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Pushing Ice    by Alastair Reynolds order for
Pushing Ice
by Alastair Reynolds
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2006 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Commander Bella Lind and the crew of the nuclear-powered ship, the Rockhopper, have been keeping themselves busy in 2057 with another routine mission: mining water-rich ice comets in the solar system. The mission is called pushing ice, and the Rockhopper crew has been particularly good at it. And now, as the crew nears the end of its scheduled mission, everyone is eager to return home. However, something is about to happen that will change everything.

One of Saturn's moons, Janus, has abruptly and inexplicably deviated from its orbit. (Janus, of course, as students of mythology will recall, was the name of the two-faced Roman god who represented the comings - and - goings through doorways, the transitions between beginnings and ending, and - perhaps also relevant to Pushing Ice - the boundary between the civilized and uncivilized.)

Apparently moving at a high rate of speed in a deliberate non-orbital trajectory that will take it beyond the solar system, Janus - according to extrapolations of speed and bearing - is an astronomical anomaly, and it appears now to be heading for the star Alpha Virginis; at two hundred and sixty light-years from Earth, Alpha Virginia - otherwise known by its more common name Spica - is the brightest star in Virgo.

Then, when additional data and intelligence are collected and compiled, Lind and the Rockhopper crew are faced with a mind-boggling revelation: Janus is not an astronomical body, as previously believed; in fact, Janus appears to be some sort of construction, an enormous and enigmatic machine, and it is now apparently going home to Spica.

So, of course, the Rockhopper's mission is suddenly changed and complicated. Instead of simply pushing ice and heading home, the crew is being dispatched to follow the homeward bound Janus - inasmuch as that may be safely done - and determine the apparently Spican object's actual composition, provenance, and purpose.

Problems, however, begin to plague the Rockhopper and its crew almost immediately. Bella Lind and Svetlana Barseghian (her friend and the ship's engineer) begin to argue about the best ways to resolve certain emergencies; the conflict escalates, and soon the ship's crew becomes polarized along individual loyalties. As the mission to follow, encounter, and evaluate Janus further develops, the crew of the Rockhopper will find friendship, loyalty, and the will to survive tested to the limits. Along the way, in a mission that will span time that can be - at least seemingly - measured in decades, they will encounter plenty of surprises, wild action, and thought-provoking excitement. Enemies and allies - sometimes barely distinguishable from one another - present frequent and grand scale challenges and opportunities. And one of the many keys to the crew's success (or failure) may actually lie in their enigmatic encounter with an object emblazoned with a deceptively simple drawing by a Renaissance genius.

Overflowing with actual and speculative science, and enriched by vigorous intellectual imagination, Pushing Ice proves once again that Alastair Reynolds is properly becoming the rightful heir to the grand-masters, Asimov and Heinlein. With grand-scale cinematic vitality and with strong characters (typical of the very best of hard SF space opera), Pushing Ice will thoroughly entertain SF fans, but it will also challenge readers to confront the fundamental puzzles of time and space, beginnings and endings, and what may be the ultimate question: What (or who) is the most powerful force in the universe?

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