This week, we revealed our front cover design for Space Cat’s forthcoming anthology, Uncharted Constellations. Taking the 60’s Space Race as a launch-pad, this anthology explores how writers of all genres continue to be creatively fired up by space exploration. We’ll be trailing this book-rocket through our summer skies, before inviting you to a live launch on our new You-Tube channel on Sunday 13th September. But right now, we’re going to part the veil of that purple gaseous cloud and take a peek at the hidden stars inside the nebula. Twenty writers made it onto the final roster and our Preface introduces each of them, along with some key themes of the collection. As the back-blurb says, ‘ between the strangeness of space and the loneliness of long-distance missions, you will find the human heart refracted in a myriad of ways.’
In the Moon Warriors section, our authors delve into the notion of heroism implicit in the Moon Race legend. Tom Wolfe famously captured the gendered nature of NASA’s programme by describing the Apollo astronauts as having ‘The Right Stuff’. James Worrad’s eerie flash fiction flips around that machismo in a wonderfully unexpected way. Then poems by Emma Lee and Deborah Tyler-Bennett touch on the less-glamorous reality of life back on Earth for prominent Russian and American astronauts. By contrast, stories by Rob Bray and Richard Urwin see two different protagonists inspired by the same historical event realise new possibilities for themselves. James Walton’s Australian desert poem rounds the section off by conjuring up an idyllic landscape infused with haunting reminders of those first moon walks.
The pieces in the next section, Worlds Beyond, begin to contemplate humanity’s place among the stars. J.K. Fulton’s sci-fi story follows generations of scientists as they investigate otherworldly rocks during a century of meteorological encounters. Similarly Rod Duncan’s ‘hermit crab essay’ focuses on a fascination with comet-watching being passed from father to son. Several poems in this section explore the relationship of the Moon’s alien body to planet Earth: Kathleen Bell’s mournful dreamscape contrasts with Mark Goodwin’s whimsical personal reflections. Then Michele Witthaus questions the perceived calm of the ‘ball of frosted blue’ photographed by Apollo astronauts from the lunar surface. Pushing deeper into space, James Walton’s flash fiction unfolds a lyrical fable of space colonisation while Simon Fung’s female explorer braves a weird voyage through an alien underworld in pursuit of sentient life.
The Space Race once looked to be an exclusively white-male narrative. But in our Star Women section, writers have countered that failure of imagination with wit and awe. Teika Marija Smits conjures up a young lady inspired by female astronomers and radicals of the Wollstonecraft era. Despite her comment that ‘it seemed as though women were everywhere, doing everything’, it would take far longer than it should have for women to travel to the stars. Even when America’s Mercury 13 women aced their gruelling space testing regime, NASA refused to send them to the stars. For two decades, the Soviet textile worker Valentina Tereshkova remained the lone star in the records of space women. Valentina appears in Mary Byrne’s story as a kind stranger who encourages the teenage protagonist to pursue what makes her happy, instead of doing as she was told. Meanwhile in Katherine Franklin’s exhilarating Pathfinder story, the fate of the world depends on an elderly Indian woman who embarks on a one-way mission to locate a new home for humanity. Her ultimate sacrifice in this story echoes Laika’s fate, as unpicked in Sarah Doyle’s poem. By contrast, Emma Lee’s ‘What became of the girl who counted’ celebrates another groundbreaking Space Woman: Katherine Johnson, a gifted mathematician whose one star observation system brought the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth safely.
Many of these pieces capture that sense of breaking free of both social and physical barriers. However, there are notes of dissonance throughout the anthology which come to the fore in our Dystopian Skies section. Tim Bombdog’s poem, ‘The Chequered Flag’, has a deliciously satirical streak that challenges NASA’s Stars and Stripes propaganda. Meanwhile James Walton’s poem juxtaposes Alexei Leonev’s perilous space walk with his father’s experience of being exiled to a Stalinist gulag. Prisoners also star in J.K. Fulton’s Always Carry A Spare, a space adventure fueled by pitch-black humour with life-or-death stakes. There’s a gentler tone to Yevgeny Salisbury’s flash fiction but it too has dark undertones, featuring self-aware androids in no rush to have their human masters join them on their promising new world. Humanity is also viewed with some disdain by the moon goddess of Rebekah Tobias’ ‘Hue of Blue’ poem. And then we finish with Paul Rudman’s disturbing sci-fi tale, Mother, where hallucinations will be the least of your concerns…