Stories of cislunar suspense: Literary adventure on the near frontier (part 2)
by Ken Murphy
|While prophetic in some regards, time has made Russian Spring in the end an alternate future history past.|
Fellow Traveler, William Barton & Michael Capobianco (1991): the Soviets have taken the lead in space efforts, and decide to divert a nickel-iron asteroid into Earth orbit to use for ISRU as they build out their cislunar assets. The Yanks panic and nuke it, setting it on a collision course for Earth. Told largely from the perspective of the Russian crew, it’s not as bad as its rating would suggest. [GoodReads: 2.67/15]
HALO, Tom Maddox (1991): At L-5, HALO City is controlled by a wide-ranging computer system known as Aleph Zero. A computer system that seems to have become intelligent. [GoodReads: 3.33/141]
Russian Spring, Norman Spinrad (1991): The story of an American who flees the militarization of America to work on his dreams of opening up space to the world. Politics always wends its way into the process, and he finds himself thwarted at every turn. Can he realize his dream of travelling to space in a world gone mad? An excellent work that I first read at grad school in France, and re-reading it in English the story is just as powerful. While prophetic in some regards, time has made it in the end an alternate future history past. One of my favorites in this project, in no small part because so much takes place in Paris, one of my true loves in this world. [GoodReads: 3.94/115]
Space Cops: Mindblast, Diane Duane & Peter Morwood (1991): Officers Glyndower and O’Bannion of the Solar Patrol are sent to the Freedom II colony to investigate the murder of an officer. The investigation uncovers links to Hyper-2, a new custom-drug that grants super clarity, but ends up destroying the user’s mind. “Just Say No!” to drugs, kids! [GoodReads: 3.74/38]
Flare, Roger Zelazny & Thomas T. Thomas (1992): in 2081, a solar flare disrupts cislunar space with catastrophic consequences. [GoodReads: 2.91/129]
Project Cyclops, Thomas Hoover (1992): a corporate laser-launch site in the Mediterranean is attacked by terrorists, who have more dastardly intents for the launch vehicle. [GoodReads: 3.59/114]
The Trikon Deception, Ben Bova & Bill Pogue (1992): Aboard a corporate space station, the mission of peaceful research is disrupted by rampant espionage. [GoodReads: 3.49/152]
High Steel, Jack C. Haldeman II & Jack Dann (1993): Corporate schemes within schemes to decode a signal from space make cislunar construction a dangerous job, and Native American John Stranger is the best beamjack around. Gets a bit spiritualist/hallucinatory towards the end. [GoodReads: 3.38/24]
Red Sky, Mike Mullane (1993): Lots of sexy time in this story. Memories of past sexy times; thoughts of future sexy time; sexy time; the psychological trauma of sexy time. Hard to get through too many pages without a sexy-time break. Oh, and a story about a Soviet weapon in GEO and a Shuttle flight to deal with the threat. [GoodReads: 4.10/10]
Sunstroke, David Kagan (1993): A sneak attack on SOLSAT, the world’s first solar power satellite, leaves it out of control, its microwave energy beam scything across the face of the planet and delivering a lethal sunstroke to those unlucky enough to fall beneath its gaze. I believe the NASA/Department of Energy study the author refers to is this one. [GoodReads: 4.15/13]
Impact, Dr. Gregory A. Rogers (1995): during a mission of the shuttle Enterprise carrying a secret DoD plutonium test article in a CanSat, an old bit of Soviet plumbing impacts the Shuttle mid-deck, plunging the Shuttle and the world into danger. [GoodReads: 5.0/1]
Station Solaire, Andreas Eschbach (1996): aboard a solar power test project, the close quarters lead to suspicions of sabotage, especially when the first body shows up. Published originally as Solarstation in German, my copy is in French and I don’t think it’s ever been published in English. [GoodReads: 3.55/143]
