The summary given by Dorrance Bookstore for the science fiction novel Astro Streak by Kenneth Musser reads as follows:
In the not-so-distant future Ken Kee, the dynamic developer of the Astro Streak system, devises a technique to use laser cannon and cosmic ray bombardment to make artificial aurorae around the Earth and to use them for communication, display, and entertainment. A visionary president encourages him to develop the technique and to expand it to the other planets. When all the planets have their aurorae, the display attracts the attention of the galactic aliens. Earth is finally in communication with outside intelligent life and has the chance to join the intergalactic community.
And from an objective perspective, that’s exactly what the story’s about. Now, here’s the Rhapsodist summary of Astro Streak:
A pair of identical voices shout the same nonsense ad nauseum in a story that’s only thirty-six pages long.
Hmm, got the job done in only one sentence. Perhaps there’s some good money to be made in summarizing.
There are two characters in this story: the engineer Ken Kee and the unnamed president of his company, United Transacta of America. The first chapter is just Ken explaining the process by which he creates aurora on other planets, which is supposed to be the start of some great designer trend. Then the rest of the story is just them going planet by planet and repeating this process (although we’re only told this, never shown), while exchanging rapid-fire slogans. And then the two characters just discuss at the end how they’ve attracted the attention of some alien civilizations and are now really, really living well in this galactic society that the author makes no attempt to explain or describe.
I am not at all kidding when I say that the most frequently used words in this story are “astro,” “beam,” “streamer,” “cyber,” “vanguard,” and “visionary.” Here’s a sample of dialogue to better illustrate my point:
“Better technology for a better future,” commented Ken. “Press the zoom button for a clearer view.”
“Amazing,” remarked the president. “A remarkable sense of adventure. An exciting opportunity with exciting new developments.”
“It was a beam, a beam, and another beam: An important beaming solution,” replied Ken. “Laser trails for and with electron and proton particles.”
“A visually spectacular and stunning adventure,” stated the president. “Again on the edge with variations and fluctuations. Something to treasure. The cyber-art tech of the cyber-art craft works here and out there, too” (Musser 19-20).
As out of context as that passage may seem, it’s disturbingly commonplace. The story just rambles on without pause and without much background. The reader has no sense of who these characters are and no sense of conflict that would make this narrative an actual story. It’s just a series of episodes of experiments that apparently went really, really well, and isn’t it all lovely? On more than one occasion, I found myself thinking that this is a daydream for some poor engineer who might be hoping that the company executives will one day appreciate his “vision” with all the enthusiasm shown by the president in this story.
I have to say that Astro Streak has the makings of a story, but never seems to actually go anywhere. And while there are plenty of stories that do just that and still work, this is one tale that doesn’t.
Bibliography: Musser, Kenneth. Astro Streak. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2005.