Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy, Book 1), by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
I read this book sometime last year but decided to pick it up again in preparation for volume 2, being released this month.
The book is set above a post apocalyptic earth in one of two remaining space stations circling in low orbit. The stations are huge and generally self-supporting, but they are also aging badly in the years since a nuclear war made the earth unlivable. In order to resupply with needed parts, hell divers jump from low orbit to the ground where they risk contamination to retrieve needed items, then rise back to the ship with large helium balloons. Xavier Rodriguez, known as X to most people, is one of the most experienced of the hell divers.
In addition to contamination the divers face storms so violent that the the space stations must sometimes navigate around them. Now, in a series of several jumps, X and the other divers discover that something new has evolved on earth: Ugly eaters of energy and men they call sirens.
Things are also not entirely well on the stations, where society has become stratified between upper and lower decks. Revolution is in the air.
Between jumps X bonds with the son of one of the jumpers who didn’t make it back, an emotional openness he’s avoided since the death of his wife.
Usually I avoid anything labelled as “post-apocalyptic”, but Smith has created a unique world and situation. Some of the travel back and forth between earth and the stations seems a little more fantastic than usual, but he makes it easy to gloss over the engineering for a very strong mix of adventure, political metaphor, heroism, and human bonding. He’s created a world filled with unique personalities and some pretty frightening monsters. I’m now primed and ready for my pre-order of volume 2 to arrive.