Recovering Apollo 8 And Other Stories
In Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories Kristine Kathryn Rusch brings together nine tales that prove once again that Rusch is a master of her craft.
The title story is an "alternate history" tale that captures--and gently, sweetly holds--the mysterious charge of adventure and possibility that’s common to youth, but that too often evaporates over time. In this case, a wealthy industrialist named Richard finds his sense of wonder sustained over his 100+ year lifespan by the tragic loss of an early American spacecraft, Apollo 8. (This did not actually happen, though Apollo 13 suffered a devastating accident and had to return to Earth without its crew setting down on the Moon.) Richard’s burning curiosity enables him to become a foremost leader in developing space flight technologies, and when he finds himself in a position to track and recover the Apollo 8 capsule, Richard finds himself poised on the brink of history.
Another alternative history, "G-Men," story finds Rusch investigating the murder of the FBI’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover, a crime made to look like what the homophobic cops on the beat call a "lifestyle kill." But agent Francis Bryce soon discerns that there’s more going on than an execution targeting someone because of his sexuality; meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, still newly bereaved after the assassination of his brother John, moves quickly to secure sensitive files that had been too long in Hoover’s possession. The power plays resonate with global impact; if Rusch, who often uses her short stories as springboards into novels (or even series of novels) were to expand this gem into a book of its own, she’d have a thriller of the first water--the story’s historic and political threads are rich with possibility.
Elsewhere, in "The End of the World," Rusch tackles racism, both of the inter-species and intra-species kind. This is a story that glows and crackles with passion, as Rusch sets up two subplots against one another. In the present, a police investigator, Becca, must weight her feelings for her ex-husband, Chase--complex emotions mixing affection and resentment--against the duty that an extraordinary find makes clear: Chase has discovered what seems to be a mass grave. In the past, the story of who is buried in that grave, and why, is obliquely, but exactingly, told; the more overt tale is one of compassion and courage, as a human man in a turn-of-the-century rural town intervenes to rescue an alien child. Rusch moulds the two stories around one another: they have distinct tones and textures, and they set one another off with keen intelligence and emotional acuity.
Those qualities abound, too, in the mournful "June Sixteenth at Anna’s," a story in which conversation becomes prized as an art form as never before, and select conversations are plucked from the past by advanced technology. Users of the hi-tech recordings don’t just hear and see conversations from the past; they enter virtual realities in which all the senses are engaged. For Mac, the technology is a way to see his beloved late wife, Leta, in her youth, because she was one of the participants in the celebrated conversation that took place at Anna’s restaurant one June 16th. It’s all too clear why Mac would enter into these fully sensory recordings, but why--aside from the celebrity they brought her--was Leta so taken with them?
"Craters," too, is a deeply felt, even troubling, tale, following a journalist, Martha, into a refugee camp. The details of a strange world that exists right here and right now fill the reader’s imagination with an impact equal to the speculative fiction aspect of the piece--a new kind of bomb that kills not only innocents in the immediate vicinity, but also the bomb’s carrier--who has no idea that he or she has been enlisted into a terrorist cause. The senselessness of terrorism is underlined with inescapable starkness in Rusch’s vision of a world where even long-received forms of wisdom and decency have lost meaning.
Milder--but still moving--is "Substitutions," a story about mortality and fate in which Silas, a man who works as a kind of angel of death is approached--on his day off--by a young new recruit in over his head. When he learns who is about to die, and in what circumstances, even a hardened old pro like Silas is tempted to force the hand of destiny in a new direction--but how much can he do to influence that which must be? What starts off as a meditative and moody piece quickly picks up intensity, hitting home-and hitting hard.
All here is not grief and gloom, though. In "The Strangeness of the Day," Rusch is out to have fun, and she succeeds. This retelling of Sleeping Beauty pits a savvy modern lawyer named Nora against a pair of magicians who have made off with a treasure so valuable that their nemesis, a powerful sorceress, is willing to burn down suburban neighborhoods and cause all manner of carnage to get it back. Rusch did turn this story into a novel, Utterly Charming, which in turn led to five more novels in the series. Like the title of the book it grew into, this story is... well, you know where this is going. Be prepared to laugh in amusement and appreciation.
"A Taste of Miracles" is the shortest entry in the book--almost too short to say much about without spoiling it. Suffice it to say that it’s a treat.
Several of the stories are novella length, and that is true of "Diving Into the Wreck," an adventure in which a crew of freelance salvage workers investigate an ancient starship from Old Earth. The thrilling thing is what a rare find the ship, an almost legendary type of war vessel, is; but the mystery is how the ancient wreck got so far away from its point of origin, and what happened to its crew. This is another case in which Rusch expanded the story into a novel, and it’s a good thing she did; even at novella length, this story feels like a teaser for something far bigger and more elaborate.
Like her earlier collection for Golden Gryphon Press, Stories for an Enchanted Afternoon, this new anthology is a cornucopia of imagination, skill, heart, and daring. Rusch is one of those writers who doesn’t just pull rabbits from hats--she can produce just about anything else, too, from what seems like thin air. There’s no genre so exotic or theme so rarefied that Rusch can’t roll up her sleeves, plunge in, and astound.
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Publisher: Golden Gryphon Press. Publication date: May, 2010. Pages: 316. Price: $24.95. Format: Hardcover Original. ISBN 978-1-930-846-623