The Destroyer #105: Scorched Earth, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir (1996): in Arizona, the BioBubble is reduced to a pool of slag. In Florida, the Shuttle Reliant explodes on the way to the launch pad. Something was launched into orbit by the Buran, but what? And who controls this death beam from space? [GoodReads: 3.79/38]
Final Orbit, S.V. Date (1997): An astronaut dies on orbit. An equipment error, or something more sinister? The investigation leads deeper and higher into NASA than anyone expects, and puts a second shuttle flight at risk. [GoodReads: 3.26/27]
Ignition, Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason (1997): a psychotic financier who’s lost it all decides to get it back by hijacking the Shuttle Atlantis on the launchpad. Only super-astronaut “Iceberg” Friese, against inhuman adversity, can save the day. [GoodReads: 3.46/122]
|Kings of the High Frontier could be considered a kind of The Fountainhead for the space industry, and in some ways parallels Russian Spring in its insights into what has become our past.|
Lightpaths, Howard V. Hendrix (1997): In the not-too distant future, the Orbital Complex in GEO serves as a research facility for the cutting edge of human thought. An almost hallucinatory exploration of utopia, senescence, mole rats, AI, mycology, QUIDs and more, it takes a while for the threads of the story to start weaving together to the climax, but one that leaves one wondering what exactly just happened. Full of stuff like, “A kenosis will take place, a prevenient grace will flood out, a paraclete will shine forth in every mind…” Kind of a slog to get through, actually. [GoodReads: 2.98/44]
Wingman #13: Death Orbit, Mack Maloney (1997): a desperate chase to capture the madman who wants to rule a post-apocalyptic Earth leads the Wingman to orbit, where he discovers the greatest horror possible: Space Nazis! [GoodReads: 3.76/94]
Armageddon, M.C. Bolin (1998): You’ve seen the movie, so you know what happens in this potboiler adaptation of the film. [GoodReads: 3.03/31]
Kings of the High Frontier, Victor Koman (1998): Four teams race to be the first private citizens to orbit, fighting bureaucracy and provincialism the whole way. It could be considered a kind of The Fountainhead for the space industry, and in some ways parallels Russian Spring in its insights into what has become our past. [GoodReads: 4.19/32]
The Executioner #237: Hellfire Trigger, Don Pendleton (1998): A psychotic solar power (terrestrial) corporate magnate with delusions of godhood has co-opted a cislunar space nuke to destroy the Middle East and its oil resources. Only Mack Bolan, the Executioner, can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.00/4]
Gravity, Tess Gerritsen (1999): a secret science experiment goes awry, leading to a terrifying biocontamination of the ISS. I rather enjoyed this one. [GoodReads: 4.01/7,954]
Last Breath: Space Station Rescue, S.P. Cammick (1999): a meteorite strike in 2028 leads to a revelation of long-term lack-of-budget-induced neglect of the space station. Only a crash program that brings back the old guard with the right stuff can save the day and continue the flow of cancer-mitigating medicine coming from space. The author covers a lot of the demographic issues we’re grappling with today, and comes quite close to getting it right, but the solution is the very thing that got us to where we are now: a lack of cultivation of skillsets in younger generations that we need to maintain what we have into the future. [GoodReads: 0.00/0]
Solstice, David Hewson (1999): As the Sun approaches zenith at the solstice (with a hyper-bad case of sunspots), eco-terrorists seize control of the Sundog satellite out near GEO. Originally meant as a solar power satellite test-bed, it was usurped by the government into a secret weapon of peace, and now serves as a tool for eco-hippies to wipe the slate clean. [GoodReads: 3.28/69]
White House, David Hagberg (1999): a mysterious explosion at a North Korean nuclear research facility and a midnight payload swap at the Tanegashima launch site reveal a desperate bid for power by criminal Japanese interests. [GoodReads: 3.99/160]
Chopper Ops #3: Shuttle Down, Mack Maloney (2000): when a shuttle on a secret mission crash lands deep in Asia, it’s up to the Chopper Ops team to either recover the secret cargo, or destroy it. [GoodReads: 4.00/14]
