Almost three years ago I read “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” by Ian Sales, the first story in the Apollo Quartet (followed by “The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself“, “Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above” and All That Outer Space Allows). Each was an emotional story featuring literary prose, hard science and Space Age trivia. I quickly devoured each and was left wanting more. So you can believe me when I say I was excited to read Ian’s new collection, Dreams of the Space Age.
There are seven stories in Dreams of the Space Age, six of which were previously published and one which was original to the collection. I’ll give a brief review of each and try not to give too much of the plot away since they all are rather short. Let’s begin:
- “Barker”: An alternate history where the Americans try to beat the Soviets in putting the first man in space by sending a bantamweight boxer in place of a chimp. Its a dark story that shows what usually happens when you rush things and don’t ever use your head. Recommend.
- “Faith”: When you at some point have to rely on someone else to do things right, sometimes things can go wrong in the strangest ways. This story can be considered weird fiction, just without the tentacle monsters, and it produces more questions then answers. Recommend.
- “The Spaceman and the Moon Girl”: A fashion model who showcased “Space Age” clothing slowly comes to the realization that there is little chance for individuality as an astronaut’s wife. My big issue with this story is that is has pretty much the same plot as All That Outer Space Allows, just switch fashion model with science fiction author. I recommend reading that story instead.
- “The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled”: A sergeant rides a rocket sled to test deceleration on humans. This is the most grounded of the stories, but I did get to learn about John Stapp, who is a pretty interesting character. I wasn’t sure what the “irony” was at first, but after reading this article I think I may understand now. Recommend, if you don’t mind historical fiction.
- “Far Voyager”: The best way to describe this story is “what if Voyager was a manned mission”. Its a solo mission as well so you can probably guess how lonely and sad this story is. Recommend.
- “Red Desert”: A husband and wife astronaut team are exploring Mars when suddenly the husband disappears. The wife, now alone of the dead planet, has to continue on with the mission and escapes into her mind to cope with her loss. Another sad story that deals with grief…and madness.
- “Our Glorious Socialist Future Among the Stars”: After losing the Moon to the Americans, the Soviets throw a Hail Mary and send the first manned mission to Mars. Things don’t go well and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, finds himself alone on the Red Planet…or at least that is what he thinks. If you like the pulpy tales of space exploration, but told from the perspective of someone on the other side of the Iron Curtain, you will like this story. Admittedly at some point you begin to wonder whether any of this is really happening or is it all just happening inside the dying Yuri’s head, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. Recommend.
So 6 recommendations out of 7 stories is not bad. To be fair, my big issue with “The Spaceman and the Moon Girl” was that the plot was just so similar to All That Outer Space Allows and I already read that. It still was written well, as were all the other stories. Ian really can add emotion to the cold vacuum his protagonists travel through. Still I should also mention I did notice a couple of typos. Nothing that ruined the collection for me, but they were there and should have been caught.
If you want a quick read of hard science fiction with emotional writing, you will enjoy Ian Sales’ Dreams of the Space Age.