Bradley P. Beaulieu and Stephen Gaskell's science fiction novella, Strata: A Story of the Future Suns, was published as an e-book in December 2011.
Here's a description of Strata: A Story of the Future Suns:
Strata is a stand-alone novella by two Writers of the Future Award winners.
It’s the middle of the twenty-second century. Earth's oil and gas reserves have been spent, but humankind's thirst for energy remains unquenched. Vast solar mining platforms circle the upper atmosphere of the sun, drawing power lines up from the stellar interior and tight-beaming the energy back to Earth. For most of the platforms' teeming masses, life is hard, cramped — and hot. Most dream of a return Earthside, but a two-way ticket wasn't part of the benefits package, and a Sun-Earth trip doesn’t come cheap.
Kawe Ndechi is luckier than most. He's a gifted rider — a skimmer pilot who races the surface of the sun's convection zone — and he needs only two more wins before he lands a ticket home. The only trouble is, Kawe's spent most of his life on the platforms. He’s seen the misery, and he’s not sure he's the only one who deserves a chance at returning home.
That makes Smith Pouslon nervous. Smith once raced the tunnels of fire himself, but now he's a handler, and his rider, Kawe, is proving anything but easy to handle. Kawe's slipping deeper and deeper into the Movement, but Smith knows that's a fool's game. His own foray into the Movement cost him his racing career — and nearly his life — and he doesn't want Kawe to throw everything away for a revolt that will never succeed.
One sun. Two men. The fate of a million souls.
Here's the review:
A REVIEW OF BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU AND STEPHEN GASKELL'S STRATA: A STORY OF THE FUTURE SUNS
Before I begin to write this review, I'll mention that Stephen Gaskell was an unknown author to me (I remember hearing about him, but this was the first time that I read something by him), but I've read Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo. (I'll also mention that I'm glad that I had a chance to read this novella, because the story is good.)
Strata: A Story of the Future Suns is a fine self-published science fiction novella. It's a story about freedom, revolution, second chances, sacrifice and racing (skimming on the sun's surface). The events take place on the mining platform orbiting the Sun. This living and working environment is hostile and hard, because the workers are exploited ruthlessly and the management shows no mercy for those who begin to question how things are handled. The platforms are out of reach of Earth's legal system and that's why life can be extremely harsh for the workers, because the local management has lots of power and wants to control everything. The heat and the radiation also cause lots of problems for the workers. They try to struggle to get better conditions and more right for themselves, but their struggles seem to be in vain.
The characterization in this novella is excellent and even the small details are handled and described admirably. Smith Poulson and Kawe Ndechi are realistic and well portrayed characters. The relationship between Kawe and Poulson is handled in a fine and believable way.
Kawe and her mother, Mama, live on the platforms. His mother has signed a contract which keeps them on the platforms for a long time (they had left behind Kawe's abusive and angry father and fled to the platforms). Transfer to the platforms was free for them, but unfortunately transfering back to Earth is very expensive, so it's almost impossible for them to get back to Earth. Kawe has gradually found out how hard life can be on the platforms and how badly people are treated there.
Kawe is involved in the movement, which tries to make things better. He has principals and ideals, because he thinks that it doesn't matter where you are, but what you do. There has been several attempts to overthrow the management, but the attempts haven't been successful yet, because the management keeps tight control over what happens and tries to prevent mutinies.
Poulson was once involved in the movement too, but not anymore (the revelations about his past and what happened to him were interesting). However, things are changing and he has to face certain things.
The skimmer races are an important part of the story, because the racers may get a ticket back home. Racing is also good distraction and pastime for the workers. The managament is thinking of stopping the races, because they want more control. In my opinion this kind of racing is a brilliant idea and the authors have clearly spent a lot of time and effort on it. (The skimmer racing reminded me a bit of a song called "Dragonfly" by Blondie.)
Strata contains several elements from social issues to personal issues and all of them are handled surprisingly well. I was surprised how easily the authors created two different kind of characters who have to trust and respect each other. I was also intrigued by the way the authors combined action, adventure and certain space opera elements.
The story flows nicely from first page to the last page. Different themes (fight for freedom etc) are handled fluently within the story and the reader will gradually find out what has happened to the characters and what happens to them.
I enjoyed reading Strata: A Story of the Future Suns, because the characters have depth in them, the authors have combined different elements and the story is interesting. It was a pleasure to read this kind of intelligent science fiction. I'm sure that several other fans of quality science fiction will also like it.