Author: Jeff Carlson
Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam
Format: Electronic (provided by author)
I was unsure of what to expect from the novel, The Frozen Sky. The book’s description proclaims it to be a “sci fi thriller” taking place on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. I’ve read a few science fiction titles this year that have taken place in our solar system. Would this be like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a hard sci-fi novel exploring colonization of multiple moons and planets in a semi-distant future? Or would it be more like James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, a space opera where science is still believable, but far from the novel’s focus?
The Frozen Sky is clearly a hard sci-fi novel, reminding me most of the writing of Joe Haldeman. It takes place in the distant future where bureaucratic self-interest abounds, sexual promiscuity comes without consequence, and advanced technology flourishes. Alexis Vonderach (Von) is the novel’s protagonist — the sole survivor on a mission to Europa and discoverer of an alien civilization deep beneath the moon’s ice (or frozen sky).
When news of another life form reaches Earth, multiple countries send teams of scientists to study the potentially sentient species. Von is a critical member of one of these teams and when she fears that these creatures will be exploited, she breaks from the ranks to try and bring about a peaceful alliance.
I must admit, my personal tastes are geared more toward soft science fiction. I am more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy and I often find a lot of the technical conjecture to be of little interest. Even though this novel is quite technical, I never found it to be bogged down with science. There are a lot of cool concepts that were explored including the transferring of human consciousness into machines and the use of mechas in performing heavy labor. Carlson also examines moral conundrums that accompany a first contact when it is very difficult to know if the alien species is actually sentient.
Von is an interesting character, as is her fellow crew member (and friend?), Ash. In the company of many other crew members who blindly follow orders, Von serves as the team’s moral compass, willing to go rogue to protect the creatures she knows very little about.
My biggest criticisms of the novel are the lack of compelling characters. Beyond Von and Ash, I didn’t find any of the other characters particularly memorable or multi-layered in their pursuits. Also, the interaction with the alien species was only semi-compelling as they could only communicate on a very rudimentary basis.
But the novel succeeded in many other regards and overall, The Frozen Sky is a thought-provoking read. For those who are a fan of the Golden Age and writers like Joe Haldeman or Isaac Asimov, The Frozen Sky will be a novel worth reading. I wouldn’t personally classify it as a “thriller,” but the novel moved at a steady pace and had a fitting conclusion. It is a unique take on a first contact and a well thought-out novel.