Code to Zero, Ken Follett (2000): a man awakens in the Union Station bathroom in DC with no memory of his past or who he is. A successful rocket launch of Explorer 1 depends on his unveiling the truth behind his situation, and unmasking a traitor. [GoodReads: 3.61/9,910]
Debris, Richard Reid (2000): Russian gangsters hold the ISS hostage for One! Billion! Dollars! [GoodReads: 0.00/0]
Missing Man, Michael Cassutt (2000): a T-38 crash connects to a larger conspiracy at NASA JSC, involving naked ambition and blackmail for the shame that is not to be named. The patsy decides not to be the fall guy, leading to a showdown on the Mir space station. [GoodReads: 3.77/13]
|At the turn of the millennium commercial spaceflight is beginning to flourish, and a famous basketball player with the initials MJ gets to take a flight on the shuttle. In orbit, disaster strikes and he ends up dead. Or is it sabotage?|
Stony Man #45: Star Venture, Don Pendleton (2000): a Chinese wannabe-warlord hijacks the advanced shuttle Venture Star (aerospike engines - woo hoo!) and uses it to place nuclear payloads in orbit, threatening death and destruction around the world. Only the Stony Man team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.25/8]
Talon Force #3: Sky Fire, Cliff Garnett (2000): in the post-Soviet world, a group of communist recidivists has decided to make a bid for power. Launching a laser sat, they hold the world hostage to their demands. Only the Talon Force team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 5.00/3]
The Executioner #263: Skysniper, Don Pendleton & Chuck Rogers (2000): an advanced laser system is targeting orbital assets, sending the US government into a panic. The demands are simple: get out of the Balkans. Only Mack Bolan, the Executioner, can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.17/6]
The Return, Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes (2000): at the turn of the millennium commercial spaceflight is beginning to flourish, and a famous basketball player with the initials MJ gets to take a flight on the shuttle. In orbit, disaster strikes and he ends up dead. Or is it sabotage? A misguided EMP attempt by Pakistan leaves the ISS trapped in a radiation storm. Or is it sabotage? Clues point to a hidden agenda to capture the lead in space efforts. [GoodReads: 3.38/105]
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays #3: Shadow Watch, Tom Clancy & Martin Greenberg (2000): a billionaire’s efforts to commercialize space are sabotaged by sinister forces with a dark agenda. [GoodReads: 3.79/1,452]
The Aughts was a very strange time politically for the US and the world. It’s almost as if the US learned all the wrong lessons from being in Europe in World War II and the cancerous festering finally erupted into a nascent militarized security state. However, it also gave the world a new boogeyman in the post-Soviet world: the stateless terrorist, lone wolves harnessed to destructive/disruptive ends by more malevolent actors with nasty agendas.
Generationally, the Baby Boomers continued to rule the roost, as 60 became the new 40, keeping all the best jobs and shipping the rest off overseas. Gen X continued to be hammered in the economic domain, and increasingly marginalized in society. Millennials learned to be special flowers, and that anything they wanted was theirs. Wall Street gave the US the middle finger during the 2008 meltdown, and our financial markets became full-fledged casinos where winner takes all (investment of capital? That’s for chumps and losers; let me tell you about this derivative…)
In space, the ISS was completed and crewed, but Columbia again revealed the fragility of NASA’s crewed transportation monopoly. There were efforts undertaken to diversify our transport solutions, but were quickly co-opted by NASA (via Congress) into designing an even larger rocket. Bigelow launched test modules into LEO, the Ansari X PRIZE was won, and SpaceX began to forge their way into space, offering the youngsters a chance to have a say in the building of our space future.
