A really good space opera adventure takes a lot of skill to write. The characters have to be convincing and compelling; the adventure has to be engaging and above all the backdrop has to have a major impact on what is going on. Space adventures where it is all exactly like Earth, except for a few mentions of drifting and concerns about vacuum won’t cut it, but neither will I tolerate pages of techno-babble in omniscient viewpoint. So I approached this freebie I’d loaded on my Kindle on the strength of a cool cover and promising opening without too much anticipation.
Mercury – closest planet to the Sun. In the permanent darkness of Chao Meng-fu crater lie vast fields of ice that that have never seen the Sun, and the ruins of Erebus Mine, abandoned and forgotten after a devastating explosion that claimed the lives of 257 people. After an eight-year legal battle, the relatives of the victims have finally succeeded in forcing the Space Accidents Board to reopen its investigation. Matt Crawford, a mine engineer who escaped the disaster, joins a team sent back to the mine to discover the true cause of the accident. The team is led by Clare Foster, a pilot in the U.S. Astronautics Corps, who has taken on the mission in the hope of rebuilding her career after a near-miss incident. But as they set off for Mercury, they are unaware of a powerful enemy ranged against them…
Mark Anson clearly knows his stuff and there is a wealth of detail for those who enjoy such things. But he also can write characters – including a convincing female protagonist, and keeps his cast of main characters small enough that we get to know them well, so that when the action kicks off we care about what will happen to them. And I really enjoyed the initial chapters where he sets up the reasons for the voyage back to Mercury – I felt the legal wrangling over the disaster was completely realistic.
While I’ve read one or two reviews who felt the initial pacing was slow, I was quite happy to relax into Anson’s fluid style as he steadily ramps up the tension. The depiction of the mine at the bottom of the crater and the economic and political background is strong and his descriptions are vivid and compelling. I was reading late into the night to discover what happened to the investigating team once everything began to go wrong. He is also a talented artist, who produces a series of meticulous drawings and maps to support his detailed, well depicted world – a couple of examples of these drawings are here and show up really well on my basic-model Kindle.
While the story denouement wasn’t totally unexpected, Anson produces enough twists and shocks along the way that kept me hooked to the end. And I am reassured to hear this is the first in a planned series, as I will be making a point of looking out for more from this indie author. Anson is One To Watch in a demanding genre where it is difficult to achieve a truly readable, well written book – particularly without the support of a publishing house and professional editor.