(2011) Gareth Powell, Solaris, £7.99, pbk, 309 pp, ISBN 978-1-907-51999-4
Mysterious gateways (portals) start appearing over present-day London and failed artist Ed Rico's brother falls through one as it materialises. The government soon gets the hang of things and starts to seal the area off whenever these portals appear. However when a portal appears near his brother's wife's rural home, she and Ed Rico decide to enter to see if they can find Ed's brother…
Quick change of gear…
It is four centuries in the future and mankind has spread a few hundred light years into the stars using quasi-FTL. The reason this faster-than-light is only 'quasi' is that when ships jump, though to the crew no time has passed (in-line with Einstein at light speeds), it still takes time for the rest of the universe as if the ship had travelled at light speed (again in line with Einstein).
In this future Katherine Abdulov – the daughter in a rich family space-trading family and now disowned – gets a chance for reinstatement and to get her own back at her former boyfriend (the cause of her familial estrangement). She must beat her former boyfriend to a star system to bag a rare harvest. However her former boyfriend is determined to win even if it means using illegal tricks.
Naturally, these disparate plot lines come together.
This is Powell's second novel, his first only coming out last year. It has to be said that for a near-debut, this is an assured space-opera: think Alastair Reynolds light (and you know how several of us on the review team love Reynolds). If you are into this sub-genre of SF then Gareth Powell has to be on your radar and Solaris (if they want to grow) would do well to keep this author on their lists.
This novel has much going for it. There is the mystery of the portal arches, a good space opera chase, a sense of deep-time events impinging on the present (be it our 21st century present or that of 400 years in the future), alien forces, all laced with solid sensawunda (sense of wonder). It had me hooked into a three sitting reading.
Problems, few really, and only quibbles at that: as said, this is an assured space-opera. The author should check his science (cf. oxygen recycling in a space suit, centripetal as opposed to centrifugal – these two often get confused though in this case Gareth got it wrong) but he should not be dissuaded from including science, indeed should be encouraged as this really adds to this particular sub-genre for which he does show talent. The author also needs a good reader/commissioning editor to help him refine his manuscript. MS revision is important and this novel could have done with some minor tweaking that would have really enhanced the story. (The flashback to Katherine's split-up was weak – undermining the strength of Katherine's character – and in any case we readers were beginning to infer what had happened without the flashback. Ed Rico's art talent yet lack of contemporary recognition and its subsequent relevance needed work: we are talking about the insertion of a paragraph or so at just three points within the novel.)
Somewhat strangely these days, Gareth Powell is not a scientist yet it is clear from this talent that he leans towards hard SF and the signs are that he may well develop into a particularly accomplished hard SF writer if that is what he wants to do. His commissioning editor, if s/he has any professional sense, should spend a little time nurturing him: had this novel's MS just had a little polish it would have buffed up a treat, and correcting the science (or even adding more) just means Gareth acquiring a good science polymath as one of his MS readers. But these are obvious things that the author and publisher may well already have in train. For us SF readers what we need to note is that this new author spins such a rollicking yarn that suggests he may well go on to greater things.
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