Jerry Oltion,
Abandon In Place
(Tor, 2000)

Abandon In Place is an expansion of Jerry Oltion's Nebula Award-winning novella of the same name -- which I have not read. I suspect, however, that the idea at the core of Abandon In Place works better at novella length than it does here.

I first was impressed by Oltion's writing as a result of his short fiction and in particular by a very amusing story titled Hit and Run, which explores the drawbacks of telepresence as a means of exploring Mars. Hit and Run is a great example of what works so well about science fiction short stories. It's an idea piece, it makes you think. As such it doesn't require much in the way of character development. A science fiction novel, on the other hand, demands more than an interesting idea if it's going to succeed.

The idea behind Abandon In Place is that the human mind can affect physical reality. The Uri Gellers of the world aren't all fakirs and charlatans. Rick Spencer is a NASA astronaut whose belief in the space program -- which he feels is going to hell in a handbasket -- is so strong that his mind manages to conjure up a Saturn V moon rocket. Rick then defies NASA's directives to take the Saturn V into orbit and abandon it. Instead he a pair of women recruited from the current shuttle mission decide to fly his ghost ship to the moon.

So far, so good. But now that we have this psychic "what if" idea, it needs to be grounded in a workable plot and solid characterization. Oltion lets the plot get away from him and the what ifs begin piling sky high. What if we had an American Pope who started out as an agnostic and sometimes attended meetings wearing Hawaiian shirts? What if an Eastern European fanatic decided to rule the world from a psychic power base? What if the listeners to a radio talk show were willing to take on the U.S. Army on the say-so of an outraged celebrity?

Sorry, your pile of what ifs has toppled. Abort mission.

I'd still like to read the novella version of Abandon In Place; I suspect I'd like it. (Interestingly, the story did not make it into either the Gardner Dozois or the David Hartwell collections of the year's top SF stories.) But in its novel-length incarnation, Abandon In Place leaves a lot to be desired.

[ by Gregg Thurlbeck ]
Rambles: 25 May 2002

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