By Alexander Wallace
It took me far too long to actually get around to reading Another Girl, Another Planet; I had attended RavenCon some years back to see a friend of mine moderate and speak at some panels therein. At one of those panels was Lou Antonelli, author of Another Girl, Another Planet, and he mentioned his book; it took me until late 2019, during a college homecoming, to finally get around to reading it (and it has to be said it was the last book I read in full in my college town).
I was a fool to have waited so long. It’s a wonderful book.
The point of divergence consists of the United States and the Soviet Union deciding to focus on space exploration rather than more bog-standard imperialism as their way of proving their respective systems as superior to the rest of the world. It’s an unrealistic premise, one that rankles the international relations student in me, but one that I was and am willing to accept if it creates a good story.
Fortunately, Antonelli has spun a good yarn with the skills of a master weaver. It starts out with Dave Shuster, a Republican Party staffer in New York who is compensated for his participation in a lost electoral campaign by being sent to work for the government of Mars. When he arrives, he finds that the governor has died under suspicious circumstances, leaving himself as the governor, a stranger in a strange land.
The book is set in the 1980s, and it draws heavily from a sort of mid-century science fiction that brimmed with optimism and triumphalism, as it was the product of an America (and to a much lesser extent, a Britain) that bestrode the world like a colossus. The world looked so bright to Americans because the rest of the world had been plunged into darkness and by the 1950s was only beginning to crawl out of it. Kim Stanley Robinson provided this sort of science fiction a very apt name: American-imperial Heinleinism.
In the world that Antonelli has created, Robert A. Heinlein is an admiral in the United States Navy that leads a heavy push to get humanity into space; he got a city on Mars for his efforts. It’s an incredibly fitting choice, given how Heinleinesque this book feels; it brims with the sensibility of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land, this sort of dream of a future that could be so much better than now, full of wonder and awe. But countering that, there is a sense of loss in that that beautiful future can never come to pass. Indeed, in much of its aesthetic it feels consciously retro from the 1960s to the 1980s; in doing so, it becomes perhaps the only example of what TvTropes calls ‘cassette futurism’ I’ve seen in print. For a concise summation of ‘cassette futurism,’ think the lab scenes in Stranger Things, of which I was strongly reminded while I read the book (having watched the entire series not long before helped too).
Dave Shuster is a quite enjoyable character as he tries to adjust to being the new satrap of a land he has just met; he must learn that space is vast and the President is far away. I do not want to go into too much detail lest the magic of it all be lost, but he is a man who is haunted by his own demons in a way that gives him much depth. He learns a lot about many things as he deals with robots and smuggling and other such things as he tries to run the red planet.
This book is at its core a love letter to the golden age of science fiction; those of us who grew up reading Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein as children (as I did) will find many things familiar about it. It’ll salve to some degree the part of you that is sad that our future will be Aurora and not Star Trek. Antonelli has created an engrossing retrofuture, one that I encourage anyone with interest in mid-century science fiction to read.