On My Bookshelf: Phases of Gravity

I thought I was picking up a new book. On the cover, one of astronaut Alan Bean’s striking paintings was catchy for a volume that didn’t have the SF tag at my local library. Sure enough, it was SF mega-author Dan Simmons‘ second or so novel, in which he relates the midlife crisis of fictional astronaut Richard Baedecker. I was glad I picked it up, I really enjoyed it.

There are no elements of science fiction in this novel, which leads off its first few dozen pages switching back and forth between Baedecker’s two days on the moon and his life, adrift, fifteen years later. That later life finds the protagonist divorced, alienated from his son, and doing meaningless PR scut work. After being one of a dozen human beings to explore the moon in person, what’s left in life? As a man, I could relate to the theoreticals. (Even if I personally feel my best accomplishments may be ahead.)

The details of the novel are well-researched, but there are a few inconsequential stumbles here and there. The fictional Apollo mission Baedecker flew isn’t numbered, but it’s probably Apollo 16, as it references the previous mission led by real-life astronaut Dave Scott, and it doesn’t seem to be the last.

The action is thoughtful as it centers on Baedecker, and the author drops in perspectives from the man’s boyhood, his relationships with his father and his son, and a good number of astronaut stories. The changing perspectives are what one finds in a serious novel, and once in awhile, when my attention drifted I found I had to reorient myself. My bad. The author does a good job keeping all this straight, unless you read without focus.

For a book which deals with the heroic (lunar exploration) as well as the psychological (a man struggling to find himself, post-peak) this is a very quiet and measured volume. Well worth reading.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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