Suspension of belief, bridge of anticipation (5/5)
The Apollo Quartet of Ian Sales began with remarkable qualities of detail orientation and desperation/isolation. That first story, a novella titled “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” (2012), oozed sincerity and dedication on the part of Sales. My expectations for the rest of the Quartet were set after reading “Adrift”; if Sales could infuse detail and humanity into each story without feeling repetitive, then he has a Midas touch. Taking “Adrift” in hand with “The Eye”, the Quartet looks to be impressive!
I procured “Adrift” on my own about two weeks ago, simply out of interest in the work of Ian Sales. I know him for his reviews and opinions on SF (e.g., twitter.com, iansales.com, sfmistressworks.wordpress.com) but I wanted to read his fiction. Happy with “Adrift”, I was even happier when I saw he had posted an invitation to receive the next two books in the Quartet. With that, Ian sent the EPUB files to me and, similar to Ian, I try to be an “irreverent blogger” and a “harsh but fair reviewer”. Regardless of having received the stories as a favor, I offer my honest opinion.
Similar to “Adrift”, there is an abundance of material aside from the story itself. The 60 pages of the EPUB file contain 43+3 pages of story and 14 pages of appendices which feature a list of abbreviations at the beginning of the story followed by a glossary, a bibliography, and a list of online resources at the end. The glossary is a mix of NASA historical fact mixed with speculation about an alternative reality of NASA’s space program (beyond Apollo 17).
Bradley Elliott married his wife, Judy, with the intention of until death do them part. He had said to her that he would accept the Mars mission even if he were offered to be the first man to land there. Little did she realize that Bradley is married to his work, bound by duty and service to NASA and to humanity. For two years, he left behind his wife and the Earth for a mission to Mars, on which he became the first man—and only man—to set foot on the red planet. He felt her marital and physical distance divide him personally, but his one hope remained on returning to Earth to shower his wife in the love she deserved:
If only Judy could see him now, could feel the same anticipation, the same excitement, the same heightened awareness he now feels, could recognise that his moment defines him, that a palpable sense of purpose stretches from this moment, from his heart, both back and forth in time. She’d forgive him for accepting the mission, of course she’d forgive him. He’d told her was coming back. Again and again, he’d told her he was coming back. Not even one hundred and fifty million miles cold keep him from her. (17-18)
His mission on Mars’ soil lasted only ten days. Landing in the Cydonia region, as he looks out the lander’s window and treads on the rusty dust of Mars, his knows his initial mission itinerary is junked; now, he has a new mission focus: “The goddamn Face. And the Pyramid” (28). But with the single mind-blowing discovery he made, America immediately found its footing on an interstellar basis rather than the piddling intrasolar start-up in which they had found themselves.
That was 1979-1980. Man had landed on Mars, a great achievement for science and for Bradley, but the social backfire of the mission was NASA’s insistence on revealing nothing to the very people who paid for the mission: the American people. Bradley became despised, eyed for his vigilant secretiveness, but he also came home to his wife as a loving husband. Soon, he retires from NASA and returns to the Air Force.
From his discovery and the information gleaned from it in Area 51, the US President announces in 1988 that the US has already had an extrasolar base for the last four years. The USAF maintains an interstellar ship and has a debacle on their hands. Bradley receives a phone call: “How’d you like to back into space again?” (43-44). Thinking of Judy while on his interstellar flight, “[S]he’s probably already packed up and left. Perhaps he deserves it” (39-40).
It’s the year 2000 and Bradley is headed 88,120,000,000,000 miles to Gliese 876 d.
Belief had to be suspended in “Adrift” for the Wunderwaffe and its trans-dimensional effect; the Nazi relic was a one-off wonder and produced an all too convenient scenario as a means of escape for the astronauts. “The Eye” is also a novella which begs for belief to be suspended, but for a more progressive and fantastic result, on three accounts: (1) technology existed in 1979 to send a man (literally, one man) to the surface of Mars; (2) Cydonia was the chosen as the first landing site because of the “convincing” Face on Mars; and (3) snapshots of the Mars artifact were detailed enough. If you can ignore these peculiarities and focus on what was accomplished and where Bradley is going, then you should find yourself being struck by the wonderment of Ian Sales’ What if… scenario.
Most people would be torn, thrown into turmoil, when confronting a major bipolar decision: stay with wife or go to Mars (OK, that’s an easy one, but don’t tell my wife). Bradley’s decision to go to Mars is tinged with the “Men are from Mars” theme—he simply wants to leave his Venusian (?) wife and return home to Mars. While “until death do us part” may spur Bradley to return to his wife, the decision to man missions for NASA is an overarching responsibility which trumps all other commitments—even marriage. It may be a tad monomaniacal, but Bradley certainly has his qualms with the responsibility he is willing to shoulder.
He is, after all, the most suitable man for the job 1.5 light years away, for one reason at least.
“The Eye” shares similar themes as “Adrift”: a foundation of hard details supporting a speculative wonder clouded by an atmosphere of isolation (nearly verbatim from the “Adrift” review). This novella swaddles the trio; the result: a frission of disbelief and heightened expectation. Fingers crossed the last two books follow in suit. The remaining stories in the Quartet are:
· Book 1, novella: “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” (2012)
· Book 3, novella: “Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above” (2013)
· Book 4, “All That Outer Space Allows” (yet-to-be published)