Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mysteries of Motion, by Hortense Calisher

Open Road Media, ISBN 9781480438996, November 2013 (original publication 1983)

This is a really interesting work of literary science fiction from the early 1980s. I missed it at the time, and I'm sorry I did.

The basic premise of this novel is that, at a not clearly stated time possibly in the early 21st century, the US is sending a crew of civilians to a habitat/colony at the L5 LaGrange point between the Earth and the Sun. It's the first time civilians have been sent to a space station as potential colonists, and due to a years-long campaign by wealthy guerrilla journalist (today he'd be a blogger) Tom Gilpin, it is at least in theory a first exercise in including the whole range of humanity, rather than just a super-fit, elite subset.

We meet the inhabitants of one cabin, a relatively elite group although not your obvious choices for First Space Colonists. They include Tom Gilpin himself, his old friend and collaborator Veronica Oliphant, industrial magnate John Mulenberg, former diplomat and current leading international businessman William Wert, Wert's Iranian wife Soraya, and the man with two names, Wulf Lievering/Jacques Cohen. Lievering/Cohen is not deceiving anyone; he's been living and working openly under both names, and each of the passengers assigned to the same cabin have been given complete access to each other's biographies. Lievering/Cohen has been a poet, a professor of literature, a translator, and other things along the way.

And then there's one of the few crew members who spends significant time with them, Fred Kim, son of an internationally famous architect who's done significant work for NASA. Except he's not Fred Kim; he's really Mole Perdue, son of the NASA admiral in charge of this project.

Mole smuggled himself aboard because he's deeply suspicious and concerned about the fact that his father told his friend Fred's father to keep Fred grounded until the second trip.

Calisher, whose writing career stretched from 1951 to 2009, practiced a complex, ornate style of story telling that wasn't in favor in the seventies and eighties, but may be more welcome today. We get the complex interleaving of the characters' stories, non-linear, detailed, and intricate. The story builds up layer by layer, as we learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of all the principal characters. No one is a mere spear-carrier.

A really, really interesting read.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley.