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Challenges
     

Challenges

by Ben Bova
 

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Bova offers a new collection of wide-ranging science fiction stories, essays about the onrushing future, and observations about the craft of SF itself.



At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Overview

Bova offers a new collection of wide-ranging science fiction stories, essays about the onrushing future, and observations about the craft of SF itself.



At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Editorial Reviews

John Mort
Short stories and essays from one of the best hard sf writers, with low-key commentary recalling the "challenge" of each piece. "Crisis of the Month" is a send-up of news coverage, focusing on the media's need to manufacture crises for a (future) world in which every problem has been solved, while "The Man Who Hated Gravity" concerns a trapeze artist who suffers a debilitating fall but reestablishes his career in the low-gravity environment of the Moon. "The Mask of the Red Death" drops into a sort of inadvertently avant-garde mode; Bova changes nothing about the Edgar Allan Poe story except to update it in terms of nuclear holocaust. Several of Bova's essays represent the best writing here, however--in particular his reminiscence of the great sf editor John Campbell. Bova comments not only on Campbell's flamboyant, chain-smoking, libertarian personality but on his overpowering professional influence; Campbell left his imprint on careers as divergent as those of Robert Heinlein and Joanna Russ. Bova's nonfiction scenario of 2042 is also intriguing. An in-betweener for Bova, after his meticulously researched, distinguished "Mars" , but respectable.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429931540
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
04/01/2011
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
File size:
306 KB

Read an Excerpt


  The Man Who Hated GravityThe most important advice ever given to a writer is this: Write about what you know.How can you do this in science fiction, when the stories tend to be about places and times that no one has yet experienced? How can you write about what you know when you want to write about living in the future or the distant past, on the Moon, or Mars, or some planet that is invented out of your imagination?There are ways.To begin with, no matter what time and place in which your story is set, it must deal with people. Oh, sure, the characters in your story may not look like human beings. Science-fiction characters can be robots or alien creatures or smart dolphins or sentient cacti, for that matter. But they must behave like humans. They must have humanly recognizable needs and fears and desires. If they do not, they will either be totally incomprehensible to the reader or—worst sin of all—boring.I have never been to the Moon. I have never been a circus acrobat. But I know what it is to hate gravity. Several years ago I popped my knee while playing tennis. For weeks I was in a brace, hardly able to walk. I used crutches, and later a cane. For more than a year I could not trust my two legs to support me. Even today that knee feels like there’s a loose collection of rubber bands inside. I know what it is like to be crippled, even though it was only temporary.And I know, perhaps as well as anyone, what it is like to live on the Moon. I’ve been living there in my imagination for much of my life. My first novel (unpublished) dealt with establishing habitats on the Moon. My 1976 novel Millennium (later incorporated into The Kinsman Saga) was set mainly on the Moon. In my 1987 nonfiction book Welcome to Moonbase, I worked with engineers and illustrators to create a livable, workable industrial base on the Moon’s surface.While I was hobbling around on crutches, hating every moment of being incapacitated, I kept thinking of how much better off I would be in zero g, or in the gentle gravity of the Moon, one-sixth of Earth’s.And the Great Rolando took form in my mind. I began to write a short story about him.I don’t write many short stories. Most of my fiction has been novels. When I start a novel, I usually know the major characteristics of the major characters, and that’s about it. I have sketched out the basic conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, but if I try to outline the scenes, schedule the chapters, organize the action, the novel gets turgid and dull. Much better to let the characters fight it out among themselves, day after day, as the work progresses.Short stories are very different. Most of the short stories I write are rather carefully planned out before I begin putting the words down. I find that, because a short story must necessarily be tightly written, without a spare scene or even an extra sentence, I must work out every detail of the story in my mind before I begin to write.“The Man Who Hated Gravity” did not evolve that way. I began with Rolando, a daring acrobat who flouted his disdain for the dangers of his work. I knew he was going to be injured, much more seriously and permanently than I was. From there on in, Rolando and the other characters literally took over the telling of the tale. I did not know, for example, that the scientist who was used to help publicize Rolando would turn out to be the man who headed Moonbase years later.I do not advise this subconscious method of writing for short-story work. As I said, a short story must be succinct. Instead of relating the tale of a person’s whole life, or a substantial portion of it, a short story can at best reveal a critical incident in that character’s life: a turning point, an episode that illuminates the person’s inner being.But this subconscious method worked for me in “The Man Who Hated Gravity.” See if the story works for you.


