December 2002

DARK AS DAY
Charles Sheffield
Tor Books
480 pages
Publication date March 2002
Hardcover $27.95

DARK AS DAY succeeds primarily because of its interesting characters and fast-moving plotline. Which is about the most that can be said for any novel.

The Great War has come and gone, sweeping through the Solar System and killing more than half of humanity. Most of the damage was done by the terrible bioweapons formulated by both sides.

Although the conflict is long over by the last years of the 21st century, not all of the weapons have been recovered and neutralized. Since the war ended, much effort has been put into the creation and deployment of the Seine, an immense computer network that will link all databases throughout the solar system. On Ganymede, Alex Ligon, scion of a fabulously weathly family, is eager for the link to occur. Disdaining his family's wealth, he has chosen to pursue mathematics, his first love. His job is to formulate models of the future for economic and social forecasting. All of his conventional models, however, predict the relatively sudden extinction of humanity in about a century's time. Alex is hoping that the Seine's increased capabilities can show him where his models are going wrong, because obviously such predictions can't be true.

Elsewhere in the Jovian system, in a station at the L4 point, young astronomer Milly Wu has come to work for the Argus Project. Argus is administered by Jack Beston, the Ogre as he is not so fondly known to his employees, one of two brothers running competing SETI projects. It's Milly's luck to be the one who identifies what appears to be a genuine signal from extraterrestrials.

On war-torn Earth itself, Jan Jannex and her enigmatic friend Sebastian have applied for mining operations work on Ganymede. Jan and Sebastian have been close since they were children, rescued from the terrible lifeforms loosed on Earth by the Belters many years ago during the Great War. Sebastian has always been seen as peculiar, perhaps even a little slow, but not even Jan realizes just how peculiar he actually is.

And on Saturn's miniscule moon Pandora, the obese, brilliant, and misanthropic Rustrum Battachariya tinkers with his collection of weapons from the Great War. Bat is about to find his solitude invaded by representatives of the Lignon family who seek to use Pandora as a base for operations in the launching of an extrasolar probe.

The machinations of the eccentric and threatening Ligons, who eventually are forced to enlist an unwilling Alex, drive most of the action in this absorbing and fast-moving sf novel of the relatively near future. Clearly written, with well-defined characters and plenty of plot twists and turns, DARK AS DAY is a sequel to the author's novel COLD AS ICE, which I have not read. DARK stands well on its own, however, for my money. It isn't the deepest sf book ever written, but Sheffield's style is workmanlike and the book is enjoyable reading. He does well with male-female interactions, better than most sf writers. The various strands of the plot are woven together with facility. If you haven't read any Sheffield yet, this might be a good place to start.

Sadly, Charles Sheffield passed on in November of 2002. I had met him once or twice, and found him to be a charming and friendly man with a good sense of humor. He is missed by those who cared for and respected him. It's sad to think that he will write no more books as good as DARK AS DAY.