I’ve been fortunate enough to read all the previous novellas in Ian’s uber-cool Apollo Quartet series, and all of them are unique both in the telling and the reading, and am pleased to say this one is another corker (and considerably longer than previous instalments). The series itself is ‘defined’ by all the stories revolving in some way around the Apollo 13 missions, and are a cracking collection of alternative histories to boot.
It’s been a while in coming, but this fourth and final book adopts yet another approach to the whole business, this time revolving around the conflicting goals and inhibitive lifestyle of that rather select group of women: the Astronaut Wives Club (AWC). There is a central conflict going on between the narrator (astronaut wife, Ginny Eckhardt) and her fellow astronaut wives, but there is also an undercurrent of private, internal conflict going on with her test-pilot husband turned astronaut, Walden J Eckhardt, typified by the morally restrictive nature of the times. In this slightly skewed alternate history, science fiction is considered mainly ‘women’s literature’, and the majority of the science fiction writers in the field are also women. Ginny herself writes science fiction tales under a pseudonym, V G Parker (which seems ironic under the circumstances, but then she is struggling to get to grips with the rest of the AWC), and the dichotomy between science fact and science fiction is masterfully executed. There is some confusion as to whether or not the majority of 1960s SF magazine readers are male or female, but the genre itself doesn’t seem to know, either…
Also, there are some great moments when ‘evidence’ is presented throughout to reinforce the rest of the story… things like the contents page of an issue of Galaxy Magazine, real snippets from classic essays/works like Billion Year Spree and New Maps of Hell, letters from her editor, a biography page from the SF Encyclopedia, one of her stories as it appears in the magazine, a LoC (Letter of Comment – remember them?) about one of V G Parker’s stories, etc.
There is a core theme here, but surprisingly it’s not ‘conflict’ — the author is telling a well-crafted story about inhibition and the tactful propriety of the times, and telling it with an occasional interjection of his own by crossing that forbidden barrier between author and narrator (he frequently intercedes as ‘the voice of god’, deliberately so). As jarring as this is the first time you encounter it, soon enough it becomes totally immersive and I stopped registering it after a while.
It’s a relatively short read, but there is a swathe of reference material cited at the end, and although this is a recurring feature throughout the AQ series, it still helps to make this a distinctively impressive feat of alternative history done well. I was also very impressed at how things come full circle when the first few lines of V G Parker’s next story are presented… smartly done, Mr Sales!
A highly recommended series, and although I look forward to seeing them assembled into one volume sometime soon, I am extremely proud of my personal collection of signed, numbered, limited edition hardbacks, all bought directly from the author – they’ve proved quite a find, and I wouldn’t hesitate to urge any genre reader to seek these out in whatever form you can find them.