I would think any fan or scholar of the ‘classic’ era of spaceflight, the space race, and humankind’s first steps away from sessility knows how many ifs and maybes there are in the stories and histories we tell. What if the rocket had not exploded, what if Russia, or the US, would have decided on different missions, different risks, different strategic, tactical, political approaches?
Ian Sales, a British author and editor, has written a series of stories based on some of these premises – four of them are collected in the Apollo Quartet, the first of which, ‘Adrift on the Sea of Rains’ won a BSFA award. All of them are departures, at some point, from the US timeline as we know it, all of them deeply researched, extensively documented (you do NOT skip footnotes in an Ian Sales book!), and presented in line with the documentation style we know from the era. Truly grand stuff for any fan of space flight.
The collection at hand, Dreams of the Space Age – again in the format of a small and beautifully presented hardback, is the fanciful child of these stories. Here we have a bit less rigour, a tad more fiction, but all stories are well researched, are deeply rooted in human space flight history as we know it, and depart from it somewhere.
All stories, save the final one, were previously published; and all are introduced by a relevant picture from classic space flight history.The book starts with an Introduction by Dave Hutchinson, and finishes with a short biography of Ian Sales, but none of the usual lists of NASA acronyms, mission timelines, sources, or website references we are used to from the Apollo Quartet.Below I run through the stories in the book for those interested – if this spoils your enjoyment of the collection then stop here, with a strong recommendation to obtain and read this yourself!
The US will be the first nation to put a man into space. Instead of the chimp Ham they have picked a fading Bantamweight boxer (can you spell expendable?), Barker, to put in a capsule and send into Orbit. With, as it stands/stood at that point, very little testing or knowledge of what this means. Von Braun is not happy, but he will do it, for the sake of the Space Programme which is at risk of being canceled entirely.
A wide-eyed look at some of the politically driven pragmatism which drove at least parts of the space race and its decisions.
This story, or rather conglomerate of very short fragments, left me reeling. Each piece re-tells an event from known spaceflight history, until they go, as inexorably as unexplained – strange? The Cosmonaut ejecting from his plummeting capsule, to fall forever. The astronaut, who after splashdown, appears to be in a different capsule than the one retrieved by the Navy. The space walker who disappears, leaving his crew mate to return alone.
There’s more, but I’m sure you see where this is going. Faith. The closest I’ve ever read, in spirit, is Durrenmatt’s The Tunnel. Incredible, and disturbing.The Spaceman and the Moon Girl
A story of a model who has married a USAF Captain, for love, and has not given up her career for him, or for kids. But now he’s been chosen for the Astronaut corps, and is heading for the moon, and suddenly things are different…The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled
A story of Dr/Major Stapp, and his fabled Rocket Sled, which has saved the lifes of countless airment with the results of the experiments conducted there – frequently with himself as the test subject. This is told from the viewpoint of one of his volunteers for the tests – I presume it’s fictionalised, but it might as well not be.
Stapp still holds the speed (632mph) and deceleration (46.2g forwards) records. Don’t try this at home, kids.Far Voyager
A world where after Apollo there was but one manned mission to leave orbit – Voyager, build around Apollo/Saturn S-IV B stage technology (like Skylab in our time line), plus a nuclear propulsion unit. And a single one-way passenger.
And now (and it is the here and now, as the time line has caught up) the craft with its 91 years old passenger is about to cross the heliopause into interstellar space. The first to go…
An amazing story.Red Desert
The US has followed through – after the Moon landings they went on to Mars, before the Millennium was out. They landed a (married…) couple, with a rover, in an opposition class mission with a 30 day stay on the surface. But now one of the Astronauts has gone missing, mysteriously. Presumed dead, for obvious reason. And the mission is taking on a much darker tone.Our Glorious Socialist Future Among the Stars!
The Soviets are the first to Mars – Gagarin and Komarov are the crew of a fly-by mission on a free-return trajectory. Except somehow someone somewhere has got the course calculation ever so slightly wrong, and Mars has captured the space ship. And now survival, even in the short term only, depends on them landing their Soyuz, manually, on the Red Planet. And the first Man on Mars will be a Soviet – on what is now a one-way mission.
But what Gagarin discovers on the surface is something else – and I’m not going to tell you, the ending is delicious, and ironic, and wholly unexpected.
A grand finale to a great book of stories on losing, losing oneself, and on finding. All set in the middle of classic space flight history.Title: Dreams of the Space Age
Author: Ian Sales
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Del Rey
Publisher URL: http://www.whippleshieldbooks.com
Publication Date: 2016
Review Date: 170604
Price: UKP 6.99
Format: Hardback, Limited
Topic: Space Flight History