Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, May 23, 2014

2012: Adrift on the Sea of Rains (Sales, Ian)

Glorifying the details where salvation lies (4/5)

Ian Sales’ Apollo Quartet is an unabashed glorification of the heydays of NASA infused with speculative science fiction. The first story, a novella titled “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” (2012), is heavily based on material researched from NASA’s moon landing integrated with the lore of Nazi wonder-weapons or powerful tools, generally called Wunderwaffe (unrelated to Sales’ similarly titled shortstory [2012]).

Before approaching “Adrift on the Sea of Rains”, the reader should possess or otherwise assume three attributes: (1) glorify the science and personages of early NASA to the point of idolization, (2) have a high toleration for acronyms (for which there is an appendix), and (3) able to suspend belief for the enjoyment of a story.

The 53 pages of the EPUB file contains 39 pages of story and 11 pages of appendices which feature a list of abbreviations, a glossary, a bibliography, and a list of online resources. The glossary is a mix of NASA historical fact mixed with speculation about an alternative reality of NASA’s space program (beyond Apollo 17).


Initially, NASA’s space mission were an attempt to supersede Soviet prowess in the same field of study and to gain the upper hand on the new battlefield miles above the Earth, but the American people fell in love with the lore of astronauts and the glory of victory. NASA continued the mission in the name of science, leaving Americans disenfranchised with the glow of space victory. Science began to reign supreme, legends became myth and the whole charade of space exploration became merely a tool of science.

Colonel Vance Peterson, USAF, is station on the moon. That base, Falcon Base, was established in 1984 with modified modules destined for America’s space station named Freedom. The original four members were later joined by a crew of eight. The central focus of Falcon Base is The Bell, a relic of Nazi science left over from World War II, which the Americans stole and have been experimenting with for years. The primary scientist, Kendall, said that the only way to truly test The Bell’s function was to put it in near-Vacuum. So, up The Bell went to the moon, to Falcon Base with its 100-kilowatt nuclear reactor.

The atmosphere at the base, once driven by routine and command, falls into uncertainty when the war blankets Earth. The American bases carry no word to the moon and soon the Earth is obliviously a dead planet. The men on the moon are the last humans alive, all abandoned by their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues and government. However, their one hope rests on Kendall’s persistent meddling with The Bell, a construction “nine feet in diameter and twelve feet high” which houses the central experiment of a substance called “Xerum-525” (sounds exactly like this mythical Nazi wonder-weapon).

Fortunately for the crew of Falcon Base, The Bell offers hope. Though only Kendall may understand, sometimes superficially at that, the device, the result of the Nazi gadget is a jump through alternative worlds. Before each jump, Peterson is sent to the moon’s surface to witness any visual change on Earth. After so many successive rounds of jumping, the Earth, home, has remained a barren landscape scarred by the tensions between the Americans and the Soviets.

Peterson has had his own run-ins with the Soviets and has even had the rare pleasure of killing a communist while flying. His hatred of the Soviets know no end while his ache for his return to America holds aloft the hope he meekly instills in The Bell. Though the others in the crew are not as disciplined as Peterson, he keeps himself sane by running through his routine and hoping to find an Earth that is close to the one that had seen die before their eyes…

…then one appears, a beautiful blue marble. While “the men on Falcon Base can listen, but they cannot be heard” (21-22), no one responds to their calls. One thing is noticeable though: there’ s one space station in orbit around the Earth. Memories of America’s station, Freedom, offers them additional hope that rescue or acknowledgement of their plight is possible. In order to secure that possibility of rescue, the astronauts-cum-scientists brainstorm or ways on reaching either Earth or Freedom. When the numbers are tabulated, trajectories plotted and fuel concentrated, the likelihood of escaping from moon’s desolation looks good.

Peterson begins his ascent from the moon and descent toward Earth.


Obviously, this must be a pet project of Sales. The amount of detail imparts an authenticity to the novella, a deft touch of attention to detail that shows careful consideration. While this detail doesn’t exactly make for light reading, it does add an element of first-person perspective to the story—what’s important to the astronaut is carried through the narrative, be it the physics of flight control or controlling the waves of uncertainty.

With Peterson’s fixation of hope comes the obverse niggling doubt; he doesn’t understand The Bell and finds it difficult to place hope on a piece of Nazi construction and its borderline batty scientist, Kendall. Regardless of all subjective observations, there is one truth to Peterson: he is stuck on the moon, over three hundred thousand miles away from a dead Earth. Among the subjective observations and objective truths lay the emotional states of his past and present; he fosters distaste for Commies while feeling nostalgia for being in cockpit of various jets (e.g., the SR-91 and the F-108D). These mission characterize Peterson as a brash, gung-ho pilot unfazed by danger or confrontation.


Considering the series is a thematic Quartet, I hope to see the remaining three stories follow a similar feel: a foundation of hard details supporting a speculative wonder clouded by an atmosphere of isolation and desperation. The remaining stories in the Quartet are:
·         Book 2, novella: “The Eye Which the Universe Beholds Itself” (2013)
·         Book 3, novella: “Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above” (2013)
·         Book 4, “All That Outer Space Allows” (yet-to-be published)


  1. Just finished this novella - listening to it actually, on Starship Sofa - and have the same opinion as you. It's hard sf to the core, but Sales imbues enough human elements to keep the story from getting too technical. I'm very curious what he'll do with the wunderwaffe...

  2. The quartet isn't connected, it's more thematic around alternative history of the
    Apollo program, so the wunderaffe isn't featured in any of the other three stories. I read but didn't review the third story because it was much weaker than the first two, sadly.