The Great Rolando had not always hated gravity. As a child growing up in the traveling circus that had been his only home he often frightened his parents by climbing too high, swinging too far, daring more than they could bear to watch.The son of a clown and a cook, Rolando had yearned for true greatness, and could not rest until he became the most renowned aerialist of them all.Slim and handsome in his spangled tights, Rolando soared through the empty air thirty feet above the circus’s flimsy safety net. Then fifty feet above it. Then a full hundred feet high, with no net at all.“See the Great Rolando defy gravity!” shouted the posters and TV advertisements. And the people came to crane their necks and hold their breaths as he performed a split-second ballet in midair high above them. Literally flying from one trapeze to another, triple somersaults were workaday chores for the Great Rolando.His father feared to watch his son’s performances. With all the superstition born of generations of circus life, he cringed outside the Big Top while the crowds roared deliriously. Behind his clown’s painted grin Rolando’s father trembled. His mother prayed through every performance until the day she died, slumped over a bare wooden pew in a tiny austere church far out in the midwestern prairie.For no matter how far he flew, no matter how wildly he gyrated in midair, no matter how the crowds below gasped and screamed their delight, the Great Rolando pushed himself farther, higher, more recklessly.Once, when the circus was playing New York City’s huge Convention Center, the management pulled a public relations coup. They got a brilliant young physicist from Columbia University to pose with Rolando for the media cameras and congratulate him on defying gravity.Once the camera crews had departed, the physicist said to Rolando, “I’ve always had a secret yearning to be in the circus. I admire what you do very much.”Rolando accepted the compliment with a condescending smile.“But no one can really defy gravity,” the physicist warned. “It’s a universal force, you know.”The Great Rolando’s smile vanished. “I can defy gravity. And I do. Every day.”Several years later Rolando’s father died (of a heart seizure, during one of his son’s performances) and Rolando married the brilliant young lion tamer who had joined the circus slightly earlier. She was a petite little thing with golden hair, the loveliest of blue eyes, and so sweet a disposition that no one could say anything about her that was less than praise. Even the great cats purred for her.She too feared Rolando’s ever-bolder daring, his wilder and wilder reachings on the high trapeze.“There’s nothing to be afraid of! Gravity can’t hurt me!” And he would laugh at her fears.“But I am afraid,” she would cry.“The people pay their money to see me defy gravity,” Rolando would tell his tearful wife. “They’ll get bored if I keep doing the same stunts one year after another.”She loved him dearly and felt terribly frightened for him. It was one thing to master a large cage full of Bengal tigers and tawny lions and snarling black panthers. All you needed was will and nerve. But she knew that gravity was another matter altogether.“No one can defy gravity forever,” she would say, gently, softly, quietly.“I can,” boasted the Great Rolando.But of course he could not. No one could. Not forever.The fall, when it inevitably came, was a matter of a fraction of a second. His young assistant’s hand slipped only slightly in starting out the empty trapeze for Rolando to catch after a quadruple somersault. Rolando almost caught it. In midair he saw that the bar would be too short. He stretched his magnificently trained body to the utmost and his fingers just grazed its tape-wound shaft.For an instant he hung in the air. The tent went absolutely silent. The crowd drew in its collective breath. The band stopped playing. Then gravity wrapped its invisible tentacles around the Great Rolando and he plummeted, wild-eyed and screaming, to the sawdust a hundred feet below.“His right leg is completely shattered,” said the famous surgeon to his wife. She had stayed calm up to that moment, strong and levelheaded while her husband lay unconscious in an intensive-care unit.“His other injuries will heal. But the leg …” The gray-haired, gray-suited man shook his dignified head sadly. His assistants, gathered behind him like an honor guard, shook their heads in metronome synchrony to their leader.“His leg?” she asked, trembling.“He will never be able to walk again,” the famous surgeon pronounced.The petite blonde lion tamer crumpled and sagged into the sleek leather couch of the hospital waiting room, tears spilling down her cheeks.“Unless … ,” said the famous surgeon.