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Strata is a hard science fiction novella released in the popular Kindle ebook format. Don’t let the words ‘hard SF’ put you off though, because unlike many of the tech/science heavy releases which focus more on ideas than character, Strata is a tale of soul, adventure and humanity, while simultaneously maintaining a scientifically possible view of the future.

The novella is written by British authors Stephen Gaskell and Bradley Beaulieu. I’ve read Gaskell before and he is a talented, solid storyteller, with fast-paced intelligence tales like “Brood” and “Landscapes of a Martian Heart” under his belt. Beaulieu I’m unfamiliar with but I don’t doubt after reading Strata that he is as an accomplished and capable writer as his partner.

Strata is set on an energy mining colony operating on the surface of the sun. Yes, that’s right, on the sun. The colony is run by nefarious corporate types whose contracts for their downtrodden workforce are not to dissimilar to what Asian migrants working in the Middle East might experience today. Conditions are appalling, money is never enough to get back home again, and workers often die as a result of the corruption of management.

But there is one out for the sun workers, and that is the opportunity to race each other through the convection currents of the sun, for the prize money is great. Kind of like the podracing in The Phantom Menace — if you replace a desert with the interior of a nuclear explosion. The racers naturally become the symbol for growing workers rebellion, and that ultimately is what the story is about, overthrowing oppression.

I like how Gaskell and Beaulieu have replaced typical white Caucasian male heroes with a protagonist of African descent, giving the narrative an interesting backstory that Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and their ilk would never have considered.

Reading Strata I felt that I was on the brink of reading a tale comparable to anything Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds or Peter F Hamilton might have written. I really believe Gaskell and Beaulieu have it in them to produce amazing far future space opera settings. But how do they get there? I would suggest they need to push the limits of their tech, their futures, and really create amazing concepts on the grand, galactic scale, and you could be seeing the next Revelation Space series from these guys.

Strata is highly recommended.

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David Conyers

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