Pushing Ice – Alastair Reynolds (2005)
‘The burgeoning new economies in near-Earth space are fuelled by a steady stream of comets, steered back home by huge nuclear-powered mining ships like Bella Lind’s ‘Rockhopper’. they call it pushing ice.
Bella and her crew are desperate for some much needed R&R – until Janus, one of Saturn’s ice moons, inexplicably leaves its natural orbit. as it heads out of the Solar System at high acceleration, layers of camouflage fall away: it appears that Janus was never a moon in the first place. Now this moon-shaped machine is approaching the star system Spica, two hundred and sixty light-years away.
‘Rockhopper’ is the only ship anywhere near Janus, so Bella agrees to catch up and shadow the machine-moon for the few vital days before it falls for ever out of reach. But in doing so, she sets her ship and her crew on a collision course with destiny that will test friendship and loyalty to the limits: for Janus has more surprises in store – and not all of them are welcome.
‘Pushing Ice’ is a trademark Alastair Reynolds novel: a deep space adventure story with a scope as big as the galaxy itself.’
Blurb from the 2005 Gollancz paperback edition.
Bella Lind, Captain of the space-freighter ‘Rockhopper’ is ‘pushing ice’ in the sense that the ship is mining comets for water ice. At the end of a scheduled tour of duty the Rockhopper is due to return but is requested, as the nearest ship in the vicinity, to report to Saturn’s ice moon, Janus. As it transpires, the moon is not a moon but a vast ship, showing signs of reactivation which The Powers That Be back on Earth want examined before it disappears.
The Rockhopper begins to shadow the alien ship which is heading in the direction of Spica.
The Chinese also launch their own ship, aiming to pre-empt the West’s assured monopoly on alien technology.
Reynolds being Reynolds, however, nothing is ever simple or straightforward.
The novel opens in a far-future civilisation which is planning to send a message back through time to the founder of their interstellar culture, Bella Lind.
While following the alien ship, Bella’s chief engineer and best friend, Svetlana, suspects that Earth is not being entirely honest and believes that that earth’s estimate of their fuel reserves has been faked in order that the crew will spend more time with Janus. Svetlana is not believed and relieved of her duties, following which it is discovered that the alien ship has trapped the Rockhopper within an advanced space-time field and that they are travelling far faster than they imagined, with the added revelation that far more time has passed back on Earth than anyone expected.
The Rockhopper therefore then attaches itself to Janus and Svetlana, now vindicated, takes control and places Bella under arrest.
Years pass and the colony aboard the alien hijacker grows, leeching power from the vast resources of Janus. Then, the moonship begins to grown an additional shell around itself and when the humans cut through it, they find that they have now come to rest within a vast construct, light years across, and they are not alone.
Reynolds can’t be faulted as a writer. He seldom disappoints, although his recent novels away from his Revelation Space universe have left me yearning for the industrial gothic beauty of his Gigeresque worlds and characters.
Here, we go on an epic journey which covers decades, admittedly peopled by fully-rounded interesting characters and which has the central relationship between two strong female characters running right through like the letters in a stick of rock.
There are some secretive aliens who, although they provide the humans with a rejuvenation treatment, know far more about the Spican Structure than they are prepared to discuss.
As always, Reynolds gauges his readers remarkably well and leaves huge ‘sense of wonder’ mysteries unexplained.
One has to admire a writer who is brave enough to do that. The question is, will he be brave enough to avoid the temptation to go back and explain it all in a sequel.