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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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Like a good starter, this short book left me anticipating more to come.

As it opens, we find a group of astronauts from some alternate reality extended Apollo programme sheltering in a moonbase as Earth is destroyed by nuclear war. It would appear that they will die lingering deaths... However, they happen to posses a highly classified piece of Nazi technology, the Bell, which they may be able to use to alter reality and somehow "evolve" a habitable Earth back. But even if they can do so, there's still the little matter of getting back there.

The story follows Col Vance Peterson, commander of the base, who is the only character really delineated in any detail - we get a fair bit of his history told in flashbacks. It is remarkable for the level of technical detail given, as the problem of returning to Earth is brainstormed. The book leaves open a great many questions, not least what, exactly, is the Bell? - and as it is described as the first part of the Apollo Quartet, I'm looking forward to more.
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on 15 October 2012
'Adrift on the Sea of Rains' is the first in a four-novella series of alternate reality hard science fiction stories by British writer, anthologist and reviewer Ian Sales.

This first volume of the Apollo Quartet tells the story of Colonel Vance Peterson and his crew, condemned to a slow, lingering death on a US Moonbase after nuclear war obliterates all life on Earth. Their one hope is 'The Bell', a piece of Nazi-era technology that is able to throw them into parallel universes. If they can jump to a parallel timeline that precedes the nuclear exchange, perhaps they will be able to look up at an Earth that is a living blue once more? But can they survive the endless tedium and an almost total breakdown in the relationships between the astronauts while they're waiting?

This is definitely a novella for the hard SF fan. It is well researched and stuffed full of Apollo-era terminology - so much so that the book includes a list of acronyms and a glossary, explaining not just what the APS (Ascent Propulsion System) is, for example, but also the launch schedule of the real and imagined Apollo missions that created the Moonbase which Colonel Peterson commands.

Sales is adept at switching between detailed descriptions of the technical equipment that keeps these few remaining humans alive in the hostile environment of the Moon's surface and haunting evocations of the emptiness of their daily routines, carried out in the increasingly vain hope that the mysterious Bell machine will rescue them from despair. You can almost taste the claustrophobia.

Colonel Peterson comes across as a man who is barely holding himself together in the face of their likely fate. Anger seethes just below the surface, and his constant need to get into his spacesuit and go for a walk outside the base highlights how isolated from his crew he has allowed himself to become.

I really enjoyed this novella. Like Sales, I'm a child of the Apollo era. While studying physics at university I got very interested in the technical detail of those missions and I remain in awe of NASA's achievements at that time. I love reading science fiction that ties itself in to the far from mundane realities of astronautics, and Sales has done that in spades. If you've watched some of the Apollo footage, perhaps even read books about the missions, and wondered what it might have been like to have actually been there, this story will put you right there with Colonel Peterson on Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Rains of the title.

My only slight criticism of the book follows from the above. This is an alternate reality story, where the Moon missions did not stop with Apollo 17 but continued for several years, with both civilian and military funding, and led to the building of a lunar base and a space station in Earth orbit. Most of this material is extrapolated from contemporary plans, so is certainly technically feasible. On top of this, however, the plot also involves the use of 'The Bell', a hypothetical Nazi 'torsion field generator', whose existence has been the subject of much speculation by Witkowski and others over the last decade or so. The effects of the device in this story, which are absolutely central to the plot, are however produced through a great deal of handwavium. Yet the glossary at the end of the novella includes all its entries - those that actually happened in our reality, those that might have happened if the Apollo programme had not been cancelled, and the invented properties of the hypothetical 'Bell' device - on an equal footing. Although that makes sense within the story context, I found this a bit confusing, and I think a little more flagging of the nature of the different entries might have been helpful to those not quite so intimately familiar with the history of manned spaceflight as Ian Sales so clearly is. This is, though, a minor quibble.

