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Authors: Allen Steele

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Rude Astronauts

BOOK: Rude Astronauts
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF ALLEN STEELE

“An author with the potential to revitalize the Heinlein tradition.” —
Booklist

“The best hard SF writer to come along in the last decade.” —John Varley, author of
Slow Apocalypse

“One of the hottest new writers of hard SF on the scene today.” —
Asimov’s Science Fiction

“No question, Steele can tell a story.” —
OtherRealms

Orbital Decay

Winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel

“Stunning.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“[Steele is] the master of science-fiction intrigue.” —
The Washington Post

“Brings the thrill back to realistic space exploration. It reads like a mainstream novel written in 2016 A.D.” —
The New York Review of Science Fiction

“A damned good book; lightning on the high frontier. I got a sense throughout that this was how it would really be.” —Jack McDevitt, author of
Cauldron

“An ambitious science fiction thriller . . . skillfully plotted and written with gusto.” —
Publishers Weekly

“A splendidly executed novel of working-class stiffs in space.” —
Locus

“Reads like golden-age Heinlein.” —Gregory Benford, author of
Beyond Infinity

“Readers won’t be disappointed. This is the kind of hard, gritty SF they haven’t been getting enough of.” —
Rave Reviews

The Tranquillity Alternative

“A high-tech thriller set against the backdrop of an alternative space program. Allen Steele has created a novel that is at once action-packed, poignant, and thought provoking. His best novel to date.” —Kevin J. Anderson, bestselling author of the Jedi Academy Trilogy

“Science fiction with its rivets showing as only Steele can deliver it. This one is another winner.” —Jack McDevitt, author of
The Engines of God

“With
The Tranquility Alternative,
Allen Steele warns us of the bitter harvest reaped by intolerance, and of the losses incurred by us all when the humanity of colleagues and friends is willfully ignored.” —Nicola Griffith, author of
Ammonite

Labyrinth of Night

“Unanswered questions, high-tech, hard-science SF adventure, and action—how can you fail to enjoy this one?” —
Analog Science Fiction and Fact

The Jericho Iteration

“Allen Steele is the best hard SF writer to come along in the last decade. In
The Jericho Iteration
he comes down to a near-future Earth and proves he can handle a darker, scarier setting as well as his delightful planetary adventures. I couldn’t put it down.” —John Varley, author of
Slow Apocalypse

Rude Astronauts

“A portrait of a writer who lives and breathes the dreams of science fiction.” —
Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Rude Astronauts
Allen Steele

For Ken Moore

Contents

Introduction: Weird Scenes from the Beach Party

PART ONE: Near Space

On the Road: Eulogy

Walking on the Moon

Free Beer and the William Casey Society

The Return of Weird Frank

Sugar’s Blues

Live from the Mars Hotel

PART TWO: Alternate Space

On the Road: Pakachoag Hill

Goddard’s People

John Harper Wilson

PART THREE: Contemporary Space

Science Fact: LGM

Hapgood’s Hoax

On the Road: Waiting for the End of the World

Winter Scenes of the Cold War

On the Road: Can You Count the Angels Dancing on a Pin?

Trembling Earth

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Introduction:
Weird Scenes from the
Beach Party

N
OT LONG AGO, IN
the dim half-light of an early morning in Missouri, I awoke from a dead sleep with a scene captured from whatever movie I had been dreaming before the first light of dawn stirred me.

It was of a beach somewhere in Florida—perhaps in Sanibel or on Captiva Island, two of my favorite winter hangouts, although more likely it was Cocoa Beach on Cape Canaveral, where I’ve set so many of my stories—and there was a bunch of astronauts having a party. Old-school NASA astronauts, like the Gemini and Apollo pilots; they’ve got flat-top haircuts and are wearing aviator-style Ray-Bans and baggy madras-print swim trunks, and they’re standing around a beer keg that has been stuck in the sand, drinking warm Budweiser out of Dixie cups printed with Disney characters.

They’re drunk and obnoxious, these Right Stuff guys: slapping each other around, making lewd comments to bikini-clad girls who hurriedly walk past them, dropping their shorts to piss in the surf, dancing to rock music crashing out of a ghetto blaster, throwing up, throwing down … a bunch of grown men behaving like frat boys on spring break. For no particular reason, there’s a spacesuit helmet lying in the sand next to the beer keg. I think they’re using it as a trash can for their Dixie cups.

And underneath this scene, subscripted as if it were the caption for a Gary Larson cartoon, was a single line which I read just before I woke up:
rude astronauts
.

A godawful vision, undoubtedly inspired by a hangover and the stress of finishing a novel—unlike writers who have trouble starting a book, my personal turmoil always comes when I’m writing the final chapters—and yet funny as hell, in its own black-hearted way. I stayed awake just long enough to jot down the two key words on the notepad I keep next to the bed for just such occasions, then I fell back asleep, instinctively knowing that it was going to be the title of something.

And, boy howdy, look what happened: it’s the title of my first collection of short stories.

This is the definitive edition of
Rude Astronauts
. A mass-market version of this collection appeared in England shortly before the Old Earth Books edition saw print, but for various reasons I consider this American limited edition, published during Balticon 27 on the advent of my first Guest of Honor appearance at a major science fiction convention, as the real McCoy.

