Friday, October 30, 2015


I accidentally discovered Bradley Beaulieu based on reading an online recommendation of his series, The Lays of Anuskaya. After reading that trilogy, I was more than impressed in his ability to weave an epic tale, to paint landscapes, and to develop three-dimensional characters that you knew and could care about. After my time in those works, I downloaded his novella Strata, co-authored with Stephen Gaskell. Strata takes place several hundred years in the future, a time when most of the natural resouces of Earth have been used up. To satisfy the incessant demand, huge solar mining cartels have set up massive-scale colony operations about the sun's chromosphere to harvest energy from the core of the sun and direct it back to Earth. For many years the cartels have promised adventure and coin for its workers, but once they arrive at the stations, they find there is little chance to get back home. The work is grueling and the lifestyle is bleak. Tens of thousands of workers amounting to nothing more than a force of slaves with no opportunity for their voices to be heard.

The only bone that the corporates toss to the workers is to allow them to stage skimmer races in the convection zone of the sun. A little distraction that helps to placate and distract the worker ants. Kawe is a good racer and has a chance to win the championship. The golden egg of the race competition is that the winner gets a ticket home to Earth. However, Kawe has joined the racing circuit not just for the thrill. As part of the worker's resistance movement, he has volunteered to drop triggers into the sun that cause solar flares that could shut down mining operations long enough for the workers to riot and take control. Kawe's handler, Smith Poulson, was once the best skimmer operator in the colonies. Once upon a time he too was a mover in the resistance, until he was taken down as an example to others who would sow dissent. Now Kawe is trying to influence Smith to look beyond himself, to use his hero's reputation to rally the workers and stand up for themselves.

A gripping tale that really paints the bleakness of the situation, captures the mood simply and powerfully, and makes you appreciate the opportunity for redemption in one who had long since given up. I can definitely see why this novella has won its share of awards for excellence in science fiction.