A Tunnel in the Sky

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by Carter Scholz

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 8, 2023

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I am aware the title is problematic. In this case, I say you should ignore that and enjoy a well-written story. Once a common term, gypsy is a slur against certain groups of people, primarily the Romany (alternate spelling Romani, or simply Roma). If I'm not mistaken, the first time I read the word Romany was in a short story by Norman Spinrad, published more than sixty years ago, and it has been at least fifty since I read it. I am sure Scholz was aware of the controversy, so I'm not sure why he used it, but it may have more to do with the nature of the story's character who gave the name to his scientific research group, and to the first starship. The Romany are mentioned in the epigraph, as well as in the text of the story.

I obtained this short collection a few years ago from Edelweiss. It is the sixteenth (out of a current thirty) of the Outspoken Authors series from PM Press. It was offered free, but well after publication, so I did not feel compelled to read and review it by a specific date. At the same time I downloaded eight other titles, with three left to read, and I have also purchased three. "Gypsy" is a novella published in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, copies of which probably hit newstands by early October, maybe even late September. The collection came out in December of the same year. The novella came in third in the voting for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award the following year. I personally nominated it for a Hugo, but it did not make the final ballot. Roger Fry was a physicist and engineer, developer of a fusion engine which was repurposed as a weapon, as the military is wont to do. In addition to his own intellect and accomplishments, he also had a keen eye for talent in others. Over several years he tracked promising students and graduates, inviting the best of them to participate in his research website named Gypsy. That name was also used for a starship, which began as one of Fry's designs, but altered by the manufacturer, a multi-billionaire shipping magnate. Fry allowed him to complete the work, then hijacked the ship, took it to a much higher and distant orbit, and at the same time stole many of the fusion bombs in orbit around Earth, which would be used as the initial propulsion for the ship.

Launched in 2041, Gypsy was headed for Alpha Centauri with a crew of sixteen. A system of cryonic suspension had been developed, but of course there had been no time to test it. Select crew were to be revived periodically to check the ship's systems, or when there were anomalies. The first to wake, two years into the journey, was Sophie. She realized at least one of the reasons for her revival was that communications with Shackleton Crater on the moon had ceased. She attempted to correct that and send out a new message, but she has to go back into stasis before a certain time, or else the process would not work. It is thirty-eight years later when Fang Tir awakes, thirty-seven more for Sergei. Each have faced a complication or failure of various systems, but after Sergei, the revivals come quicker for Zia, Rosa, and Sophie again, since they are fast approaching the Centauri group. Perhaps too fast. In addition to the problems each faces, there are also flashbacks to their early lives, and how they came into Fry's orbit. The purpose of the journey was to escape the dire situations on Earth; political and economic turmoil, wars, climate disasters, famine, plagues. Everything had been done with as much secrecy as possible, with the potential candidates grouped together, either physically or virtually, no more than five at a time. Most had not met the others when Fry's call to board and launch was given, just as he was being arrested. Their fates were in their own hands, with no possible help from Earth, no reprieve. They were brave enough to face the challenge.

The number of stories or articles in each PM Press book varies, depending on the length of the main story. There are only two other short stories in this one, with one non-fiction essay, along with an interview conducted by the series editor Terry Bisson. The first of the other stories is a satire via letter, from author to editor and back. The title, and the story being discussed is, "The Nine Billion Names of God." It is an exact, word for word copy of the famous story by Arthur C. Clarke, but the author (Scholz himself) is arguing that in his version multiple words mean different things than they did when Clarke originally used them. "Bad Pennies" involves arguments of political, military, and diplomatic import, but is also a satire of obfuscation. I need to re-read "The United States of Impunity," a political discussion of various problems within our government, several things brought to my attention for the first time, including criticisms of people I had previously admired, or at least figured they had done their best. Maybe not. A bibliography finishes out the collection, indicating Scholz has published close to fifty stories.

Before this book, I was thinking "Gypsy" was the only thing by Scholz I had read. The bibliography reminded me of another, not in this collection though. The year after "Gypsy" came the short story "KIT: Some Assembly Required" in Asimov's, written in collaboration with Kathe Koja. It is another that I nominated for a Hugo, but again not on the final ballot. He has written only two novels, and two collections, one of each in collaboration with another writer. All seem to be out of print, but available used through various sources. Based on the many blurbs from other prominent authors at the first of this book, I should try to find more of his work, but who knows when that will happen. To reiterate, "Gypsy" is a very good story, the others less so, but this volume is still recommended.


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Carter Scholz

Title story-November 2015
Collection-December 1, 2015

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