Fiction Reviews

Pushing Ice

(2005) Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 14.99, hrdbk, 457pp, ISBN 0-575-07438-8


In 2057 ice miners, who send comets back to the inner system, are at the frontier of a growing solar system economy. These folk 'push ice', it's what they do.   One such group crew the ship 'Rockhopper' is captained by Bella Lind when the news comes in that one of Saturn's moons, Janus, has broken free from its orbit and is accelerating out of the Solar System. The 'Rockhopper' is the only ship that stands a snowball's chance of reaching it before Janus leaves for interstellar space. Even so it is going to be tight and the ship will only have a few days at Janus to make any studies. This encounter is important because it soon transpires that Janus is in fact not a moon but some kind of spaceship. The aliens (or their craft or probe at any rate) were in the Solar System all along...

At first sight Pushing Ice is reminiscent of Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama (1973): an alien craft is detected and a ship is sent to investigate with a narrow time window for the said investigation. And Pushing Ice is a first contact story. However there the similarity ends and Pushing Ice delivers more on the SF front, and more than I am letting on 'cos I never like to spoil readers' enjpyment of plot development. (This is not to knock Clarke, as Rama is a landmark SF work, but it is one that is the best part of a third of a century old, while SF has since moved on.)

At the heart of Pushing Ice is the battle of wills between the Captain, Bella Lind, and one of her key officers, Svetlana. Both have the best interests of the crew at heart but both have different views as to how these interests should be addressed. Conflict between the two is inevitable and fierce. Along the way Reynolds touches on the Fermi paradox, the nature of scientific discovery, cultural contamination (prime directive), and the deep time implications of interstellar travel. All sound stuff. However I do wish the man would not be such a vandal. This is the second book of his I have read in which there is an act of celestial destruction, which in this case is done so casually that it rankles and all the more so because it is difficult to see any plot or artistic purpose behind its inclusion. (Maybe it is the environmental scientist in me? There are some things you should not do and which should not be encouraged. So if I catch any of you, dear site-visitors, simply blowing up comets for no good reason then beware, I'll be knocking.) Notwithstanding this one niggle, I found the book hugely enjoyable with loads of sensawunda all brought on at a steady, but not overwhelming, pace.

Alastair Reynolds has always provided a great SF read. Yet, as hard as it may seem to his regular readers, he really has gone up a gear with this one. I note that Gollancz also published Rendezvous With Rama, and I cannot but help muse whether Pushing Ice will achieve some sort of a status whereby it will be frequently cited alongside that other work. Pushing Ice really is that good. It is near classic, if not classic, space opera and SF adventure at its best. I wonder what Clarke thinks?

Jonathan Cowie

For Tony's review of this novel see here.

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