Stony Man #57: Sky Killers, Don Pendleton (2002): a stealth hunter-killer satellite destroys the shuttle Enterprise on orbit and proceeds to take out other, strategic satellites, throwing the world into chaos and bringing nations to the brink of war. Only the Stony Man team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.86/14]
Cosmonaut, Peter McAllister (2003): an astronaut on the ISS dies, and then a module ruptures. Shuttle Endeavour is launched on a rescue mission, but there are plots within plots that lead to chaos on orbit. [GoodReads: 3.45/22]
Tango Midnight, Michael Cassutt (2003): a search for a cure to a terrorist-unleashed plague goes awry, leading to a terrifying biocontamination of the ISS. [GoodReads: 3.00/9]
The Orion Protocol, Gary Tigerman (2003): in 1973, the Apollo 18 mission returned from Sinus Medii carrying a secret for a conspiracy dating back to the earliest days of the space program. An extra-governmental conspiracy that will go to any length to “protect the public.” [GoodReads: 3.38/60 ]
Bird of Prey, Tom Grace (2004): a ruthless and psychopathic corporate CEO (but I repeat myself) aiming to corner the satellite launch market will go to any length to cover her misdeeds, even take out the Space Shuttle Liberty. When a survivor of the attack makes it to the ISS, it’s a race against time to stop a madwoman. [GoodReads: 3.58/50]
Killer Dust (Em Hansen Mystery #8), Sarah Andrews (2004): Forensic geologist Em Hansen tracks her “boyfriend” to Florida, where he’s racing to unravel a plot to shoot down a launching shuttle and also unveil a plot to use African dust in the atmosphere to spread a lethal pathogen. Definitely chick lit, but I feel a weird connection to this one. Back in the summer of 2002 I worked program support for the Goddard Space Flight Center’s NASA Academy. Dr. Susan Maynard, a scientist at Goddard noted in the acknowledgements, pitched the idea to the Academy research associates as a possible group project the development of mechanisms for the study of African dust clouds and their potential role as a transport mechanism for pathogens that get dumped on the East coast of the US. It’s an interesting phenomenon that remains understudied (though NASA is perhaps not the most appropriate place for that, versus NOAA and the CDC). [GoodReads: 3.64/161]
Dead Rising, Jeff Rovin (2005): As the newest shuttle, Venture, places a Defense Department signals intelligence satellite in GEO, something goes wrong and the shuttle is left on back-up power leading to an emergency landing. Concurrently, an attempted coup in the capital compels the Commander in Chief to call upon the Stealth War team to hunt down the cabal that has hijacked the satellite. [GoodReads: 3.86/7]
Powersat, Ben Bova (2005): space gadfly Dan Randolph returns to once again lead America into the future, this time with solar power satellites. But saboteurs, oil interests, and politicians all have different ideas and agendas. Can America achieve a future of abundant, low-cost energy from the Sun? [GoodReads: 3.53/756]
The Executioner #314: Lethal Payload, Don Pendleton (2005): Muslim terrorists have secretly co-opted the Kourou launch facility with the intent of redirecting an Ariane 5 launch towards the US, carrying a lethal payload. Only Mack Bolan, the Executioner, can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.88/8]
Stony Man #81: Sky Hammer, Don Pendleton (2006): Cold war technology from the ’70s falls into the hands of a maniac willing to sell the orbital weapons to the highest bidder. Death and destruction ensues. Only the Stony Man team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.82/11]
The Korean Intercept, Stephen Mertz (2006): when the Shuttle Liberty is hijacked and forced to land in North Korea, it becomes a race against time to rescue the crew and salvage or destroy its top secret cargo. [GoodReads: 3.00/17]
|A Japanese industrial heiress decides to build a wedding facility on the Moon for the ultimate in honeymoons. What ensues is a tale of the difficulties of private interests establishing a facility there.|
Warp Speed, Dr. Travis Taylor (2006): a brilliant and creative physicist works out a way to warp space, making trans-light speeds possible. Whilst testing their spacecraft on orbit, the shuttle explodes, leading to a race against time to stop humanity from destroying itself with the technology. [GoodReads: 3.81/882]
Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007): an orphan of Stalingrad becomes a Korean War Ace of Aces pilot, and eventually the first man on the Moon. Because Russians “didn’t” fly in Korea, and his Moonshot was a failure, his story has been a secret until now… [GoodReads: 3.81/242]
Luna, Garon Whited (2007): a crew bound for the Moon sees the destruction of Earth in nuclear fire, and a race begins for those in cislunar space for survival. But will humanity’s remnants fall into the same old power structures, or will we find a new way for humans to organize for the future? Fuller review at OutoftheCradle.net [GoodReads: 4.29/35]
Orbit, John J. Nance (2007): an orbital tourist flight goes awry, leaving the hapless tourist alone and cut off from the ground. He begins writing his memoirs, unaware that they are downlinked for the world to share. [GoodReads: 3.75/730]
Stony Man #88: Starfire, Don Pendleton (2007): a coalition of ne’er-do-wells is using reusable launch vehicles to put nuclear weapons in orbit, threatening the entire world. A NASA facility outside Dallas gets nuked. Only the Stony Man team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.78/9]
Strike Force, Dale Brown (2007): when the President deploys stealth space planes and reactivates the Silver Tower to deal with a coup in Iran, it unleashes terrible consequences around the globe and another attack on the Silver Tower. [GoodReads: 3.97/1,556]
Zero-G, Alton Gansky (2007): the lone survivor of a shuttle crew that died from bad nausea medications ends up working for a private company seeking to take tourists to the edge of space. But the psycho-killer who adulterated the meds is intent on finishing his job, putting the maiden flight in jeopardy. Strong Christian themes pervade this work, though it does seem like an awful lot of folks have to die for the protagonist to find G-d. [GoodReads: 3.73/84]
Prepared for Rage, Dana Stabenow (2008): the Coast Guard proves crucial in keeping a launch of the Shuttle Endeavour safe from terrorist threats. [GoodReads: 3.73/615]
Stony Man #96: Dark Star, Don Pendleton (2008): an X-33 VentureStar-type vehicle falls into the wrong hands, who begin using it to deliver death around the globe. Only the Stony Man team can track down and eliminate the evildoers. [GoodReads: 3.67/6]
Storm Killer, Benjamin Blue (2008): to combat the ongoing economic devastation wrought by hurricanes, the Storm Killer station is constructed in GEO to defuse storms before they become dangerous. Saboteurs have other plans, to turn the station into a weapon. [GoodReads: 3.10/10]
Blood of the Moon, Richard Gazala (2009): Apollo 17 astronaut Michael Rivers brings back a sample from the Moon that threatens to change the balance of power in the world, and dark forces with secret (and profitable!) agendas are more than willing to kill to keep their secret. [GoodReads: 3.92/13]
Back to the Moon, Travis Taylor & Les Johnson (2010): when a failed Chinese probe to the Moon turns out to have been crewed, it’s up to the Yanks to save the day. My full review can be found over at OutoftheCradle.net. [GoodReads: 3.76/153]
Platinum Moon, Bill White (2010): A private venture to the Moon looking for precious metals from asteroids faces enemies at home and technical issues on the Moon. Makes use of many elements of the cislunar econosphere. My full review can be found over at OutoftheCradle.net. [GoodReads: 3.67/3]
Red Moon, Chris Berman (2010): the Chinese have set up shop on the Moon, and it looks like they may want to keep it for themselves. The US undertakes to make sure they can get to the Moon, too. My full review can be found over at OutoftheCradle.net [GoodReads: 3.25/4]
The Next Continent, Issui Ogawa (2010): A Japanese industrial heiress decides to build a wedding facility on the Moon for the ultimate in honeymoons. What ensues is a tale of the difficulties of private interests establishing a facility there. My full review can be found over at OutoftheCradle.net. [GoodReads: 3.66/38]
And so here we are, in the middle of our current decade. The US still has no crew transport to space, and may not have it for a few more years. (Of note is that the old Vision for Space Exploration had anticipated a crewed vehicle fly-off around 2008.) NASA continues to focus on a even bigger and better rocket for itself, with the sole goal of putting bootprints on Mars first.
