This is not your average sci-fi book.
Looking for space opera? Starship battles accentuated with (or accentuating) bizarre hereditary and/or political drama? Not Scaling the Rim.
Instead, you get something much more original. Scaling the Rim is a tale of survival, relationships, and conspiracy. We join Annika and her un-modified human science team, along with a military team of modified human Rus, to set up a new weather station above the titular rim of the crater the population lives in. This planet, long ago colonized and terraformed with paradise in mind, is slowly freezing over, with winters (perpetually) that make Westeros’ look cute.
One of the fascinating things about the world in this book is how real it feels. This is not a movie set. You don’t get the sense the props are being dragged in between scenes. It’s a place that evolved organically from the environment and circumstances. This is an all too common problem in stories that are working on this kind of smaller scale.
What also help that is the survival part of the tale is well-thought out and researched. The author lived in Alaska. I think she was a bush pilot up there. She’s seen the brutality of a true, wild winter and it shows. I know a very little bit about cold weather survival, but what I see in Scaling the Rim correlates with what I do know. It seems pretty well researched. Even better, it’s presented in a very interesting way. You aren’t going to be reading a cold weather survival edition of Moby Dick.
This isn’t a Jack London survival tale, however; the group obliterates that sort of bleak loneliness, except for the occasions when the character really is separated. You’re dealing with two cultures. The scientists are from Central, which is a much more controlled, stereotypical future society. The soldiers are Rus, who have a much more muscular society (and physique) and have been oppressed by Central. There is a lot of cultural and racial conflict going on between the two groups. You have both good and bad scientists, including some truly horrible people who nearly get everyone killed for the sake of selfishness or a cover-up. I like the Rus characters a lot. They’re soldiers and have all the wonderful traits of many troops I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
The romantic lead is a Rus, by the way. I have a feeling women will really like him and men will be confused by the attraction. The romance as a whole is pretty well done, especially for a book of this length.
There are issues with the novel, however. The nature of the Rus as genetically modified humans isn’t made very clear. I feel like the nature of Central could have used a bit earlier build-up, though it’s important to the novel that people are simply used to living this way. The plot does move along right quick, however, and for the most part your questions are answered in a decent amount of time.
Some tidbits to give you an idea of the book:
The next morning didn’t so much break as grudgingly let the black of night start fading into grey and dimmer grey. The clouds seemingly hung below the Rimwall, and dry powdery snow was falling, coating men and equipment alike as Annika checked the weather stations and adjusted their programming, before locking them again.
“For a dead man, you look pretty good.”
“For a dead woman, you smell wonderful.”
“Think of it as huddling for warmth, instead of cuddling. I don’t cuddle.”
“Six times they’ve set this mission up to fail. Wrong equipment, wrong people, and wrong season. Enough to say they tried, and isn’t it a shame that no one can contact the high orbitals but them, and pass on any news but them.”
Also, there is set up for a sequel, though it’s not a requirement.
This is a short and sweet book, very clever and very interesting. I really recommend it if you’re looking for a sci-fi read that is not stereotypical space opera. You can find Scaling the Rim on Amazon (of course!).