Asimov’s, February 2007

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"Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

"Outgoing" by Alex Wilson

"Close" by William Preston

"The Chimera Transit" by Jack Skillingstead

"Cold Fire" by Tanith Lee

"A Portrait of the Artist" by Charles Midwinter

In the February 2007 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, we have Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s "Recovering Apollo 8," an alternate reality tale.  The Apollo 8 spacecraft went tragically off course, profoundly affecting the space program and the life of Richard Johansenn, who was eight at the time of the accident. Richard has amassed a fortune through his aerospace and technology companies, but all his work has actually been directed toward fulfilling his childhood dream—to bring back the Apollo 8 spacecraft, to rescue the long-dead capsule floating helplessly in an elliptical orbit around the sun.

This is a thoughtful, introspective piece that speaks to themes of hope, doubt, perseverance, and obsession. The point of view is intensely personal and conjures an almost palpable sense of Richard’s single-mindedness, as well as empathy for his deep longing to bring Apollo 8 home.

Wilson‘s "Outgoing" also involves a solar orbit and introspection, bringing together two introverts for an unusual rendezvous in space. Tara Jones feels stifled by her partner and by people in general, so she seeks solitude by applying for a position on a NASA mission as the "first poet in space." She finds that she’s not nearly as alone as she’d hoped, but her situation changes in a most unexpected way with the arrival of Chris Moser, an inventor intent on successfully completing an experiment he attempted as a child.
Overall, this story is enjoyable, especially when the two strands—the lives of Tara and Moser—begin to come together. The obsessive Moser and the self-absorbed Tara are endearingly antisocial together, but neither ever becomes a cliché. The characters are well drawn and multifaceted, engendering both positive and negative feelings. I found myself thinking of them as I might real-life individuals rather than just characters.
On the other hand, I was distracted by one element of Tara’s background. While the lightness of her bones does prove to be important, the strong emphasis on it early in the story almost led me to expect her to possess a compensatory super power. The bird analogy just didn’t work. The "untrainable kitten" analogy Tara employs on the ship is also jarring. These by no means ruined the story, but it might have been stronger without them.
Like Tara and Moser, the main character in William Preston‘s "Close" is an introvert. Painfully shy Ed goes to a support group hoping for help in coming out of his shell, only to end up in the wrong room amongst people with a very different problem.
This tale is immediately intriguing, with its lonely, haunted atmosphere and its socially isolated protagonist. I could empathize with Ed, feel his discomfort as he struggled for the right words or actions, as he agonized through slow-motion embarrassments and uncertainties.
My only difficulty with "Close" was that on first reading, the ending seemed abrupt. But the lovely spookiness of the story made me want to give it another chance, so I read it again, and this time the ending worked. This story is to be savored; read it slowly and soak in the atmosphere to fully appreciate it.

Jack Skillingstead
brings us another tale of internal struggle in "The Chimera Transit." Paralyzed by regret and loss, Jack Porter self-medicates using a device he has developed to adjust brain chemistry. But no matter how often he releases endorphins or how many dopamine cocktails he transmits, he can’t escape his memories, or the irrevocable decision he must make.

Skillingstead conveys his character’s depression convincingly, with enough sympathy to keep a reader engaged, but not so much as to romanticize his hopelessness. I could feel the dull ache of life as Jack Porter experiences it, yet understood the frustration expressed by the women in his life.

Also, the evocative descriptions of ordinary situations throughout this piece are enjoyable. Unexpected turns of phrase enabled me to not only visualize settings and situations, but to experience them along with the characters.

In Tanith Lee‘s "Cold Fire," Pete Corgen is doing odd jobs aboard ship, grateful to his "brother," the captain, for a second chance at a useful life. But the ship and its crew are soon given a commission they can’t refuse—to tow a very dangerous, very cold cargo to a destiny none of them could foresee.

This is a fascinating tale in terms of plot, characterization, and the telling itself. The mysterious, ominous cargo piques interest, while Pete’s personal story engages emotions. I could hear the creaking mast and the raucous calls of the drunken crew, and feel the fear rising in their hearts. Lee’s expert use of dialect also added character and flavor to the tale without weighing it down or creating confusion.
In "A Portrait of the Artist" by Charles Midwinter, a starving artist and a paranoid techie with more money than she knows how to use encounter some little creatures that are more than they seem.
Although well written, this piece did not work well for me. While cute, it’s also a little choppy. The point of view shifts from character to character in a distracting execution of omniscient. More importantly, obstacles that should be significant are overcome too easily, especially at the end. Also, "A Portrait of the Artist" is much lighter in tone than the other stories in this issue, which evoked a brooding and introspective mood, one that I was startled out of by this blithe tale.