Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Frozen Sky - Jeff Carlson

About the book

"The Frozen Sky" is a stand-alone novella by the international bestselling author of the Plague Year trilogy.

Originally published in the Writers of the Future XXIII anthology, "The Frozen Sky" is a near-future sci fi thriller set beneath the ice of Jupiter's sixth moon, Europa. This story has been translated into Czech, Estonian, and Polish in magazines overseas. It also earned an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction.

"Pulse-pounding." --Publishers Weekly
"A tense adventure story." --Locus Magazine

Published on: January 15, 2010 and October 15, 2010
Author’s webpage


I love reviewing books. One of the main reasons why I enjoy it so much is because I get to read and discuss books with other people who are just as enthusiastic about literature as I am. Discussion is important. A person can learn a lot from a good discussion. One of the things I’ve learned from my various conversations is that I am a sucker for an innovative concept, book or author and Jeff Carlson is all of those things.

The Frozen Sky is a novella that is roughly sixty pages in length. Due to its short size, you can’t really expect the depth and scope you’d expect from an 800-page doorstopper. Carlson sets himself up an impressive task of not only establishing a futuristic universe that is believable to the reader, but in sixty pages he has to establish characters, a world, technology and some sort of background and he does it masterfully.

The Frozen Sky takes place beneath the ice on Europa, which is one of Jupiter’s moons. In fact, one of the reasons this book is so believable and compelling is because Europa is a scientific hotspot, as it’s believed that it has the potential for life. Carlson uses an interesting technique to tell his story. The chapters alternate between the present time and the past. While these timeline jumps might confuse some readers, they serve a larger purpose very effectively. In a short amount of time Carlson is able to introduce readers to what brought scientists to Europa, what they expected to find there and what they actually did find. Not only that, but they allow the nearly nonstop action to keep its edge-of-the-seat pace without losing any depth or development of the plot.

Europa is an interesting landscape in which to place a futuristic tale. It’s filled with ice and rock along with a really untamed, eerie feel that Carlson uses to the story's advantage. This is the perfect eerie setting for Carlson to really flex his creative muscles. He creates some great technology that is both believable to the environment and the future he’s created, like a space suit which functions as a sort of high tech computer with some very neat functions. The Frozen Sky is hard science fiction, which probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this review. However, while some science fiction authors have a hard time making technology that’s easy to understand and picture, Carlson seems to have a knack for making his technology and futuristic concepts seem almost second nature to the reader. There isn’t a struggle to understand any terms or gadgets. They fit into the story and the setting seamlessly, which is a true blessing for a book as short as this one.

I’m quickly learning that Carlson is an author who has the sort of mind that I admire and pay attention to. He seems to write on many levels. He explores new worlds, situations and technologies, but under all that exciting stuff are some very thought provoking themes. Carlson is multi-faceted and The Frozen Sky packs quite a thoughtful punch for it’s sparse size. What I, perhaps, find most interesting is how realistic Carlson is with his themes. For example, I really could picture humans venturing onto some distant rock to mine some mineral or to explore and study. Carlson takes that believable scenario and spins it into a brilliantly woven ‘what if’ story. What would happen if humans ventured off someday in the future? What would they run into? There’s a moral here, perhaps we should look before we leap, and there are also underlying themes about the importance of history and ancestry as well as other thoughts.

The Frozen Sky is a short novella, but Carlson knows how to pack each page full of detail, brilliant writing, exciting events and deeper meanings. Carlson has mastered the art of the short story and novella. He knows how to go in, get the reader’s attention and leave them with thoughts and impressions that will resonate for some time after the book has ended. While I haven’t read a full-length novel from Carlson yet, I know that is in my near future and it’s an event I look forward to. Carlson is one of those rare authors who knows how to balance action and depth. That combined with his incredible ingenuity worked together to turn The Frozen Sky into an impressive novella that will please many potential readers.

4/5 stars

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