“Unless?” she echoed, suddenly wild with hope.“Unless we replace the shattered leg with a prosthesis.”“Cut off his leg?”The famous surgeon promised her that a prosthetic bionic leg would be “just as good as the original—in fact, even better!” It would be a permanent prosthesis; it would never have to come off, and its synthetic surface would blend so well with Rolando’s real skin that no one would be able to tell where his natural leg ended and his prosthetic leg began. His assistants nodded in unison.Frenzied at the thought that her husband would never walk again, alone in the face of coolly assured medical wisdom, she reluctantly gave her assent and signed the necessary papers.The artificial leg was part lightweight metal, part composite space-manufactured materials, and entirely filled with marvelously tiny electronic devices and miraculously miniaturized motors that moved the prosthesis exactly the way a real leg should move. It was stronger than flesh and bone, or so the doctors confidently assured the Great Rolando’s wife.The circus manager, a constantly frowning bald man who reported to a board of bankers, lawyers, and MBAs in St. Petersburg, agreed to pay the famous surgeon’s astronomical fee. “The first aerialist with a bionic leg,” he murmured, dollar signs in his eyes.Rolando took the news of the amputation and prosthesis with surprising calm. He agreed with his wife: better a strong and reliable artificial leg than a ruined real one.In two weeks he walked again. But not well. He limped. The leg hurt, with a sullen, stubborn ache that refused to go away.“It will take a little time to get accustomed to it,” said the physical therapists.Rolando waited. He exercised. He tried jogging. The leg did not work right. And it ached constantly.“That’s just not possible,” the doctors assured him. “Perhaps you ought to talk with a psychologist.”The Great Rolando stormed out of their offices, limping and cursing, never to return. He went back to the circus, but not to his aerial acrobatics. A man who could not walk properly, who had an artificial leg that did not work right, had no business on the high trapeze.His young assistant took the spotlight now, and duplicated—almost—the Great Rolando’s repertoire of aerial acrobatic feats. Rolando watched him with mounting jealousy, his only satisfaction being that the crowds were noticeably smaller than they had been when he had been the star of the show. The circus manager frowned and asked when Rolando would be ready to work again.“When the leg works right,” said Rolando.But it continued to pain him, to make him awkward and invalid.That is when he began to hate gravity. He hated being pinned down to the ground like a worm, a beetle. He would hobble into the Big Tent and eye the fliers’ platform a hundred feet over his head and know that he could not even climb the ladder to reach it. He grew angrier each day. And clumsy. And obese. The damned false leg hurt, no matter what those expensive quacks said. It was not psychosomatic. Rolando snorted contempt for their stupidity.He spent his days bumping into inanimate objects and tripping over tent ropes. He spent his nights grumbling and grousing, fearing to move about in the dark, fearing even that he might roll off his bed. When he managed to sleep the same nightmare gripped him: he was falling, plunging downward eternally while gravity laughed at him and all his screams for help did him no good whatever.His former assistant grinned at him whenever they met. The circus manager took to growling about Rolando’s weight, and asking how long he expected to be on the payroll when he was not earning his keep.Rolando limped and ached. And when no one could see him, he cried. He grew bitter and angry, like a proud lion that finds itself caged forever.Representatives from the bionics company that manufactured the prosthetic leg visited the circus, their faces grave with concern.“The prosthesis should be working just fine,” they insisted.Rolando insisted even more staunchly that their claims were fraudulent. “I should sue you and the barbarian who took my leg off.”The manufacturer’s reps consulted their home office and within the week Rolando was whisked to San Jose in their company jet. For days on end they tested the leg, its electronic innards, the bionic interface where it linked with Rolando’s human nervous system. Everything checked out perfectly. They showed Rolando the results, almost with tears in their eyes.“It should work fine.”