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Abandon In Place

by Jerry Oltion

(Tor, hardcover, $24.95, 365 pages; November 2000; cover art by Vincent Di Fate.)

Were you a child of the Apollo space program years? Did you ever look up into the night sky back then and dream dreams of cover scanone day being able to walk in space like the then new astronauts: look up and imagine the places that humankind could go to? Did you mourn the loss of the deep space and moonshot programs when the US public lost interest in the dream, the vision, and the hope for the future back then? Do you sometimes imagine what might have been if we'd just kept going ... maybe even reached Mars?

Then this is the book for you!

Imagine. The morning after famed astronaut Neil Armstrong dies and is buried at Arlington, a Saturn V rocket launches itself from Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral. Witnesses are stunned. They feel the thunder of the engines, smell the rocket fuel, are buffeted by the jet backwash and watch in awe as a 363ft shining white rocket soars into the morning sky.

But there hasn't been a Saturn V rocket launched from American soil in 30 years: the technological know-how has been lost, and Pad 34 is a broken rusted derelict with the sign "Abandon in Place" posted there as its epitaph. However, one did lift off that day, and it even sent back telemetry from lunar orbit before vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared. Astronaut Rick Spencer was an eyewitness standing atop of Pad 39A who, as a child, lived, breathed, and consumed the Apollo flights.

This must have been a ghost ... or was it?

The story follows how Rick is trained to fly the Saturn V's Apollo command module and how he actually climbs aboard the third vehicle to appear from nowhere on Pad 34, and flies it to the Moon accompanied by two fellow astronauts picked up by EVA from the space shuttle in orbit around the Earth. Read the breathtaking account of the flight to the Moon, the world's perception of it, and unravel the mystery of how the rocket, etc., came into being. There is a nicely entwined infrastructure of science and the supernatural that really comes down to one thing: massive willpower and a single point to focus it through.

I won't spoil the story for you, but the ups and downs of our heroes as they struggle with beliefs, emotions, sheer will, personal responsibility, media circuses, real dangers, and the reshaping of the world in a newly awakened image offer a nonstop ride of heart-warming exhilaration -- a breathtaking, tense, funny, scary "what if we could?" Far-fetched events are made plausible by the author in his successful attempt to meld science with the human will, dreams and hope.

In one instance, in an effort to stop a vicious European war, our heroes try to "build" a weapon that won't be knocked out of the sky by a foe of equal power. Unfortunately they just can't get it right and end up dropping a stream of perfectly formed Lunar Landing Modules on the foe instead. Laugh or cry, it's a brilliant moment -- right up to what happened next.

In its original form, this story was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as a 7000-word short story. The author was enthusiastically encouraged to expand the story into a novella which then went on to win a Nebula Award. This is the tale in its final incarnation as a novel. Personally, I loved it. Some might not -- but don't pass up the chance to read it and find out. This novel is definitely the Field of Dreams of the Space Program.

Review by Marianne Plumridge.

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