Barry N Malzberg, Beyond Apollo (1972, Pocket Books 1974)
In the real world, the Apollo moon program lasted from 1962 to 1972. Beyond Apollo, first published in 1972, tells what happened next: a failed attempt to land men on Mars in 1976, and then the Venus project in 1981. The immediate aftermath of the latter is the book’s present moment. Malzberg’s future is our past. If he had been aiming for accurate prediction, he failed miserably. But this isn’t that kind of book.
James Tiptree Jr said of Barry Malzberg: ‘Everybody and everything hurts, for no known reason.’ She could have been giving us an abstract of this book. The main character, Harry Evans, has returned to earth after failing to land on Venus. His fellow-traveller, the Captain, died out there. Evans is probably deranged by whatever happened out there, although possibly his derangement out there led to whatever happened. He gives his debriefers – and us – about ten different versions of events, none of them cheery. Some are obvious fantasy, some probably lies, none is obviously true. He remembers (or fantasises) a lot of unpleasant sex with his wife, and possibly with the Captain. Actually, I probably approached this books thinking I should have read it when I was 14 – science fiction’s ideal reader is supposed to be a 14 year old boy, right? Well, no! I would strongly discourage any 14 year old boy, and a fortiori any 14 year old girl, from reading this. I read the horrible marital rape scenes as somehow parallelling the mechanistic, soulless nature of the Venus project (Venus//sex, OK?), but they sure weren’t fun to read.
This is probably a very good book. Though there are aliens (possibly invented by Evans, possibly real, who is to know?), the book is not the romp with sexy aliens promised by the lurid cover. Nor is it an easy read. Everybody hurts, including the reader.