This was a free book I applied for as part of the Library Thing first reviews, and the first one I’ve ever received from them. It was a good choice, as it matched up to the description, which is something that often puts me off!
Louella is a professional sailor – single-handed round-the-world races being the sort of thing she does, although there are also four colleagues who occasionally form crews for crewed races. We meet her first in the Southern Ocean, handling high seas and tremendous danger, with all the technical sailing jargon you could wish for and terrific descriptions of the seas, wind, wildlife and isolation. Having overcome adversity on this trip, she’s looking for the next challenge, and new sponsors, when the Jupiter Investment Company come a-calling and make her and three others offers they can’t really refuse to have a sailing race on Jupiter.
Yes, you know there are no seas on Jupiter, and the atmosphere is full of storms and noxious gases. Science fiction takes over, and it’s a really nice bit of scientific fiction. I love the concept of sailing Jupiter’s skies, and to me the difficulties that need to be overcome were spot on. When that race is finally done, the sailors are inveigled into one last race within their contract – this time on Mars. You’re joking. No sailing on Mars, surely? Well, it’s a type of landyacht or sandkart, with huge sails to make the most of the slight winds involved – and it’s very dangerous! Again, the maths behind the sailing is excellent, and the tactical approach to the race more like harbour racing than the endurance aspect involved in Jupiter’s skies.
I couldn’t quite work out whether this was four novellas that had been squished together or whether it really was intended as a novel. Maybe it’s both, but in the new cover they haven’t done enough to squish them – there is a little too much repetition (adrift like a latter day Flying Dutchman came up three times in quick succession), and when I was looking through Goodreads for covers for this post I discovered the blurb for one of the editions simply lists a number of short stories (although they don’t necessarily fit the ones I read). I think the author could streamline it into a single novel to good effect.
Some people may find the level of technical detail on the sailing to be too much for them. I enjoy sailing, although only as a holiday activity, and the detail was okay for me, just – rather like descriptions of baseball games in a good book to be reviewed next week, I could skim the detailed stuff without losing the thread or the action. If you don’t know your bowsprit from your bowline you may find it a bit taxing. Equally the depth of the technical exceeds the characterisation – except that in my experience people who do extreme sports and/or exploration tend to be a bit one-dimensional anyway and only come alive when immersed in their chosen medium. Otherwise the tension between characters and the plotting is good, and I really looked forward to every session reading it (unlike another book I gave up on during this period).
So, overall, an amazingly intricate and exciting sailing science fiction with first class factual groundwork, which I really like in my scifi. Could do with a little polishing, but I still gave it four stars.