Fiction Reviews


Gradisil

(2006) Adam Roberts, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 485 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7817-8

 

This story is set just after the mid-21st century. A new type of plane uses the Earth's magnetic field to enable them to get to previously unattainable heights. In fact seal such planes and they can take folk to Earth orbit. Before long the rich have established simple space stations and are living in the Uplands. When one of the new pioneers gets murdered by a client, the victim's daughter seeks revenge. Her own daughter, Gradisil, then helps lead the Uplands in a bid to stand up to the governmental forces who see the orbiting homes both as a threat and a potential source of tax income. Time then for conflict in the high frontier.

Gradisil is a solidly written hard SF tale that has enough nice touches to elevate it above many similar offerings. For example, through its progression, covering three generations, the language changes slightly, mainly in spelling, but not in a cumbersome way that interferes with the prose and nor by introducing a multitude of made-up terms. Another is that the hard SF is in the main competently handled. (Though the air pump mechanism would not work given the same orbital mechanics explained elsewhere (and not-withstanding capillary problems): this could have been theoretically explained but then Roberts is not (as far as I am aware) a scientist.) There were also some interesting takes on world development. (For example future conflict between Europe and the US.) As well as some good SFnal set pieces. (The unprotected astronaut falling to Earth from orbit being one.)

Given that a lot of the 'high frontier' novels since the 1970s had the action taking place in the asteroid belt with its raw materials, Adam Roberts has pursued what some might consider as a surprising route of centring the action in close Earth orbit. Well not entirely surprising given that since the 1970s much of the action in space (space probes aside) has taken place either in geostationary or lower. Yet Roberts is one of the few to have had the nous to capitalise on this. Taking all this, and that it is a sound read, and Gradisil is certainly one for hard SF and space opera fans.

Jonathan Cowie


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