Thursday, March 01, 2012

Fortress on the Sun

By Paul Cook

Ra is a factory that sits close to the Sun, designed to harvest metals from the Sun's plasma. It is protected by powerful shields. It is also an escape-proof prison for the over 100 men and women incarcerated within. Before being sent to Ra, their memories were wiped clean, some back to their early twenties, some back to early childhood. All of the prisoners with some adult memory also have technical training and skills and they are in charge of overseeing the rest of the prisoners and of the running of the prison, because Ra has no guards, no supervisors, no one except prisoners. They are on their own.
Ian Hutchings, a brilliant scientist who has been sentenced to Ra for the death of billions, something he doesn't remember, has sort of taken the leadership position in the prison. He is eaten up with guilt over the deaths he is accused of causing, so much so that he wears self-imposed shackles on his wrists and ankles as a reminder and a punishment.
But overseeing so many people, many of whom have the mental processes of little children, is a terrible burden. A burden that only becomes worse when a strange, new illness starts to affect the prisoners. And the powers-that-be are ignoring Hutchings' pleas for aid, declaring that it is just a plot to escape from Ra. So Hutchings and the few other "adult" prisoners will have to cope with this dire emergency completely on their own.

This was a really interesting story. The prisoners have to cope with their memory gaps and with the childish members of the population. And when the disease strikes and no help is forthcoming from the authorities, it is the prisoners who have to come up with a cure on their own. And in the process discover the truth about what is really happening at Ra.
But I did think the ending was weak. I can't go into detail without revealing important information about the story, but it did sort of seem as if the author got tired of the story and decided to wrap it up very quickly. But other than what I felt was an unlikely ending, I did enjoy this story a lot. It was interesting and engaging and I liked the mystery behind the prisoners' incarceration.

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