An alternate history from Stoddard, which looks at what would happen should ‘Project Orion’ have taken precedence over the Apollo programme. Orion was based on the use of nuclear bombs to create thrust to propel spaceships into orbit – a device memorably used at the end of the Niven/Pournelle novel ‘Footfall’ (got my copy lying around somewhere, some 30 years old!)
In its telling, the story has more than a touch of the Arthur C. Clarke’s about it, in the quick progression of plot with strong technical elements, and a slight naivete in the characterisation, relationships and the politics. Stoddard follows the chain of logic that if there are people in space, and in orbit around Mars with nuclear bombs, on a Chekhov’s Gun principle, they’re going to be used. We go back to the Cold War, so there are (somewhat stereotypical) Russkies involved, the principled Ted Taylor, who wants to reach further out to the stars, and politics in play on Earth, who have turned their backs, fearfully, on those in space.
The story covers a lot and would benefit from being taken to novel length, turning into a long Niven/Pournelle type novel from the 80s, to flesh out the story and the characters in more depth and to give them justice.
(Which I realise, coming back to this review 10 minutes later, is what I said of the last story of Stoddard’s I read!)