The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works. During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most in this collection from the best of 2016.
Anyone who appreciated the magnificently tense Gravity will find themselves at home in this short story about people working in the depths of space and having to face a dangerous, life-threatening situation: astronauts Hartmann and Sievert are conducting some EVA repairs when Sievert, a swashbuckling loudmouth more interested in personal records than safety protocols, causes a catastrophic accident that could cost them both their lives, and Hartmann must resort to every single bit of training and ingenuity to ensure their survival.
What’s interesting here is that Hartmann comes from farmer stock, and his present situation is interspersed with recollections from the past, especially of his father, a man who had, and still has, a great influence on Hartmann’s way of thinking and on the kind of person he is: even in space, even in the midst of huge technical advancements, being a decent individual does carry its weight, and that consideration becomes quite pivotal once the two astronauts’ circumstances appear quite dire.
Unlike other similar stories about the dangers of living and working in space, this one does not offer a comforting scenario of cooperation and selflessness: on the contrary it adds to the mix the darkest leanings of human nature, and the effects they can have even on the more honorable of characters, so that Tethers becomes a truly breathless reading experience.