For those who like their science fiction hard and precise, 'Adrift on the Sea of Rains' will be a very welcome treat. I loved it, and I can't wait for the next volume in Sales' Apollo Quartet.
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on 17 August 2012
Commander Vance Peterson has been stuck on a base on the moon for two years together with eight other astronauts after the Earth annihilated itself in nuclear war. Each astronaut is handling the difficult situation in their own way. A strange device made during WW2 enables the castaways to find alternate Earths in the sky. When they finally see an undamaged Earth, with a space station in orbit around it, the astronauts must find a way to leave the moon and get help from the other Earth.

Adrift In A Sea Of Rains is a rare mix of realistic and more speculative science fiction. Everything is described in impressive detail; the lunar environment, the base, the equipment from the Apollo-program, the spacecraft, the aircraft, and late 20th century history. I can't imagine all the research that has gone into it.

Just about the only thing that is not realistic is the alternate universe device. However, the contrast between the speculative and very realistic science fiction feels a little jarring. That's mainly caused by the device's title, a "Wunderwaffe", which brings up images of silly space blimps and Nazi flying saucers in my mind.

Apart from that, I enjoyed the realism of the story, the harsh setting and the different variations on "the right stuff"-personality of the characters a lot. The portrayals are brief, but interesting, and I would have liked to see even more of the astronauts' interactions, even though they are not always friendly.

There are also many beautiful descriptions of the harsh environment and the situation, such as
"Peterson sits at his desk in the command centre, mapping the boundaries of his cabin fever."
" - leaves the spacesuit like a victim on the floor,"
"Scott has put away his personality, consigned it to some corner of his mind where it cannot be battered and bruised by their slow descent into despair."

These descriptions are more personal and lingering than one often finds in SF, and I found them deliciously effective. Sales' confident and somber voice fits the theme and setting perfectly.

The finish has a nice twist, although it feels a little rushed, and is an exciting cliffhanger for the next part. I am now very curious about what will happen in the rest of the quartet.
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on 6 December 2012
I read this book a few months ago and was captivated by the wonderful details and use of language. The descriptions of procedures and technology were so good, I felt I was actually there. Being an avid space junkie, I watch documentaries all the time and I got the feeling that Ian Sales was either an astronaut himself or worked in NASA, his descriptions were so very good.

The whole story revolved around a small lunar base and the people on it and what they did as they watched the Earth die.

I found this story incredibly detailed and believable. The details did not mask the story nor make it too wordy, they added a depth and colour to the story that made it real for me.

I cannot wait for the next books!
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on 15 May 2012
This novella is a love letter to the space program. The descriptions of the lunar landscape are beautiful and Sales' descriptions of rocket flight are truly empathic. The science behind mankind's voyages to the stars are described in detail that borders on pornography--the spacesuits and the walks across the lunar seas, the Velcro shoes used in the station's one sixth Earth gravity and the empty bands of radio that the stranded astronauts hopelessly scan. This isn't the space travel of space opera, not even the space travel of science fiction. This is the space travel of our own past, of Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong. This is the closest you'll get to orbit without being a billionaire.

However, there's no speech marks around the direct speech and it only serves to make the line between reader and character even thicker. Like all those pieces of tech, the characters are consistent and work the way they should... They just don't ever quite feel human. They're just one more part of the space program, no more or less important than the rockets or the lunar base.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains is a wonderful hard science novella that will make you feel as if you've left the Earth's surface perched atop over seven million pounds of thrust and kicked up the sand of the Moon's seas. Maybe it's fitting that the humans are reduced to another machine in the program, that they're put in their insignificant place in the cosmos. I miss it, though, that uniquely human element we always carry around in our skulls. Hence the missing star. However, I'll be fighting for my place in line when the rest of the Quartet lands.
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on 9 May 2012
I've read a few short stories and a Space Opera novel by Ian Sales and I find his writing to be enjoyable and informative so I was looking forward to reading this book. I'm not going to get too technical with my review. Mainly because I'm not very good at that, but mainly because Lavie Tidhar does it much better than I could in his review. Instead I'll go with my usual simplistic style.

