ABANDON IN PLACE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Abandon in Space began as the Nebula-Award winning novella which forms the first part of Jerry Oltion's novel. The novella was a feel-good, wish-fulfillment story about a ghost rocket which carries astronauts Rick Spencer, Tessa McClain and Yoshiko Sugano to the moon and back following the death of Neal Armstrong. The novel builds on this premise, examining how the crew was able to get to the moon and the ramifications of their new-found power.
The novel opens with the launching of an Apollo rocket which suddenly appeared out of thin air. When the launches repeat, Rick Spencer, a demoralized astronaut recently returned from a shuttle mission, convinces the NASA big wigs to allow him to attempt to ride the ghost rocket into orbit to help let the ghost rest. Once there, he co-opts two members of the current shuttle crew and rides the rocket to the moon. During the trip, it becomes clear that the stability of the rocket is based on Spencer's emotions.
Once the astronauts return to Earth, they slowly discover the true scope of their abilities when the government puts them into quarantine and assigns a CIA operative, a general and a psychic to debrief them on their strange adventure. It is at this point that Oltion begins to expand on the ideas which he first presented in his novella. The sudden appearance of the Saturn V which took Spencer and his companions to the moon was the result of Spencer becoming a conduit for the unfulfilled dreams of a generation of space enthusiasts.
In Oltion’s universe, once this power exists, it becomes reasonably self-perpetuating as Spencer’s power is based on the depth and breadth of popular belief in his ability to wield the power. The more people who see the “miracles” he performs and have faith in his ability to perform such miracles in the future, the stronger his power can grow. Naturally enough, Spencer is uncomfortable with the power that he has, and he and Tessa try to only use their powers for parlor tricks and doing acts which can be justified as “good.” The trouble begins when it is revealed that although Spencer and Tessa are the most powerful conduits in this new “technology,” anyone could theoretically become a conduit. Oltion is playing with the theological concept of henotheism, the idea that a god’s power and reality is a factor of the number of worshippers the god has. Although Oltion never places Spencer and Tessa in the ranks of the gods, the idea is always in the background.
In addition to the couple of powerful astronauts, Oltion has populated the novel with a cast of likable characters. Although all of these characters understand how to use the powers Spencer and Tessa have, Oltion does not deign to represent them with those powers. In some cases, the apparent lack of faith which this would indicate is, perhaps, surprising. Pope Thomas, the first American-born pope, claims to have some power, but he also states that those who view him negatively cancel out those whose faith he would be able to draw upon to perform miracles like Spencer & Tessa’s. Another character who should be able to command more power is the President of the United States, who decides the best way to control Spencer and Tessa is to ask them to handle matters they already have a predilection for doing.
Abandon in Place is not Oltion’s first novel. He has written several books set in various media worlds. Abandon in Place is, however, his first completely original novel and demonstrates the story-telling abilities he has honed writing in other authors’ worlds and in producing a plethora of high-quality, highly entertaining short stories in a multitude of publications.