I am delighted, I managed to get a short story published in Daily Science Fiction.
Its a bit of a trick story. After you have read it top to bottom, try reading it line by line from bottom to top.
Daily Science Fiction have rights to it for a year. I may post it here after that.
In the meantime, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, here is another of my pieces of science fiction. I hope you enjoy it.
A Decade per Inch
I often wonder if things might have been different if JFK had died in Dallas that November day in 1963. The surgeons said it was close. Five inches back and to the left and we’d have had a dead President rather than an injured one. The way I see it, when Oswald failed to assassinate Kennedy, we lost fifty years of progress in space. That’s a decade per inch that Lee Harvey shot wide. I’m not advocating the violent assassination of the President, I hasten to add, but its interesting to wonder what might have been.
What makes this speculation so fascinating is that while it was Kennedy that set the US on course to the moon, it was also JFK’s low standing by 1967 which killed the dream. Perhaps a new President might have handled his personal life with more discretion. Instead Kennedy’s dalliances with Monroe and other actresses had come to light. His campaign in Vietnam had become a political quagmire. His amphetamine use was leading to calls for his impeachment. A new President might have had enough political capital in the wake of Kennedy’s death to keep the Apollo programme moving after the Apollo 1 fire, the same way the civil rights movement drew on the deaths of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the sixties. I guess its no surprise that the moon missions were a failure. The technical challenges were perhaps too great for the times. I mean have you seen the crazy looking mock-up Grumman built for the Luna Lander before Apollo was cancelled? We were so close back then but instead almost fifty years have passed and we still don’t have a manned moon landing.
I guess after the failure of Apollo our appetite for space exploration just dwindled. We’d already been beaten by the Russians so many times. The USSR achieved the first satellite, then the first man and woman in orbit. They soft landed the first probe on the on the Moon with Luna 9. I think that it just knocked the stuffing out of the USA as a nation. I mean sure we carried on and sent robotic probes to Mars and the outer planets, but the USSR beat us to the first landing on another planet with Venera 7 on Venus in 1970 and pipped us to the post on the red planet with Mars 3 in 1971 and then achieved the first space station with Salyut 1 in the same year. Russians didn’t manage to have a manned moon mission with Zond until 1975, and with the US effectively out of the space race, they never attempted a landing.
Meanwhile we languished politically. Nixon was a crook. Ford became President without ever being elected to high office. Carter opposed the whole manned space flight programme stating “Our space policy will become more evolutionary rather than centring around a single, massive engineering feat.” His lack of vision hobbled the shuttle programme meaning that it never fulfilled its potential.
Things went from bad to worse when we elected a damned actor to the presidency. I like Charlton Heston’s films, but he was scarcely presidential material. I mean hell, he did such an awful job, that Gorbachev decided that the USSR no longer needed the Eastern European nations as a bulwark against NATO and pulled down the Berlin Wall. The only upside was that a few years later the Soviet Union fell apart, having no plausible external threat to keep its citizens united, giving rise to the current distasteful but less terrifying Russian regime.
George Bush dragged us into a bunch of foreign wars, Clinton almost got impeached, George W Bush tried to win a war his daddy had already lost and presided over the greatest loss of life to enemy action ever seen on US soil. Obama devoted all his time to a healthcare bill that his opponents seem determined to repeal and allowed the NSA to run a coach and horses through the Constitution. All in all there were decades of potential space exploration advance wasted. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, none of them really pushed the manned space flight agenda the way I hoped they might.
Thanks to the lack of funding, the old style US launch industry are still using the tech from Apollo and the Shuttle eras. Maybe their cost plus mindset would never have been able to get us to the moon. However I like to think maybe it could have succeeded given the political will. Instead China, India and a bunch of other nations are making great strides on their own space programmes instead. Even the regime in North Korea have launched a satellite now.
But now we are finally on our way again. Whatever his faults, and lord knows I did not expect him to beat Clinton, Donald Trump may actually deliver us some American boots on another world with his Lunar Gateway project. I know his moon landing announcement is just to distract from his problems getting anything substantive past the courts, and his fight over the border wall in Congress these days, but I am still excited. Space X have stepped up and said they reckon they can maybe arrange a launch by late 2019 for five billion dollars, before they turn their attention to Mars. Blue Origin have a promising lander design in the works. Congress is fighting Trump’s wall tooth and nail, perhaps he can save face by funding a different $5 billion pet project. If Space X and Blue Origin succeed then we should at least beat the Chinese to the moon and salvage a little of the pride that burned on launch pad 34 with Apollo 1. Finally after all this time pad 39A at the hubristically named Kennedy Space Centre might get used for its intended purpose sending mankind to the moon. Lets just hope that a presidential scandal does not kill the effort again this time. We are fifty years late but finally the US could have a significant space flight win with the first man on the moon.
The changes Kennedy’s death might have made are hard to calculate of course but perhaps Apollo would have been a success. If we’d landed on the moon in 1969 as planned it would have galvanised humankind to look to the stars and settle out petty differences on Earth. The wars and failures of the last half century might not have happened. Maybe we might have elected an actor for president with actual political experience like Ronald Reagan. Russia might have been forced to become a democracy rather than a kleptocracy. We might have elected visionary leaders rather than allowing the rise of totalitarianism, nationalism, the surveillance state, and the politics of fear.
I’m guessing that by now we’d have orbital industry, bases on the Moon, folks on Mars, possibly even settlements in the asteroid belt. Who knows how things might really have turned out, but I believe that one thing is certain. If Apollo had succeeded the present might look a little more like 2001 by Clarke and a little less like 1984 by Orwell.