It turns out that Rocket’s Red Glare is NOT an exclusively American themed collection. A few of the stories fit that theme, but now that the number has dipped below .500, I’m forced to conclude that the unabashedly pro-US position in some of the stories is the icing and not the cake. Which is fine – the quality of the stories ranges from the merely good to the great, and I would certainly recommend this collection. It’s probably not something to recommend to those who become triggered when accidentally reading a story that exults in a pro-Western worldview, but normal science fiction fans with a healthy psyche will definitely enjoy Rocket’s Red Glare.
The next story in the line-up is Jupiter Convergence, by Robert E. Vardeman, an interesting first contact tale that pits the heroic and humble lunar scientists who made the contact against the petty political appointees of the UN who want to commandeer the project for their own vainglory. The adventure hops around the solar system and strikes a perfect balance between thinking man’s puzzles, political chicanery, and fast paced action.
If anything, Jupiter Convergence suffers from being too fast paced. That’s an odd complaint from an avowed member of the Pulp Revolution, but this story could easily be expanded from a short to a novella or even a full length novel. The tech and the politics are presented in broad brush strokes, yet have enough details to drive the plot and the character’s actions along. Doing so means taking a lot of short-cuts, and a lot of the twists and turns of the plot result from important off-screen events that feature a lot of room for expansion.
For example, the three main spacefaring powers in the story are the UN, the North American Federation, and…Nigeria. How Nigeria comes to be a space-faring power is an interesting story that gets short shrift in the story, but has the potential for a full chapter all on its own. It’s the sort of detail that helps differentiate the stories time from our own. In the story we are only told that Nigeria comes to be a space faring nation by securing and wisely spending its oil reserves, and that they are something of a pariah nation for pursuing technology paths that the UN would prefer left untouched.
The actual first contact also flies by at breakneck speed. That’s fine for a short story collection, but give the brain-power available in the form of the scientists making contact, huge swathes of speculation, detail, and discovery feel left out.
Bear in mind, “I want more,” shouldn’t register as a complaint, but as a compliment.
Lending credence to my new position that Rocket’s Red Glare is more “generic sci-fi” and less “America! Oo-rah! Sci-fi”, this story doesn’t feature a single American character, and the one attempt by the North American Federation to influence the action is stonewalled by the petty UN officials. Unless you consider the rational distaste for UN meddling to be a sign of Americana, in which case an argument could be made for this story fitting into the latter sci-fi theme!
Moving on to the next story, Graveyard Orbit, Christopher Chupik presents the harrowing tale of low-earth-orbit salvagers taking a stab at recycling an old Soviet satellite. Kurt and Sierra are a married couple with a contract to recover what turns out to be a black-book satellite that doesn’t appear on any official records. They encounter trouble of a disturbing nature and find themselves engaged in a fight for survival against an ancient evil.
The atmosphere of this tale is suitably creepy, and Chupik uses the top-secret nature of the Soviet space program to great effect in slowly ratcheting up the tension until revealing the main threat to the safety of the married couple.
The final confrontation of this story winds up being an example of a small woman beating up a much larger man – and one trained for combat – but Chupik avoids the modern conceit of this being a fight between two equals. The drama and uncertainty is preserved as Sierra is clearly outmanned physically. If the final fight was a stand up affair, the outcome would never be in doubt. Instead, Chupik takes the smart route of having Sierra fight both clever and dirty, and he adds an additional layer of psychological combat to the zero-gravity fight. It is hard to explain how this works without ruining a few of the fun surprises in this story, so suffice it to say this is one of the few examples of a fight between mismatched opponents that is believable enough not to shake the reader out of the story.
As a side note, other than one leap of faith required to accept the nature of the threat, Graveyard Orbit should satisfy fans of diamond hard science fiction. Fuel supplies, orbital mechanics, zero-gee considerations, life support operations, even the history of the Soviet space program – all play important roles in this tale.