Friday, March 28, 2008

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Recovering Apollo 8" (novella, science fiction): Shipwreck & wreck recovery in space

Quite readable first half, but it begins degenerating a little after half-way point towards incredulity.

Story itself is alternate history. Real Apollo 8 mission of NASA to moon & back, with crew & dates that match the ones listed in this story, was a successful one.

In this story, something goes wrong & the ship never enters lunar orbit; it instead goes away from earth & moon into deep space. Story is mostly about recovery of the ship & crew, beginning 40 years later - between 2007 & 2068. First 2 of the 4 chapters are decent enough, though I felt uncomfortable with the idea of using real survivors in a story where they die.

There are also occasional lame statements like "one of his computer visionaries, a man named Gates, had proposed selling those smaller computers to the business market" - his refers to hero of the story - one Richard J Johansenn. Plus super heroics of Richards, the billionaire mastermind - even at age 108!

This story would have been much better at half the length. It would also have been more credible if the initial recovery date was a couple of decades into future rather than 2007.

If you're into classical sf, you'll find nearly every theme in this story a rehashed one. If not, it gives a taste of a bygone era.

In spite of the flaws, I was entertained. At novella length, it's the most engaging story I've seen so far in both Nebula & Hugo Awards lists - a particularly weak category this year.

Full text of this story is available for download.

Story summary.

Story is divided into 4 parts - 2007, 2018, 2020, 2068. Hero is 108 in 2068.

Early in the story, we are told of the Apollo 8 disaster, & that both ship & crew are lost. Young Richard, then 8, will make it his lifelong obsession to recover that ship & bring it back to earth.

We then meet him at age 48, a billionaire, & with far flung space businesses. That's about our current time. This is where the lost ship gets located - it's in an elliptic orbit about sun, & approaching its nearest point to earth. And there is a mission to recover the ship. Mission will be successful, except the Apollo 8 ship is empty! No signs of the 3 crew! Turns out they jumped off the ship - to die in vast spaces rather than in cramped quarters inside their ship.

Jump to 2018. Richard had started a new project to locate & recover these 3 floating corpses in space! It's believed they are also in orbit about sun, but how to locate them?

Early in this second part, one of his employees has located one of the corpses. Looks like the spacesuit of crew included a plastic helmet with characteristic spectrum. Another mission, & the corpse is recovered - of Lovell.

We are now somewhat more than half way through the story, & really incredulous rest is about to begin. In 2020, the star researcher of Richard has left, & no one has a clue to location of other two lost spacemen. That is where we are introduced to some China/US talk - evil China wants some of US technology, etc. Anyway, Chinese government has located the second corpse, & wants some space technology as trade. Trade is made, mission launched, & corpse recovered - of Commander Borman.

Over to last part - 2068, the most incredulous. Richard, 108, has long lost interest in the project. He is on the way to Mars with his 48-year old daughter Delia. Part of the way through, he will manually locate the third corpse!!! And get off the ship in a lifeboat, & recover the corpse - of Anders!

Fact sheet.

"Recovering Apollo 8", short story, review
First published: Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2007.
Rating: A
Nominated for Hugo Award 2008 in novella category.


Anacho said...

Thank you for rewiev, really good.