“It does not.”In exchange for a written agreement not to sue them, the bionics company gave Rolando a position as a “field consultant,” at a healthy stipend. His only duties were to phone San Jose once a month to report on how the leg felt. Rolando delighted in describing each and every individual twinge, the awkwardness of the leg, how it made him limp.His wife was the major earner now, despite his monthly consultant’s fee. She worked twice as hard as ever before, and began to draw crowds that held their breaths in vicarious terror as they watched the tiny blonde place herself at the mercy of so many fangs and claws.Rolando traveled with her as the circus made its tour of North America each year, growing fatter and unhappier day by humiliating, frustrating, painful day.Gravity defeated him every hour, in a thousand small ways. He would read a magazine in their cramped mobile home until, bored, he tossed it onto the table. Gravity would slyly tug at its pages until the magazine slipped over the table’s edge and fell to the floor. He would shower laboriously, hating the bulging fat that now encumbered his once-sleek body. The soap would slide from his hands while he was half-blinded with suds. Inevitably he would slip on it and bang himself painfully against the shower wall.If there was a carpet spread on the floor, gravity would contrive to have it entangle his feet and pull him into a humiliating fall. Stairs tripped him. His silverware clattered noisily to the floor in restaurants.He shunned the Big Top altogether, where the people who had once paid to see him soar through the air could see how heavy and clumsy he had become—even though a nasty voice in his mind told him that no one would recognize the fat old man he now was as the oncemagnificent Great Rolando.As the years stretched past Rolando grew grayer and heavier and angrier. Furious at gravity. Bellowing, screaming, howling with impotent rage at the hateful tricks gravity played on him every day, every hour. He took to leaning on a cane and stumping around their mobile home, roaring helplessly against gravity and the fate that was killing him by inches.His darling wife remained steadfast and supportive all through those terrible years. Other circus folk shook their heads in wonder at her. “She spends all day with the big cats and then goes home to more roaring and spitting,” they told each other.Then one winter afternoon, as the sun threw long shadows across the Houston Astrodome parking lot, where the circus was camped for the week, Rolando’s wife came into their mobile home, her sky-blue workout suit dark with perspiration, and announced that a small contingent of performers had been invited to Moonbase for a month.“To the Moon?” Rolando asked, incredulous. “Who?”The fliers and tightrope acts, she replied, and a selection of acrobats and clowns.“There’s no gravity up there,” Rolando muttered, suddenly jealous. “Or less gravity. Something like that.”He slumped back in the sofa without realizing that the wonderful smile on his wife’s face meant that there was more she wanted to tell him.“We’ve been invited, too!” she blurted, and she perched herself on his lap, threw her arms around his thick neck and kissed him soundly.“You mean you’ve been invited,” he said darkly, pulling away from her embrace. “You’re the star of the show; I’m a has-been.”She shook her head, still smiling happily. “They haven’t asked me to perform. They can’t bring the cats up into space. The invitation is for the Great Rolando and his wife to spend a month up there as guests of Moonbase Inc.!” Rolando suspected that the bionics company had pulled some corporate strings. They want to see how their damnable leg works without gravity, he was certain. Inwardly, he was eager to find out, too. But he let no one know that, not even his wife.To his utter shame and dismay, Rolando was miserably sick all the long three days of the flight from Texas to Moonbase. Immediately after takeoff the spacecraft carrying the circus performers was in zero gravity, weightless, and Rolando found that the absence of gravity was worse for him than gravity itself. His stomach seemed to be falling all the time while, paradoxically, anything he tried to eat crawled upward into his throat and made him violently ill.In his misery and near-delirium he knew that gravity was laughing at him.Once on the Moon, however, everything became quite fine. Better than fine, as far as Rolando was concerned. While clear-eyed young Moonbase guides in crisp uniforms of amber and bronze demonstrated the cautious shuffling walk that was needed in the gentle lunar gravity, Rolando realized that his leg no longer hurt.“I feel fine,” he whispered to his wife, in the middle of the demonstration. Then he startled the guides and his fellow circus folk alike by tossing his cane aside and leaping five meters into the air, shouting at the top of his lungs, “I feel wonderful!”The circus performers were taken off to special orientation lectures, but Rolando and his wife were escorted by a pert young redhead into the office of Moonbase’s chief administrator.