Cold As Ice – Charles Sheffield (1992)
‘Twenty-five years ago there was a great interplanetary war in the Solar System. It was a suicidal spasm in which terrible weapons were created and used; in which nine billion people were killed. The rivalries that led to the war are not gone. And a few of those deadly weapons remain – some still orbiting the sun in the debris of destroyed ships, some deliberately placed in storage.
Now Cyrus Mobarak, the man who perfected the fusion engine, is determined to bring human settlement to the protected seas of Europa. Opposing him is Hilda Brandt, Europa’s administrator. And caught between them are three remarkable young people: Jon Perry, Camille Hamilton, and Wilsa Sheer.’
Blurb from the 1993 Tor paperback edition
Sheffield is both a physicist and what one might call a ‘jobbing SF writer’. He rarely disappoints and produces cosy traditional SF in the tradition of Heinlein or Arthur C Clarke.
At the end of a war which raged across the Solar System in 2067 Some Belters are travelling through space with a complement of adults and children on a ship called The Pelagic’. A smart unmanned missile called a Seeker tracks them and the ship is destroyed, but not before nine rescue pods containing some of the children are ejected.
The story leaps ahead some twenty years to where a disparate group of characters converge on Jupiter where Cyrus Mobarak (legendary scientist hero, inventor of the portable fusion generator) is attempting to put his plan for the colonisation of Europa into effect.
Firstly he has to get past the redoubtable Hilda Brandt, official custodian of Europa, who wishes to keep the pristine ocean beneath Europa’s ice in its original state and uncontaminated.
Jon Perry (Earth’s foremost deep sea specialist), Camille Hamilton (a cosmologist), Wilsa Sheer (a talented composer and performer) and Nell Cotter (a front line reporter) find their destinies entwined as they all end up on Europa, while Rustum Battachariya (a corpulent puzzles expert) finds himself delving into an old mystery with which everyone seems to be involved.
Sheffield is compulsively readable, part of his charm being that he creates compelling individual characters. For instance, The Bat (as Battachariyan is known) lives a Diogenes-esque existence in his batcave on Ganymede where he is, ostensibly, in charge of the Transport system. His main genius, however, lies in his ability to divert part of his budget to purchases of discovered asteroid belt technology (at the time of the War, the Belters were the most technologically advanced section of the Solar System), often finding useful and profitable artefacts or inventions.
It’s one of those ‘feel good’ novels where everyone has to learn something new about themselves. By the end, as in a Shakespearean comedy, we are left with all the knots of confusion unravelled and at least three happy couples (four if you count Bat, who discovers a soulmate in the digitised consciousness of a long dead scientist whom he has transferred to his batcave.)
In some senses the novel lacks a plot since nothing very much happens. Its weakness is that there are no villains. One feels that an evil genius, pitting his or her wits against Cyrus and The Bat, would have contributed hugely to this entertaining if slightly over-cosy tale.
See also Clifford Simak’s ‘The Werewolf Principle’