Fallen Angel, Maj. Jeff Struecker & Alton Gansky (2011): The Angel-12 military sat is knocked from orbit and a retrieval team is captured. With tensions rising, it’s up to Sgt. Major Moyer to insert his team, free the hostages, and destroy the satellite. But it will take a greater power than himself for the mission to succeed—and apparently lots of family flashbacks while in action. [GoodReads: 4.44/81]
The Highest Frontier, Joan Slonczewski (2011): a privileged young lady at Frontera College on a space Island at L-5 makes the acquaintance of a new kind of life that has seeded Earth. Lots of advanced biology given the author’s background. [GoodReads: 3.42/360]
Energized, Edward M. Lerner (2012): in the near future, terrorism has rendered oil reserves radioactive and unusable, with only a few key players remaining. In desperation, the US has captured a burned-out comet into a high orbit and is mining it to produce powersats destined for GEO. As the first is about to come online, terrorists hijack it to wreak havoc on Earth. Can the future be saved? [GoodReads: 3.29/129]
Sea of Crises, Marty Steere (2012): a son investigating the death of his father, Apollo 18 astronaut Bob Cartwright, stumbles into a decades-old conspiracy by an extra-governmental organization to cover up what really happened on the mission. [GoodReads: 4.00/287]
|The result of a NASA project to hook-up sci-fi writers with NASA scientists, Pillar to the Sky is a paean to the almost mythic potential of a space elevator.|
Spin the Sky, Katy Stauber (2012): returning from the Spacer Wars, Cesar Vaquero undertakes an odyssey through cislunar space to return to his home on the space Island Ithaca and his family there. An interesting re-imagining of The Odyssey in a cislunar context. [GoodReads: 3.79/72]
The Helios Conspiracy, Jim DeFelice (2012): an FBI agent with an attitude investigates a murder linked to Icarus SunWorks, a project to beam power from space. A murder that has international implications. [GoodReads: 3.38/71]
Starfire, Dale Brown (2014): a student engineering project to beam solar power to Earth becomes a political and military pawn that leads to war in LEO and a battle for the Silver Tower. [GoodReads: 3.65/492]
V-S Day, Allen Steele (2014): What if… Hitler pursues Sanger’s antipodal bomber space technology early in World War II, leading to a crash program under Robert Goddard to develop a countermeasure, thus altering the development of the war and its aftermath. [GoodReads: 3.57/187]
Blue Gemini, Mike Jenne (2015): In the 1960s, fearing the development of a Soviet orbital ballistic platform (nuclear, of course), the US embarks on a crash course to develop an intercept capability. [GoodReads: 4.41/98]
Collision, William S. Cohen (2015): corporate asteroid mining efforts may have a more sinister purpose. A DC insider scrambles to unveil the truth. [GoodReads: 3.46/35]
Echoes of Apollo, G.A. Thompson (2015): two failed Chinese Moon probes mask the emplacement of a weapons facility in crater Daedelus on the far side of the Moon. Luckily a billionaire has been restoring Apollo flight hardware, leading to a desperate race to eliminate the threat. Gene Cernan makes a cameo. [GoodReads: 4.07/58]
Lash-Up, Larry Bond (2015):when GPS satellites start disappearing, a top secret group struggles to lash together a working space vehicle to deal with the threat. [GoodReads: 3.90/194]
Pillar to the Sky, William R. Forstchen (2015): the result of a NASA project to hook-up sci-fi writers with NASA scientists, this book is a paean to the almost mythic potential of a space elevator. Heart-warming, heart-rending, it covers all the bases. A worthy successor to Fountains of Paradise, focusing more on the actual engineering. [GoodReads: 3.43/570]
While the Moon is absolutely a part of cislunar space (by describing its outer boundary), this article has really focused on the space between the Earth and the Moon and activity in that area. This covers a lot of satellites, spacecraft, space stations, and solar power satellites, reflecting the many infrastructure assets we already have in place near Earth as well as ones we will likely develop in some fashion in the future. After all, eventually it will just make sense to directly harvest more of the Sun’s energy for use on Earth; that four-billion-year supply is, from our perspective, basically endless. But then again, I’m the kind of forward-looking guy who would like to see giant electromagnetic funnels out at the Sun-Earth Trojan points harvesting the solar wind, and solar sails perched above the north and south poles of the Moon to provide communications for work in the permanently-dark craters.
Readers interested in Moon-centric stories are invited to peruse The Bicentilune, a list of some 200 Moon-specific stories sorted roughly by topic, and links to short reviews.
