James E. Gunn. The Cave of Night. (Galaxy February 1955)

Read in Judith Merril’s The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1956.

Gunn’s tale foreshadows the drama of Apollo 13 and the ‘fake Moon landing’ conspiracy theorists.

It’s a story that holds up well. The story is a reflection by a journalist, an old friend of the man who has, to the world’s surprise, become the first man in orbit and who, to the world’s horror, is destined to live out his final days in orbit, unable to return.

There’s an elegiac tone as the journalist reflects on how humanity has been brought together by the plight of the astronaut, alone in what he has coined ‘the cave of night’. There is one-way communication with the astronaut, and so humanity can tune in to his broadcasts as the passes over the Earth, the broadcasts in which he becomes increasingly weaker as death beckons.

His death is not in vain, as humanity embraces the need to reach for the stars.

However, it transpires that the journalist’s reflections have been set off by a chance encounter in Times Square some years later…

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