Book Review: All That Outer Space Allows by Ian Sales

all that outer space allowsI’ve been reading a lot of conclusions lately. First, The Venusian Gambit by Michael J. Martinez and now All That Outer Space Allows by Ian Sales. This is the final book in his Apollo Quartet series and unlike the previous entries in the series (“Adrift on the Sea of Rains“, “The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself” and “Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above“) it is actually a novel-length work, albeit a very short novel. So how does it hold up to its predecessors?

All That Outer Space Allows is more historical fiction than alternate history, thus once again differentiating itself from the rest of the series. It is told from the perspective of Ginny Eckhardt and is set in the 1960s at the start of the Apollo program. Ginny is married to test-pilot turned astronaut Walden who gets selected to join the program. From Ginny’s eyes we get the perspective from what its like not only to be a woman and a wife in the 1960s, but also what space exploration looks like to someone who has gotten closer than most of us ever will, but will still be denied participation because of her gender. This proves exceptionally difficult for Ginny who secretly writes science fiction under the pseudonym “Virginia G. Parker”. Thus we also see from her perspective how difficult and boring real space travel is compared to the cosmic adventures the protagonists of her stories go through.

As mentioned before, All That Outer Space Allows is a novel, but a very short novel. It is a quick read, but that doesn’t diminishes the quality. I found Ian’s literary style to still be enjoyable and the moments he broke the fourth wall to comment on the setting, characters and even his own previous works were both surprising and enjoyable. Plus the contrasts between the real world and science fiction really highlights the real divisions between fandom and those who actively work on getting us off this spinning ball we call home. Thankfully, as geek media continues to permeate popular culture, that barrier is getting narrower.

Perhaps the part of the book I liked the best was the slight tweaks Ian made to the history of science fiction. I hesitate to call this a true alternate history because few changes were made to history as we know it, but fandom’s history was changed significantly. In this world science fiction is considered “women’s literature” and thus the vast majority of creators and readers are women (even though male fans in the story reject the notion that women outnumber them). Ian, however, subtly made the argument that perhaps this was the real history after all. Throughout the novel we see Ginny hiding her true interests due to society’s displeasure, numerous references to female authors and we even see arguments about why we may not have seen more women at SF conventions. Considering this book came out during the current Hugo controversy it provides a thoughtful commentary on the debate, even if it never intended to.

Since I received an advanced review copy of All That Outer Space Allows, I can’t comment on the technicals of the book, since the final version you read may be different than the one I posses. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of All That Outer Space Allows. It is a compelling read that not only comments on society in general, but on a particular group of people who dream of adventures around distant stars.

(Ed. Note:  Jack Clemons regularly writes about working on both the Apollo and Shuttle programs for Amazing Stories.)

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