story in both pieces of the quartet so far and it shines in the role, but human nature is also a fundamental ingredient - conflict and individual heartache counterpoints the cold equations of the physics involved. Ultimately, it's the humanity of the stories that drives their emotional impact - Sales' spare and sparse voice as a storyteller works perfectly here. The understated nature of the prose belies the intense feelings of the protagonists.

There is something about both of these stories that speaks to me at a fundamental and almost visceral level. I think it's because I'm the right age: I grew up through the `60s, I was at high school when the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. I sat in my school home room and listened to the broadcast and commentary from the radio as Armstrong stepped down onto the Moon. I was there - I felt it. I was hanging on every broadcast when Apollo 13 went sour. And much later, I got to (very very briefly) meet Buzz Aldrin at a conference in San Francisco.

The Apollo Quartet so far has offered me a way to recall those wonderful feelings that I experienced as a teenager watching the original Apollo programme from a new and fresh prospective.

Highly recommended - I'm very much looking forward to the next instalments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sales does it again - another impressive hard SF alternate history of the US Space Programme, 5 May 2013
By 
`The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself' is the second volume in Ian Sales' `Apollo Quartet' of alternate history SF novellas. The first volume, `Adrift on the Sea of Rains', won the BSFA Award for Best Short Fiction earlier this year, recognition that I think is thoroughly deserved. It does, however, mean that this second volume has a lot to live up to.

It's worth making clear up front that the storyline in this novella is completely unrelated to that in the first volume. I initially made the incorrect assumption that the two volumes would share the same alternate history timeline; they do not. They each represent different takes on how the American space programme might have developed. If you realise this from the start, you won't suffer any of the confusion I felt on my first reading of the story.

The story follows US Air Force astronaut Bradley Elliott as he travels from Earth to the habitable exoplanet nicknamed `Earth Two'. This lies fifteen light years from home in the Gliese 876 star system. There is a human research base operating on Earth Two, but this has recently gone silent. Elliott's mission is to travel to the base on a converted asteroid that has been fitted with a faster-than-light quantum spacedrive and find out what has happened.

During the journey, Elliott thinks back two decades to the high point of his space career, when in 1979 he became the first human to walk on Mars. While he was there he found an alien artefact, the information from which directly led to the development of the FTL drive that allowed America to travel to Earth Two. He dwells on the fact that his wife almost left him during the Mars mission, unable to cope with the uncertainty and danger to her husband. Twenty years on, his decision to travel to a different star system is more than she can take. She has walked out on him, seemingly for good, and he wonders what he has to come home to now. However, he first needs to find out what's happened on Earth Two.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novella that bears repeated re-readings. As with its predecessor, there is a lot of technical detail included. Those with a bent for hard SF should enjoy the level of technical realism that this delivers. However, Sales marries this to incisive characterisation, both of the world-weary Elliott and the other astronauts he deals with, most of whom wonder rather cynically why this semi-retired celebrity astronaut has been given such an important mission. There are also some lovely passages of description, bringing us close to the experience of being on Mars and on Earth Two.

The only criticism I would make of this book is the same one I made of its predecessor. When a story is so clearly signposted as being hard science fiction, not just through the level of technical detail included in the story but also through the inclusion of a list of abbreviations, technical glossary, bibliography and list of online sources, any element that smacks of handwavium has the potential to disturb the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. For me, the addition of a faster-than-light spacedrive, seemingly developed by the US military within a mere five years of finding an alien artefact on Mars, stretches credibility near to breaking point. However, since this is vital to the story, I think we just have to swallow it and move on.

I bought the limited edition numbered and signed hardcover of the novella. It is a very nicely finished little hardback with a great cover image and makes for a lovely collector's item.