As can be seen, there are many, many stories involving the high frontier of near-Earth space. Some interesting details can be drawn from the list:
1) L-5 as a location for adventures had its era in the late 1970s and through the ’80s, but seems to have generally lost its attraction for writers. Mack Reynold’s Rex Bader series is probably the definitive L-5 habitat set of stories. The beginning roughly corresponds with a big L-5 Society push during the late ’70s, while the activity peters out after L-5 was subsumed into the National Space Institute to form the National Space Society. Efforts to fuse the two space advocate cultures (L-5 was more grassroots, NSI more elite) continues to this day.
|L-5 as a location for adventures had its era in the late 1970s and through the ’80s, but seems to have generally lost its attraction for writers.|
2) An interesting offshoot is the number of stories about solar power satellites. These were popularized about the same time as L-5 space colonies, but didn’t really come into their own until the 1990s. The stories too often fall into the “Death Ray from Space” genre, likely a legacy of the many military death beam satellite stories from the 1980s and ’90s that were a consequence of the SDI/Star Wars efforts serving as the death knell of the Cold War.
3) It’s widely recognized that there are key strategic assets in cislunar space, like GPS and reconnaissance satellites, that represent security threats, and therein lies the drama. Most of the drama takes place on the comfy confines of the Earth’s surface as different parties struggle to keep space secrets and satellite technology from one another (what I generally refer to as “Black Sat Down”), but there are the occasional forays into space by woefully underprepared protagonists, as well as sat-on-sat action.
4) The space aspects of the Men’s Adventure Tales tend to just be a veneer for more sophisticated forms of what could be best be described as ‘weapons porn’, from the detailed descriptions of the tools for violence, to lurid descriptions of the damage inflicted by those tools. This is borne out by the many errors in descriptions of the physics of space activities, most frequently when it comes to orbital mechanics. Although to be fair even most sci-fi writers trip up on orbital mechanics too.
5) During the 1980s some general trends emerge: death ray satellites, shuttle follies, some Black Sats Down, and the return of space station tales, with lots of Soviets as the bad guys. Sci-fi gives us some private space tales, usually by Ben Bova or Allen Steele. These continue into the 1990s, but writers from other fiction genres seem to like to stick with known assets like spysats, the shuttle or, later, the ISS.
6) There’s some Christian literature mixed in there, or at least stories with strong Christian themes. There might be a market there that merits better exploitation.
7) There’s not much romantic literature is set in cislunar space. The strongest influence of the Moon in that regard seems to be hot sweaty werewolf action. Ick. Some of the action novels will have sex scenes (Red Sky, I’m looking at you), but they’re not abundant.
There you have it: over 100 stories of the near-future near Earth, and over 200 stories of the Moon. It should be evident when it comes to where the broader culture sees space activities, the Moon and Cislunar Space are where the next round of space activities will take place. It’s where we establish our first footholds in the broader solar system, and where we prove out what we will need when we venture out into translunar space, beyond Earth orbit to the planets and asteroids. How humanity establishes itself in near-Earth space is explored here at The Space Review in the Cislunar Econosphere (see “The cislunar econosphere” part 1 and part 2, February 20 and 27, 2012)
There will always be those who say “I don’t know…” (why we should invest in space, if the Moon offers any value, whether humanity should even go into space, ad infinitum), and some will always stand their ground no matter how much education about the benefits you try to share with them. The main hurdle is that no one wants to make the investment in infrastructure to get things going until there’s actual cash flow to be looted. This leaves the industry as generally the domain of billionaires and angel investors and a few funded ventures. The telling point will be when an average US investor is able to put some of their corporate 401K into space risk, buying publically traded shares. That’s when we will have passed back into an economic philosophy of value creation (Invest! Build! Grow!) from our current philosophy of value-extraction (Loot! Maximize Shareholder Value! No taxes on capital! Pillage!).
In the end, fiction helps to serve as an envisioning mechanism, allowing people to conceive of what might be and what could happen. It is only an enabler, though, of spreading ideas through popular culture. Turning fiction into reality is the hard part, and those working in the space industry face some of the hardest challenges in that process. In the interim, we can still imagine what may yet be.