WORLDS BEYOND

The second theme that emerged in our Uncharted Constellations anthology was that of humans travelling to WORLDS BEYOND. The scientists, and indeed storytellers, who paved the way for the 1969  lunar landing, always saw that feat as a mere stepping-stone to the wider cosmos. Yet for their political masters, the decade’s dash to the moon was the end-point of this Cold War race. Only one superpower would break past that winner’s line tape in the moon-dust. Although the scientific community succeeded in developing the ISS as a science lab in the skies, it has taken another fifty years to make Lunar and Martian colonies a serious possibility. NASA plans a return to the Moon with their Artemis project in 2024, the same year that Elon Musk’s Space X company proposes the first crewed mission to Mars.

Credit: NASA

These are ambitious schedules that now look increasingly perilous as our world stutters from a global pandemic into a catastrophic recession. Then, as now, the question begs to be asked: while Earth is mired in poverty, war and climate disaster, is this the right time to focus on space colonisation? Alternatively, does it make the need for a ‘second home’ even more urgent? (Though we know who usually bags the second homes and escape bunkers in a crisis.) Michele Witthaus raises this point in her poem Visible Spectrum, where she interrogates the legend of ‘that blameless blue’. We have so often heard that the real breakthrough of the Apollo mission was to snap planet Earth as a blue marble amidst a dark wilderness. To make us look afresh at ourselves and our rare, precious, small planet. Yet fifty years on, she suggests:

‘Imagine the colours of an Earthrise today:

you’d expect bushfire, charred rainforest,

at the very least, a smashed kaleidoscope of plastic….’

Several other writers focused on the relationship between planet Earth and our nearest space neighbour. Mark Goodwin is more whimsical in his Earth Voyage 2019_No 2, but  reflects on the relationship of the Moon to our psyche and even our bodies.

… like me we

all

began as

our night

sky’s

bright round bone broke

our world’s

waters…

Kathleen Bell imagines a bumpy lunar drive in a black jalopy, but this fantasy morphs into a meditation on the vertigo of grief. What better landscape in which to stage a collision of the mournful and the surreal?

I take the wheel

… forgetting I can’t drive.

But you’re beside, behind me.

I feel safe.  Gravity

lessens, oxygen slips away.

You don’t need breath, and this past year

I’ve learnt to do without.

(Driving to the moon, with ghosts)

Another writer reaches into memory to connect loved ones with a dawning awareness of space. Rod Duncan’s three-part memoir recalls his father taking him sky-watching, a moment which ignited a lifelong fascination with comets:

Shifting closer to sight along his arm, I feel the warmth of him. There is a silvery line among the stars.

‘It’s a comet,’ he says. ‘On a journey from the icy cold.’

Comet. A new word.

(On the Path of Comets)

Finally, Simon Fung’s speculative flash fiction sees a scientist-explorer risk her life in a quest to locate sentient life in an alien universe:

Anchored to the riverbed by her boots, Zebie watched as the beasts swam through the pulsating current of the fluid filled caverns… Her metavitometer crackled gently as they passed, reading quantum activity six orders of magnitude lower than the limits for sentience… Zebie had been cataloguing the lifeforms on this planet for seventeen cycles now…It saddened Zebie; surely there must be other intelligent lifeforms out there in such a large universe.

(A Matter of Scale)

Credit: NASA

Fung’s story is a terrific adventure, packed to the hull with wit and wonder. And our anthology has plenty of narratives that push our imagination far into deep space and into the future of humanity – and other life-forms – in the cosmos. Uncharted Constellations will be available to buy direct from Space Cat Press as an e-book from 13th September onwards.