Ian Sales has done it again. `The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself' is an intelligent and thought-provoking novella that gives us another intricately detailed alternate history of the US Space Programme. It is a worthy successor to `Adrift on the Sea of Rains' and deserves to receive a similar level of critical success. I look forward to the second half of the Apollo Quartet with great anticipation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant., 22 Jan 2013
By 
Glen Mehn (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (Kindle Edition)
The second in Ian Sales' Apollo Quartet, four novellas set in a shared universe. The second, like the first, shows meticulous research into Apollo spaceflight, giving us a picture of what might have been had it not died. General Bradley Emerson, the only man to have ever gone to Mars, is now being pulled out of retirement for a final mission. The action drifts between his 1979 Mars mission and the 1999 "present". The story is one of discovery, of governments and paranoia, but it is a deep, personal story as well, and it's beautiful. Read it, and the first.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself, 18 Jan 2013
By 
Orin Thomas - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (Kindle Edition)
The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself is the second in Ian Sales' hard SciFi alternate reality Apollo quartet novellas. Each novella gives us a glimpse at a world where the Apollo program started in the same places as our own, but diverted onto a different, longer, and more successful path. In Eye, Sales retains the stylistic approach that grounded Adrift and made it feel like a realistic extension of the Apollo program. Rather than Adrift's Apollo program that lead to a moonbase, Eye gives us an Apollo program that leads to a NASA landing on Mars at Cydonia in 1980. As was the case with Adrift, Sales provides the reader with an extensive glossary that details the Apollo and later Ares programs, deftly weaving real history with alternate universe extrapolation. If you loved the atmosphere that Sales evoked in Adrift, you'll love Eye. Eye is a worthy successor to Adrift and I can't wait to read the next novella in Sales' Apollo quartet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, detail-oriented SF., 2 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (Kindle Edition)
The second of the Apollo Quartet novellas does not disappoint, with an engaging and clever premise that unfolds with deliberate care through to the final pages. Stunning work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Sales: Destined for the Stars, 19 Feb 2013
By 
Cliff Burns (Western Canada) - See all my reviews
THE EYE WITH WHICH THE UNIVERSE BEHOLDS ITSELF is more than a worthy followup to the first book of the "Apollo Quartet", it is a triumph of imagination and ingenuity. Mr. Sales knows his stuff, combining nuts and bolts engineering with taut, smart prose and vivid characterizations. The British author has already earned a solid reputation, thanks to numerous appearances in magazines and anthologies, but the (eventually) four books of the "Quartet" will, I predict, elevate him in stature to the extent where he will (deservedly) stand alongside more celebrated contemporaries like Alastair Reynolds and Ken Macleod.

Check him out now, climb on the bandwagon while there's still room: Ian Sales is destined to be a superstar of science fiction, an artist whose work will be read and revered for many years to come.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gosh, 2 Feb 2013
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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So good it's hard to know where to begin.

In Adrift on the Sea of Rains Sales gave us the first part of his Apollo Quartet - a story of alternate history in two senses: the Apollo programme had gone much further than in reality, and it had been used to establish a reality-busting technology that aimed to dial between universes.

In Book 2 of the Quartet, we get another universe again, with yet another version of Apollo, and a landing on Mars. As in Book 1, Sales seem utterly assured in handling the details of Apollo. I don't know whether the developments he postulates (in both books) were actually on NASA's drawing boards when the programme was cancelled, but they are absolutely convincing, as is the lead character, Bradley Elliott. He is a pioneering astronaut who has been sent to investigate an anomaly in deep space, in a plot which to begin with I thought was going to echo Arthur C Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two - but which turns out to be far, far weirder.

Elliott was the first (and only) man on Mars, and this story interleaves his landing there with his later expedition. It revels in the detail of the spacecraft and their operations, right up to the moment when Elliott's second mission concludes.

This is a brilliant book. At its heart is a mystery - the mystery that Elliott sets out to solve. The resolution of that involves a second, scientific mystery, a question the reader may well spot in the course of the book (but which isn't spelled out, so I won't reveal it here). The solutions of these mysteries are related, and turn on an appeal to physics which for me was breathtaking, making this book even better than its predecessor.

I'm now eagerly awaiting Books 3 and 4 - I will be interested to see what other possibilities Sales finds in the Apollo programme, and how he much further he can bend history and science to exploit them.
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