“Remember me?” asked the administrator as he shook Rolando’s hand and half-bowed to his wife. “I was the physicist at Columbia who did that TV commercial with you six or seven years ago.”Rolando did not in fact remember the man’s face at all, although he did recall his warning about gravity. As he sat down in the chair the administrator proffered, he frowned slightly.The administrator wore zippered coveralls of powder blue. He hiked one hip onto the edge of his desk and beamed happily at the Rolandos. “I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have the circus here, even if it’s just for a month. I really had to sweat blood to get the corporation’s management to okay bringing you up here. Transportation’s still quite expensive, you know.”Rolando patted his artificial leg. “I imagine the bionics company paid their fair share of the costs.”The administrator looked slightly startled. “Well, yes, they have picked up the tab for you and Mrs. Rolando.”“I thought so.”Rolando’s wife smiled sweetly. “We are delighted that you invited us here.”They chatted a while longer and then the administrator personally escorted them to their apartment in Moonbase’s tourist section. “Have a happy stay,” he said, by way of taking his leave.Although he did not expect to, that is exactly what Rolando did for the next many days. Moonbase was marvelous! There was enough gravity to keep his insides behaving properly, but it was so light and gentle that even his obese body with its false leg felt young and agile again.Rolando walked the length and breadth of the great Main Plaza, his wife clinging to his arm, and marveled at how the Moonbase people had landscaped the expanse under their dome, planted it with grass and flowering shrubs. The apartment they had been assigned to was deeper underground, in one of the long corridors that had been blasted out of solid rock. But the quarters were no smaller than their mobile home back on Earth, and it had a video screen that took up one entire wall of the sitting room.“I love it here!” Rolando told his wife. “I could stay forever!”“It’s only for one month,” she said softly. He ignored it.Rolando adjusted quickly to walking in the easy lunar gravity, never noticing that his wife adjusted just as quickly (perhaps even a shade faster). He left his cane in their apartment and strolled unaided each day through the shopping arcades and athletic fields of the Main Plaza, walking for hours on end without a bit of pain.He watched the roustabouts who had come up with him directing their robots to set up a Big Top in the middle of the Plaza, a gaudy blaze of colorful plastic and pennants beneath the great gray dome that soared high overhead.The Moon is marvelous, thought Rolando. There was still gravity lurking, trying to trip him up and make him look ridiculous. But even when he fell, it was so slow and gentle that he could put out his powerful arms and push himself up to a standing position before his body actually hit the ground.“I love it here!” he said to his wife, dozens of times each day. She smiled and tried to remind him that it was only for three more weeks.At dinner one evening in Moonbase’s grander restaurant (there were only two, not counting cafeterias) his earthly muscles proved too strong for the Moon when he rammed their half-finished bottle of wine back into its aluminum ice bucket. The bucket tipped and fell off the edge of the table. But Rolando snatched it with one hand in the midst of its languid fall toward the floor and with a smile and a flourish deposited the bucket with the bottle still in it back on the table before a drop had spilled.“I love it here,” he repeated for the fortieth time that day.Gradually, though, his euphoric mood sank. The circus began giving abbreviated performances inside its Big Top, and Rolando stood helplessly pinned to the ground while the spotlights picked out the young fliers in their skintight costumes as they soared slowly, dreamily through the air between one trapeze and the next, twisting, spinning, somersaulting in the soft lunar gravity in ways that no one had ever done before. The audience gasped and cheered and gave them standing ovations. Rolando stood rooted near one of the tent’s entrances, deep in shadow, wearing a tourist’s pale green coveralls, choking with envy and frustrated rage.The crowds were small—there were only a few thousand people living at Moonbase, plus perhaps another thousand tourists—but they shook the plastic tent with their roars of delight.Rolando watched a few performances, then stayed away. But he noticed at the Olympic-sized pool that raw teenagers were diving from a thirty-meter platform and doing half a dozen somersaults as they fell languidly in the easy gravity. Even when they hit the water the splashes they made rose lazily and then fell back into the pool so leisurely that it seemed like a slow-motion film.Anyone can be an athlete here, Rolando realized as he watched tourists flying on rented wings through the upper reaches of the Main Plaza’s vaulted dome.Children could easily do not merely Olympic, but Olympian feats of acrobatics. Rolando began to dread the possibility of seeing a youngster do a quadruple somersault from a standing start.“Anyone can defy gravity here,” he complained to his wife, silently adding, Anyone but me.It made him morose to realize that feats which had taken him a lifetime to accomplish could be learned by a toddler in half an hour. And soon he would have to return to Earth with its heavy, oppressive, mocking gravity.I know you’re waiting for me, he said to gravity. You’re going to kill me—if I don’t do the job for myself first.Two nights before they were due to depart, they were the dinner guests of the chief administrator and several of his staff. As formal an occasion as Moonbase ever has, the men wore sport jackets and turtleneck shirts, the women real dresses and jewelry. The administrator told hoary old stories of his childhood yearning to be in the circus. Rolando remained modestly silent, even when the administrator spoke glowingly of how he had admired the daring feats of the Great Rolando—many years ago.After dinner, back in their apartment, Rolando turned on his wife. “You got them to invite us up here, didn’t you?”She admitted, “The bionics company told me that they were going to end your consulting fee. They want to give up on you! I asked them to let us come here to see if your leg would be better in low gravity.”“And then we go back to Earth.”“Yes.”“Back to real gravity. Back to my being a cripple!”“I was hoping …” Her voice broke and she sank onto the bed, crying.Suddenly Rolando’s anger was overwhelmed by a searing, agonizing sense of shame. All these years she had been trying so hard, standing between him and the rest of the world, protecting him, sheltering him. And for what? So that he could scream at her for the rest of his life?He could not bear it any longer.Unable to speak, unable even to reach his hand out to comfort her, he turned and lumbered out of the apartment, leaving his wife weeping alone.He knew where he had to be, where he could finally put an end to this humiliation and misery. He made his way to the Big Top.A stubby gunmetal-gray robot stood guard at the main entrance, its sensors focusing on Rolando like the red glowing eyes of a spider.“No access at this time except to members of the circus troupe,” it said in a synthesized voice.“I am the Great Rolando.”“One moment for voiceprint identification,” said the robot, then, “Approved.”Rolando swept past the contraption with a snort of contempt.The Big Top was empty at this hour. Tomorrow they would start to dismantle it. The next day they would head back to Earth.Rolando walked slowly, stiffly to the base of the ladder that reached up to the trapezes. The spotlights were shut down. The only illumination inside the tent came from the harsh working lights spotted here and there.Rolando heaved a deep breath and stripped off his jacket. Then, gripping one of the ladder’s rungs, he began to climb: good leg first, then the artificial leg. He could feel no difference between them. His body was only one-sixth its earthly weight, of course, but still the artificial leg behaved exactly as his normal one.He reached the topmost platform. Holding tightly to the side rail he peered down into the gloomy shadows a hundred feet below.With a slow, ponderous nod of his head the Great Rolando finally admitted what he had kept buried inside him all these long anguished years. Finally the concealed truth emerged and stood naked before him. With tear-filled eyes he saw its reality.He had been living a lie all these years. He had been blaming gravity for his own failure. Now he understood with precise, final clarity that it was not gravity that had destroyed his life.It was fear.He stood rooted on the high platform, trembling with the memory of falling, plunging, screaming terror. He knew that this fear would live within him always, for the remainder of his life. It was too strong to overcome; he was a coward, probably had always been a coward, all his life. All his life.Without consciously thinking about it Rolando untied one of the trapezes and gripped the rough surface of its taped bar. He did not bother with resin. There would be no need.As if in a dream he swung out into the empty air, feeling the rush of wind ruffling his gray hair, hearing the creak of the ropes beneath his weight.Once, twice, three times he swung back and forth, kicking higher each time. He grunted with the unaccustomed exertion. He felt sweat trickling from his armpits.Looking down, he saw the hard ground so far below. One more fall, he told himself. Just let go and that will end it forever. End the fear. End the shame.