I met Gray Rinehart at LibertyCon this year and had a brief chat with him about his debut novel, stating I’d read and review it when it came out. With ebooks, I’m exceedingly slow, but fortunately this is still on the level of new releases so let’s delve into his debut novel, Walking On A Sea Of Clouds.
This is a hard science fiction book, no ifs ands or buts about it. For my readers who are into strict action/adventure or military SF only, this book may not be for you. However for hard science fiction, Mr. Rinehart succeeded at creating a very good work. I personally like to get a breadth of reading in so this was an excellent change of pace to my usual.
The story at its core is a procedural one about a corporation funding the first colony on the moon, the set up missions, the follow up training, and then the first days on the colony as they struggle with the harsh realities that an airless hostile environment on the outside would actually be like. It’s a colonization story in the tradition of Kim Stanley Robinson.
Where this differs from a lot of procedural sci-fi, is that Rinehart does a good job in the first several chapters of establishing reasons to care about the characters, humanizing them and creating attachment. I liked Stormie a lot more than I did the other main perspective character, but they were both likable and interesting. Their relationships with their significant others were near as important as the main plot of the book.
A reader gets a great sense of how these folk live their lives, in a very detailed manner. Rinehart clearly researched the science and engineering of all of this to an extreme degree from the way the colony’s constructed, to the moon vehicles, to the way air pressure and moon dust is handled. There were a lot of details of colonization I’d never considered before reading this fiction.
On the other side, Rinehart also shows his love of science fiction at every turn. There are a LOT of references to classic sci-fi. Many readers would enjoy this for the references alone, I know I loved finding the nods here and there, some more overt than others.
On a critical level, as this is more realistic and procedural, the tension levels weren’t all that high throughout the book. It would ebb and flow depending on the situation, but I didn’t end up feeling a ton of danger to the main characters. The end has a surprise element to it which was enjoyable, but I would have liked a bit more tension there at different points. I’m not sure if that’s a subgenre difference between my usual action/adventure reading and the hard procedural hard sci-fi, but I could think of ways to have added a bit more in there for a few of the scenes. There is also a pattern I note to the book of accident – fix, accident – fix, that is a plot point but may have been repeated one too many times and there could have been a shortening of the book by a scene or two.
The prose was tight, clean, and as professional as can be. Rinehart really knows his writing. As a debut novel, it’s extremely solid and Gray Rinehart is a name you should look out for in the future as taking up the Arthur C. Clarke style mantle in hard sci-fi.