“Red Star, Winter Orbit” by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

Red Star, Winter Orbit” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson and Hugo Award-winning author Bruce Sterling that was originally published in 1983 in Omni.

Plug in, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: It’s Very Cold Up Here, Comrade…

It is the 1990s.  The Soviets have won the space race and beaten the US to being the dominant superpower.  But now the conquest of space has been completed, old cosmonauts like Colonel Korolev and military space stations like Kosmograd are no longer needed.  But the good colonel still has one fight left in him, and his crew won’t let him take on their political superiors alone.

The Cast: Heroes Of Humanity, But Not To The Communists

Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Korolev was once the first man on Mars and a decorated hero of the Soviet Union.  Now he sits in command of a military space station that is no longer needed.  He gets into fights with the KGB officer, Yefremov, and only wants recognition for all the sacrifices he and his men have made for the Soviets.

What makes Korolev such a heartbreaking character is that he’s seen his better days already and can’t do much more than the rest of his younger crew.  His rank and prestige aren’t enough to stop Yefremov from carrying out the orders from Earth to decommission the space station by putting it into a decaying orbit.  Yet though the fight Korolev and his comrades take up might be hopeless, hope does manage to spring up from the Americans right at the very end.

Because who says a little American ingenuity can’t solve anything?

Final Verdict: Space Is As Much A Gulag As It Is A Frontier

Gibson and Sterling lend their talent to make a very committed story of space exploration and all the hardships it entails.  They demonstrate life within the Soviet Union that, while bleak, isn’t from the perspective of smug Americans who know how the Cold War really turned out.  It’s as cold as the vacuum of space, but contains a distant light like a shining star.

Bibliography: Gibson, William.  Sterling, Bruce.  “Hinterlands.”  Burning Chrome.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1986.

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