Red Star, Winter Orbit • 1983 • Alternate History novelette by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: The UdSSR have won the Space Race, control oil resources, U.S.A. are in decay, relevant only for their food production. 

Cosmonaut Yuri Vasilevich Korolev was the first man on Mars, became famous, influental. Now, he is old, disabled, and leading the slowly rotting Kosmograd space station. The story tightly follows Korolev on Kosmograd.

Political turmoil starts as Russia realizes that the expensive space station isn’t needed anymore. They want to bring it down, but Korolev has other plans.

Review: Just these days, I’m watching the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind, which has exactly the premise that the USA lost the space race. Only that their future isn’t as bleak as the one in this novelette, and it doesn’t feature the Russian point of view.

The political shenanigans with a KGB officer in space, the decaying years old technology, the smuggle of international films and music, corrupt civilians, all that leave a completely different taste and atmosphere than the authors’ cyberpunk stories. 

Published in 1983, it foreshadows space station Mir, which operated in Earth orbit starting 1986 and was deorbited in 2001 due to lack of funding. The history of its ageing systems and multiple accidents are even more adventurous than this novelette, and could give food enough for a series of its own right. 

This light read is enjoyable and had a lot of potential, but the two authors didn’t go all-in by delivering a more challenging, provocative message. 

Easy reads with Gibson are seldom, and it maybe was the note of Bruce Sterling which made this story so accessible. One other work by them is far more interesting: “The Difference Engine”, the kickoff to steampunk.

Meta: isfdb. I’ve read it it in the collection Burning Chrome.

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