“…and he thought, he was here on the moon and it had all turned into goddamned science fiction.”
This line from Ian Sales’ long story, ‘Adrift on the Sea of Rains’, strikes the reader, because while the story is science fiction it is written as if it were not. The book is peppered with acronyms used by the American space program, in particular the Apollo projects, and even has a handy appendix at the back to help you decipher them. The book is crammed with verisimilitude.
Clearly a labour of love, an amalgam of fiction and carefully researched fact, it is hard to discuss the story without giving too much away. At the start of the book a team of astronauts are stranded on the moon, orbiting an earth that has destroyed itself in a nuclear war. Their only chance of survival in the long term is a Nazi artefact capable of generating alternative versions of earth. They spend their time and energy generating new versions of the earth, one on top of the other, hoping to find one that hasn’t destroyed itself.
As, apart from owning a Nazi miracle-machine, the astronauts are very much like ourselves, it is tempting to think of this is an alternative history story. However, alternative history requires that an incident in the past didn’t happen or happened differently (there was no Renaissance, the Confederates won the American Civil War, etc) but it is still confined by the laws of physics. Adrift on the Sea of Rains is more accurately described as an alternative reality than an alternative history.
Which is no bad thing, of course. Fiction is supposed to be entertainment, not historical postulation. There is no point in asking ‘what if?’ if the answer doesn’t provide a good story. Happily I can report that the question ‘what if there was a group of astronauts stranded on the moon with an alternative reality machine, a relic from the Second World War in which the Nazis really did use black magic?’ does provide a good story, or at least it does in the hands of Ian Sales. Not everybody could make it work. I don’t recommend you try it at home.
The reason it works (apart from the obvious fact that Ian Sales can write) is that the story is grounded in the foundations of the Apollo missions. It is remarkably low-key for such an unlikely storyline. It is, for want of a less puntastic word, grounded. It is also short. Science fiction (like literary fiction) has a habit of outstaying its welcome in attempt to reach a number of pages that editors think readers want. Brevity is good. We should celebrate it more often. Filler is bad. We should recognise that more often too. Adrift on the Sea of Rains has no filler.
Any Cop?: Literate, interesting, and a little bit insane. Tense, claustrophobic, and set in space. So yeah, lots of cop.