Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Take One for the Road

Short Story by Jamie Todd Rubin

Our narrator moves in next to an old astronaut from a manned landing on Mercury. The story is this astronaut's slow reveal of what happened to the astronaut who died on Mercury's surface, interspersed with musing on his own cancer, suicide, euthanasia, and murder. The question of "when is it acceptable to take a life" isn't answered, though we're given plenty of food for thought.

I quite liked the quiet storytelling carried through the big reveal and into a maudlin final scene. The big surprise is unexpected, but is sort of trivial and academic. And that might be the story's weak point: I don't really care about the central mystery. I appreciate it as a character-study of an old man with cancer, and I want to hear the end of the man's story, but I don't really care what the end is. He made an interesting moral judgment, but I think the fact that the other astronauts are barely characterized and vaguely unlikable really takes away from any emotional impact of the old man's mission.

For the most part, I liked the writing itself, particularly the awesome metaphor for how difficult it is to orbit mercury. But there where roughly three awkward, misplaced metaphors for each good one. The main character is not an astronaut, and is oblivious to space travel enough to be unaware of a past mission to Mercury.
"... finishing off his bottle and jettisoning it like a spent rocket into the plastic bin to one side of the porch. It clanked softly against its empty siblings, each one a mission of exploration and discovery."
I might not mind this if the astronaut were the narrator, but our space-oblivious narrator, in a future without manned spaceflight feels really bizarre and awkward writing things like this. A short, thoughtfully quiet story. I liked it, but it wasn't a favorite.

3 retired astronaut beers out of 5.

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