Unlike most of his space opera novels, Pushing Ice is set in a different universe than the one of the Inhibitors. This gives Reynolds the freedom of a new history and new ideas, but he keeps the high speed but not FTL travel that is a hallmark of much of his space opera.
The story begins as a frame story set some thousands of years in the future, on a distant planet. The polity gathered there have done so to honor the person they consider responsible for the existence of their civilization and progress, and a debate is to be had on just what is to be done to honor her.
The story then cuts back to that founder's story, in the 21st century solar system. Bella Lind operates the Rockhopper, a ship designed to mine comets for ice in the outer solar system. Its not the easiest work and job out there. And when the Saturnian moon Janus suddenly starts acting more like a high speed alien spacecraft than a moon, the Rockhopper is dispatched to try and rendevous with it before the moon leaves the solar system. However, events conspire so that the Rockhopper is caught and trapped in the moon's wake, for a long journey in store to the star Spica...
Interesting and plausible factions aboard the rockhopper. Neat use of technology of medium-term human, far-future human, and alien technology. There are even multiple BDO (Big Dumb Objects), with Janus, and the strange complex at Spica that the moon speeds toward. It's a classic space opera part with 21st century sensibilities, and Reynolds works hard to make it work.
Sure, his characterization skills aren't as strong as some authors, but Reynolds doesn't make them into complete cardboard cutouts--characters simply aren't his forte. (I can sympathize, believe me!) Reynolds does much better when he is playing with technology and ideas than with the faction leaders Bella and Svetlana, but one must admit that if this novel was written 20 or 30 years ago, its dead certain that these two characters would have been unavoidably male. I don't think that, even then, the characterization would have improved. The female characters never feel like they are "men in drag".
Still, sometimes for a F&SF reader, nothing less than space opera will do, and despite its relatively shallow faults, I was thoroughly and completely entertained and satisfied with the journey of the Rockhopper and its crew in Pushing Ice. Fans of Reynolds will enjoy this novel. If you haven't tried any of his Inhibitor novels, Pushing Ice works very well as a standalone introduction to Reynolds work and style.
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