Saturday, November 3, 2018

Last Small Step, by Stephen Baxter

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Hard SF) Around 2270, a small spaceship heads out beyond the Kuiper Belt to apprehend a man who’s going to violate the laws against contaminating unexplored worlds. (6,922 words; Time: 23m)

"Last Small Step," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.611 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The setting is interesting, and the descriptions are colorful.

Con: The basic plot is very simple: heiress gets kidnapped, but mom beats up the security guard and makes him reveal her location. The rest of it is infodumps and lectures.Pro: All of the rocket science appears to be correct. At 500 km/sec, the Reid Malenfant will cross 200 AU in 693 days, or 1.9 years.That same speed would get you to Mars (at closest approach) in 32 hours.

The vehicle starts with a mass of 196 metric tons, of which 170 tons are fuel. Assuming its exhaust velocity is also about 500 km/sec it arrives at cruise speed with a mass of just 71 tons, having burned 125 tons of fuel (125 is just under 71×2, as the story claims). It arrives with just 26 tons of payload and no fuel, having burned a final 45 tons of fuel (45 is just under 26×2). So all the numbers seem to check out. It is a pleasure to see an author actually do his homework for a hard SF piece.

Con: I found the premise totally unbelievable. Humanity might well decide not to bother to send human beings into space at all, but it’s crazy to think we’d allow just one single visit per round body. That’s fabulously expensive and utterly pointless at the same time.

The story made the argument that people had messed up the moon and Mars and that they wanted to keep that from happening again, but I have trouble believing anyone would much care that we’d messed up the moon and Mars, since that wouldn’t ever affect the lives of most people.

Beyond that, there’s not much of a story here. The Reid Malenfant crosses the space, finds that Gershon has killed himself. Cleans up his mess, and decides to bend the rules by siphoning off a little atmosphere. Then they go home. There’s no conflict, no tension, and, hence, no story.

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