(2020) A. G. Riddle, Ad Astra – Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 406pp, ISBN 978-1-800-24151-0
This is the third in the 'Long Winter' or 'Solar War' series by prolific science fiction author A. G. Riddle. He’s one of the new breed of self-published superstars, reaching in a devoted fanbase with high action yarns, but recently he’s been picked up by Head of Zeus, who have been developing a positive reputation for spotting and developing talent.
The Lost Colony doesn’t really work as a standalone – as a reviewer we don’t always get the choice to pick up at book one and, anyhow, books should work on their own, right? And I got suckered by this one – it’s easy to pick up the flow for, maybe, two thirds of the book, then it hits you with material that will leave you absolutely scratching your head if you haven’t read the other books. And that’s a shame, because I was well and truly sucked in by then, with the pace and the relentlessness of the twin narratives.
So I stopped reading The Lost Colony and worked my way through the first two books: Winter World and The Solar War, then came back to finish the last book (which by then make a lot more sense). This review, then, is inevitably (at least in part) a review of the series as a whole. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want spoilers for the first two books.
So what’s Long Winter all about? Well, in Winter World the Earth is getting colder and colder, to the extent that glaciers are expanding globally. Incarcerated robotics genius James is sprung by a desperate team to investigate – and it’s a space mission because a couple of weird artefacts have been discovered floating around where they have no right to be – blocking out the sun. And in the series’ other point of view Emma is the sole survivor of the destruction of the International Space Station by forces connected to the artefacts. She’s floating free in space – and James and his crew pick her up on the way to investigate the artefact. Communications attempts fail leading to war of sorts. It’s pretty one sided – Earth freezes and mankind retreats to Tunisia and other (formerly) hot spots. But, led by James and Emma, the fightback begins…
Book two has the aliens chucking rocks from the Kuiper Belt at Earth leading to the survivors (thousands out of billions) forced to contemplate a deal with the devil – or slow, chilly extinction. Eventually, they leave the uninhabitable Earth behind.
In book three the humans have regrouped on Eos, a tidally locked planet orbiting a red dwarf. But the planet, seemingly benign, has nasty surprises. The colonists can only live in valleys along the temperate band between boiling eternal day and freezing perpetual night. But a rogue planet periodically causes Eos to wobble, causing the temperate zone to shift into cold or hot – causing mass migrations of dangerous T-Rex type creatures – right through the colony. And – worse – retreating to the relative safety of caves causes its own problems – a pathogen with a 100% fatality rate. The only answer – stasis until a cure can be found. But is the cure worse than the disease?
It’s this point that stopped me short when I tried to read this book as a standalone (don’t). And it’s still weird going back to it. For one thing the writer’s style changes completely. Up to that point in this book (though not the others) he’s got the ‘king of short sentence short paragraph starting with conjunctions’ style of a hyperactive Dan Brown (though with admittedly better writing). But then the writing style gets much more conventional – and the story gets very confusing. There’s a high concept at the heart of the series which is the cause of the confusion (at least with me), and which I found diverted from my enjoyment but I guess ramps up the SF credentials (as if the end of the world and colony worlds weren’t enough).
Still, these are easy and (in the main) satisfying reads. The first book is the best, but there’s enough to keep a reader’s interest across three volumes. But why stop there? Any chance of a fourth instalment?
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