The stories in this book were written within a relatively short period of time—late 1987 to early 1991—and all but three were concocted while I lived in Rindge, New Hampshire. Literary critics (at least in the SF field, because I rarely see it done elsewhere) often try to second-guess the writer’s influences. They usually get it wrong, because there’s no way they can be inside a writer’s head at the moment of creation, but it doesn’t stop them from trying anyway. My guess is that they do this because it gives them the chance to drop the names of other authors they’ve read, thereby demonstrating that they were reading science fiction before last month. That’s okay, I reckon; it’s more wholesome than masturbation, and if it keeps them from playing in the streets, I suppose their mothers are grateful for their rainy-day hobby.

I seek inspiration, though, less from books than from real-life settings. The little town of Rindge, for instance, was the major influence upon three of these stories. The log cabin which my wife and I rented for two years is faithfully described in both “Walking on the Moon” and “John Harper Wilson.” During that time, my dog Zack and I walked a half-mile down a dirt road to check the windows and doors of an old sporting lodge on the shore of Lake Monomonac; that lodge appears in “Goddard’s People.”

“Live from the Mars Hotel” was my first published short story. Although most of it takes place on Mars, which I can’t claim to have visited except in my imagination, its country music-scene background is derived from my years in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve often wondered how different things might have been if I had learned how to pick guitar strings instead of peck typewriter keys; this story comes largely from my fascination with music, be it country, rock, blues, or jazz.

On Merritt Island off Cape Canaveral not far from the south gate of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, is a bar whose exterior resembles the principal setting of “Free Beer and the William Casey Society,” “The Return of Weird Frank,” and “Sugar’s Blues,” the stories which comprise a trilogy in this collection. I’ve never set foot in this nameless bar, but the memory of spotting it from Route 3 sparked these stories. The interior is based upon the Blue Plate, a good bar in Holden, Massachusetts, whose atmosphere is nowhere near as hostile as Diamondback Jack’s; the ambiance was derived from a biker/hippie/redneck beer joint which used to exist on the outskirts of Nashville before it was closed down by the cops.

Harry Hapgood’s triple-decker apartment in “Hapgood’s Hoax” once belonged to a friend of mine who lived in Somerville, Massachusetts; most of the other New England locations described in this story exist in reality. Likewise, the ski area at Mt. Wachusett which is the setting of “Winter Scenes of the Cold War” is accurately depicted; I got caught on its cross-country trails during a nor’easter, and this story is the direct result of that experience. The cityscape of Worcester, Massachusetts, in the 1940s which figures in “Goddard’s People” is drawn from contemporary observation and historical research, and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia depicted in “Trembling Earth” is not greatly dissimilar to the swamp and parkland which exist there today.

Not all the stories in this book are set in places I have visited.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Unfortunately, a minor handicap stood in the way of my childhood ambition: the partial color-blindness I inherited from my grandfather. When I was in the fourth grade, I discovered that Air Force and Navy regulations prohibited color-blind people from being trained as pilots. No aviation experience, no chance at getting picked for the NASA astronaut corps; sorry, kiddo, but that’s the way it is.

Many years later, I tried again to become an astronaut, this time in 1985 when I applied for NASA’s Journalist-in-Space Project. I was among three hundred reporters who attempted to sleaze their way onto the ultimate press junket, a ride into orbit aboard a space shuttle, but I didn’t even make it past the first cut before the program was abandoned in early 1986, following the
Challenger
disaster.

So I opted for the easy way to space. I became a science fiction writer.

The first five stories in this collection are part of the near-future history I’ve been developing over the past several years and which has been featured in my novels. The short-fiction segments of this future history are completely reprinted here, with two exceptions: a short story, “Ride to Live, Live to Ride,” which was extracted from my first novel,
Orbital Decay
, and a novella, “Red Planet Blues,” later rewritten and revised to become the first part of my fourth novel,
Labyrinth of Night
. The remaining stories—“Walking on the Moon,” the beforementioned Diamondback Jack trilogy, and “Live from the Mars Hotel”—are part of this chronology.

A librarian who collects statistics on this sort of thing recently asked me for the name of my series. “Ralph,” I said and started to walk away; when he didn’t get the joke, I came back and let him know that I wasn’t formally calling my series anything, except when I sometimes referred to it as “near-space” in homage to Larry Niven’s “Known Space” stories. My buddy Bob Liddil likes to call it “Steel’s Universe,” so maybe that’s another opinion, but I’d just as soon call it Ralph, Herb, Duke, or whatever. The Billy-Bob Universe. Who cares?

Readers have also asked whether this future history was preconceived and charted out in advance, using the methodology Robert Heinlein perfected in the 1940s. As much as I’ve been tempted to say that this is so, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been making the whole thing up as I go along.
Orbital Decay
, the first installment in the chronology, was originally intended to be a standalone novel, yet for better or worse this near-future history has become an obsession; ten years after I began work on
Orbital Decay
, I’ve continued to write about the near-term colonization of space.

BOOK: Rude Astronauts
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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