I'm going to start by saying something controversial. Ian Sales reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkein. Don't laugh, let me finish. Tolkein invented entire languages just so he could write his books. It is that dedication to research which shines through everything the author writes, but this work in particular. We gain a glimpse in to this through the glossary and reference sections that are included at the back of this book. There is a serious amount of science fact in this fiction. In some ways this story is so believable that there is an eerie feeling about it . The story is set on the moon and captures the desolations and isolation that life on such a base must engender very well. At times I could feel the depression leaking out of the book and in to me. This depth of emotion was a surprise to me in this kind of short story. I did not see the last line coming but it fits perfectly and is the only way it could really end. The whole thing is tied together by the last word. Don't peek before you get there.

Flicking through the book you may be surprised that only half of the book is the short story. Somehow though each page seems to contain about a page and a half of writing. It is not particularly fast paced and full of action but the tension is palpable all the way through. Tonight I'll be choosing some of the terms in the glossary to read up on and I will certainly look up some of the references over the next few weeks. This book is hard work for a short story but the pay off for any science and military geek is well worth it. Even if you don't enjoy the story this book opens so many doors to new reading experiences that it would be churlish not to buy it and have a look.
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on 24 September 2012
Adrift on the Sea of Rains is a poignant and quietly powerful tale of an Apollo space program that never quite was the one that we, who lived through it, remember.

In this alternate history, the Cold War is much hotter and a militarised Apollo program has established a small moonbase that houses a secret technology project aimed at changing history. As the story opens, nuclear war has destroyed Earth and a handful of astronauts are stranded on the Moon with limited supplies and no chance of resupply. Most have drifted into an almost catatonic existence of ritual behaviours and tedium apart from the base commander and the scientist operating the secret project, who is trying to find an alternate history in which Earth is not destroyed. His success galvanises the group into action, to cobble together an Apollo return module to bring one man home safely to a space station they can see in Earth orbit, to mount a rescue for the others.

Sales has painted an exquisitely detailed picture of the Apollo era technology and blended our Cold War history into an all too believable version of what might otherwise have happened. Reading this story, the first of a quartet, in the days following the death of Neil Armstrong, shook me to the core and took me back to my schooldays and the thrills of the real Apollo program as it happened. It haunts me still - I can't stop thinking about it.
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on 7 November 2015
If British science fiction has been in the doldrums of late, then perhaps Ian Sales is launching it - almost single-handedly - back into orbit. Adrift... is hard as nails, grim and bleak as well as full of the joy and wonder of frontier exploration. Peterson and his fellows, exiles on the moon, disintegrate both physically and mentally just as their Earth has done, and the packed paragraphs reflect the claustrophobic nature of the story. The accuracy of the detail in the science and research is highlighted by the contrasting presence of The Bell, the story's cheeky nod to "handwavium" - but where some authors might make more of the Wunderwaffe, Sales very sensibly concentrates on Peterson's epic voyage home. And there's more to discover in these few pages than in most multi-volume sagas: hidden beneath the surface is an entire invented history, leading the reader to look back into our own world's canceled Apollo missions and wonder what might have been...

If anybody still believes that science fiction has nothing to offer to modern literature, they should be smacked around the head with this book.
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on 5 August 2013
An excellent read from cover to cover. And reading Adrift on the Seas of Rains in its entirety is necessary, if one wishes to experience the full richness of the novella. Sparse prose, rich imagination, and a story that is contained as much in the clever appendixes as in the titular story - taken as a whole this is a breath of fresh oxygen pumped into a fatally stale environment.

With only a handful of fiction commercially available, Ian Sales is proving to be a unique voice in science fiction, whose work harkens back to a science fiction we were promised, but never delivered.

By this I don't mean a bloated space opera or the cumbersome work of some of the seminal authors, for both good and bad, that established science fiction as a genre separate from the wider fantasies of pulp fiction. Rather, this is lean hard-science fiction that ties our greatest current achievements in space exploration, to a guardedly hopeful, future.

Not one to be missed and a writer not to be overlooked.
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