For those of you who have read and enjoyed Anson’s offering Below Mercury, – read my review here – this book goes back into pilot Clare Foster’s past and gives us a slice of her training, when she first visited the skies above Venus.
Venus – second planet from the Sun. In the crushing depths of its atmosphere lies a hellish, dimly-lit world of baked rock and furnace-like temperatures, forever hidden beneath thick clouds of sulphuric acid. But high above the clouds, the sky is blue and clear, and a fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers circle endlessly on the high-altitude winds, providing a welcome staging post for crews on long space voyages. For Clare Foster, a newly-promoted lieutenant in the US Astronautics Corps on her first tour of duty on board the carrier Langley, flying on Venus brings new challenges to be mastered. But the endless blue skies of Venus soon darken with an approaching menace, in which the terrifying fury of the planet will be unleashed…
If you enjoy your science fiction on the hard side, then Anson is your man. His world-building is a geek’s dream, with beautiful line drawings of the various craft he portrays in his story. As you can see from the examples I have included – which show up a treat on my very basic Kindle – he has included an extra dimension to the backdrop. There is also a section at the back of the book with additional details about Venus, the acid sky and those amazing craft. However, I have read plenty of amazing futuristic worlds depicted by science fiction authors, who wouldn’t know narrative pace if they fell over it in a wormhole… Anson is one of the other sort – those who not only have an excellent grasp of all the techie toys, but nevertheless can also spin a great story and write convincing characters.
Which is just as well, because his protagonist is young Clare Foster and the nature of the storyline means that this could have gone into some really dodgy territory, with yet another young, good-looking female victimised. Dedicated, talented and extremely hard-working, nevertheless Clare is greener than a four-leaved shamrock when she finds herself on the huge carrier Langley, which is harvesting elements from the surrounding skies as well as providing a convenient stopover for traffic moving back and forth to Mercury.
She falls foul of a fellow officer – and rather than just put up and shut up, as she is advised to do, she decides to mete out her own revenge. With startling consequences… The early stages of this book is full of Clare’s experiences as a pilot and the pace is not exactly leisurely, but it isn’t a foot-to-the-floor adrenaline rush, either. But what it does do, is make us really care about Clare and get to know her thoroughly before she is plunged into her adventure. As well as give us plenty of insights into just how everything works on this world, with all the checks and balances and safety regulations, we get the sense that those living and working in this hostile environment know it well and have more or less got it under control… Until it all goes wrong, of course.
It’s a very neat trick. I cannot recall reading a book where I minded so much about the technology and what happens to it. As for Anson, this is his second book and it shows. The pacing is more sure-footed and while he takes risks with the particular storyline he has chosen, I think his depiction of Clare has managed to avoid the accusation that he has set up his female protagonist as a sex victim in a lazy plot device. The situation she finds herself in is all too believable – and Anson’s handling of the whole incident is well done. I’m looking forward to reading Anson’s next book. His particular format of juxtaposing the impressive technical ingenuity alongside the frailty and inherent rule-breaking that goes on in any human community makes for riveting storytelling.