“Teach me!”The voice boomed like cannon fire across the empty tent. Rolando felt every muscle in his body tighten.On the opposite platform, before him, stood the chief administrator, still wearing his dinner jacket.“Teach me!” he called again. “Show me how to do it. Just this once, before you have to leave.”Rolando hung by his hands, swinging back and forth. The younger man’s figure standing on the platform came closer, closer, then receded, dwindled as inertia carried Rolando forward and back, forward and back.“No one will know,” the administrator pleaded through the shadows. “I promise you; I’ll never tell a soul. Just show me how to do it. Just this once.”“Stand back,” Rolando heard his own voice call. It startled him.Rolando kicked once, tried to judge the distance and account for the lower gravity as best as he could, and let go of the bar. He soared too far, but the strong composite mesh at the rear of the platform caught him, yieldingly, and he was able to grasp the side railing and stand erect before the young administrator could reach out and steady him.“We both have a lot to learn,” said the Great Rolando. “Take off your jacket.”For more than an hour the two men swung high through the silent shadowy air. Rolando tried nothing fancy, no leaps from one bar to another, no real acrobatics. It was tricky enough just landing gracefully on the platform in the strange lunar gravity. The administrator did exactly as Rolando instructed him. For all his youth and desire to emulate a circus star, he was no daredevil. It satisfied him completely to swing side by side with the Great Rolando, to share the same platform.“What made you come here tonight?” Rolando asked as they stood gasping sweatily on the platform between turns.“The security robot reported your entry. Strictly routine, I get all such reports piped to my quarters. But I figured this was too good a chance to miss!”Finally, soaked with perspiration, arms aching and fingers raw and cramping, they made their way down the ladder to the ground. Laughing.“I’ll never forget this,” the administrator said. “It’s the high point of my life.”“Mine too,” said Rolando fervently. “Mine too.”Two days later the administrator came to the rocket terminal to see the circus troupe off. Taking Rolando and his wife to one side, he said in a low voice that brimmed with happiness, “You know, we’re starting to accept retired couples for permanent residence here at Moonbase.”Rolando’s wife immediately responded, “Oh, I’m not ready to retire yet.”“Nor I,” said Rolando. “I’ll stay with the circus for a few years more, I think. There might still be time for me to make a comeback.”“Still,” said the administrator, “when you do want to retire …”Mrs. Rolando smiled at him. “I’ve noticed that my face looks better in this lower gravity. I probably wouldn’t need a facelift if we come to live here.”They laughed together.The rest of the troupe was filing into the rocket that would take them back to Earth. Rolando gallantly held his wife’s arm as she stepped up the ramp and ducked through the hatch. Then he turned to the administrator and asked swiftly:“What you told me about gravity all those years ago—is it really true? It is really universal? There’s no way around it?”“Afraid not,” the administrator answered. “Someday gravity will make the Sun collapse. It might even make the entire universe collapse.”Rolando nodded, shook the man’s hand, then followed his wife to his seat inside the rocket’s passenger compartment. As he listened to the taped safety lecture and strapped on his safety belt he thought to himself: So gravity will get us all in the end.Then he smiled grimly. But not yet. Not yet.Copyright © 1993 by Ben Bova

Meet the Author

Ben Bova is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, former editorial director of Omni, and past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction. He lives in Florida.


Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and in 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award "for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature." He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, and a former editor of Analog and former fiction editor of Omni. As an editor, he won science fiction’s Hugo Award six times. Dr. Bova’s writings have predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more. He lives in Florida.

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