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Monday, April 18, 2011

Reading List: Children of Apollo

Whittington, Mark R. Children of Apollo. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2002. ISBN 978-1-4010-4592-0.
This is a brilliant concept and well-executed (albeit with some irritating flaws I will discuss below). This novel is within the genre of “alternative history” and, conforming to the rules, takes a single counterfactual event as the point of departure for a recounting of the 1970s as I, and I suspect many others, expected that decade to play out at its dawn. It is a celebration of what might have been, and what we have lost compared to the future we chose not to pursue.

In the novel's timeline, an obscure CIA analyst writes a memo about the impact Soviet efforts to beat the U.S. to the Moon are having upon the Soviet military budget and economy, and this memo makes it to the desk of President Nixon shortly after the landing of Apollo 11. Nixon is persuaded by his senior advisors that continuing and expanding the Apollo and follow-on programs (whose funding had been in decline since 1966) would be a relatively inexpensive way to, at the least, divert funds which would otherwise go to Soviet military and troublemaking around the world and, at the best, bankrupt their economy because an ideology which proclaimed itself the “wave of the future” could not acquiesce to living under a “capitalist Moon”.

Nixon and his staff craft a plan thoroughly worthy of the “Tricky Dick” moniker he so detested, and launch a program largely modelled upon the 1969 Space Task Group report, with the addition of transitioning the space shuttle recommended in the report to competitive procurement of transportation services from the private sector. This sets off the kind of steady, yet sustainable, expansion of the human presence into space that von Braun always envisioned. At the same time, it forces the Soviets, the Luddite caucus in Congress, and the burgeoning environmental movement into a corner, and they're motivated to desperate measures to bring an end to what some view as destiny but they see as disaster.

For those interested in space who lived through the 1970s and saw dream after dream dashed, downscoped, or deferred, this is a delightful and well-crafted exploration of how it could have been. Readers too young to remember the 1970s may miss a number of the oblique references to personalities and events of that regrettable decade.

The Kindle edition is perfectly readable, reasonably inexpensive, but sloppily produced. A number of words are run together and hyphenated words in the print edition not joined. Something funny appears to have happened in translating passages in italics into the electronic edition—I can't quite figure out what, but I'm sure the author didn't intend parts of words to be set in italics. In addition there are a number of errors in both the print and Kindle editions which would have been caught by a sharp-eyed copy editor. I understand that this is a self-published work, but there are many space buffs (including this one) who would have been happy to review the manuscript and check it for both typographical and factual errors.

Posted at April 18, 2011 22:44