Goodbye to the Satellite Fear

I’m not sure if I’m back here again or if this is just a momentary space where I decide to write something and then drop off again. This doesn’t mean what it used to. I am focused on internal worlds that I made, both finished and outlined. I wrote a book and I am trying to get it published. I have no idea the proper way to go about that but I’ve been working on it. It is fiction and more specifically it is literary fiction and even more specifically it is laced with some science fiction. I have no idea who my audience is, but I would imagine that it is someone like me. Except that age and philosophical leanings are hardly bound by any borders or definitions and I don’t know where I fit into all of that anyway (mental age is diminished and philosophy confused).

The story takes place in no specific time, except that it is probably the 90s or early 00s. I semi-consciously left out any cultural references and consciously avoided any signs of technological progress, i.e., computers, cell phones or the Internet. I was hesitant to even include specific geographical locations but that became impossible as the story unfolded. Still, I have issues with using actual existing places, such as cafes, bars or restaurants, or whatever. They are temporary, ultimately, and I wanted this story to exist in a non-specific, enduring time frame. This is easy and very difficult to do at the same time.

The characters are in their mid-30s, which is around the time I conceived the idea in my head, almost ten years ago. Actually, the idea that was conceived became two ideas and then split out into a few more; now, part of the original idea is my new outline for a second book. It had no place in this story.

The characters are fictional but there is one, and only one, that is based quite loosely on a real person. I am concerned that should this person ever read the book they might be…pissed? I don’t think that the portrayal is negative or even all that accurate, but it is probably a fair representation of my own lack of understanding of their evolution, as it were. My contact with this person is virtually dead, even in this world of unlimited communications, and this leads me to believe that there is little chance we will ever speak again. But we aren’t angry with each other, as far as I know. And the last interaction we had was nothing like the one that takes place in the story. But ultimately I fear its repercussions should he read the book.

The book is in first-person, narrated by a deeply flawed and hopelessly romantic fool named Samuel. He has a girlfriend named Sandy and their relationship is failing. He has a friend named Benedict who left town for grad school but is flunking out. He has a girl named Lora that he sleeps with from time to time, and he’s not sure what to do about that. He has lost touch with the rest of the “gang,” namely Georgie, who has moved to New Orleans, and Kenneth, who has moved to Arizona. Walter is the friend that Sam has just returned from visiting, in Australia. Walter has undergone a religious conversion of some kind and as a result their visit was strained.

Sam returns to Chicago in autumn, where he soon discovers the news concerning a broken satellite that is falling to earth. Much like Skylab in the 70s or any various space events that have happened over the years (most recently the UARS satellite) there is considerable media attention given to the falling satellite, despite its probable break-up and incident-free re-entry. The distinction that gives this satellite (named HERO-76 in the book) heft is the uncertain claim over its purpose and contents: It is rumored to be more than a your typical space vehicle, but instead a military weapon containing nuclear elements. No one knows for sure but, as happens when details are scarce, the fear is amped up to hysterical levels.

Sam greets the news with considerable disdain but Sandy is affected deeply. Their relationship already teetering, Sandy begins to seek solace in prayer while Sam, in turn, seeks solace in Lora’s bed. Meanwhile, Ben returns to town as a failed student and finds his mother ailing. She dies only days after his return and now, with both parents dead, Ben arrives at Sam’s place in grief. The two friends regroup and reacquaint while the panic over the satellite news grows. On the night of the re-entry Sam and Sandy disintegrate, their considerable differences finally coming to a head and blowing up. The satellite falls and, much to Sam’s surprise, it does not land in the ocean but instead somewhere in the American West, near the Grand Canyon.

The news becomes scarce after the crash as signals become crossed and transmissions interfered with. No one seems to know for sure whether the fallout is toxic but the official word is that all is well. Ben gathers up Sam and explains his plan: His mother’s ashes need to be spread according to her wishes, and he has drawn up a map detailing a journey that includes visits to old friends Georgie and Kenneth. The trip will taken them to New Orleans and then Flagstaff and finally to the desert landscape where his mother requested she be set free.

The second half of the book is a travelogue shrouded under gray skies and uncertainty. Sam and Ben encounter strange scenes and odd folks. Refugees from tent cities line the road and local weirdos recite wild theories. A girl named Angela seems to follow Sam everywhere. Reconciliations are painful and sometimes surprising. The radio never works. Sam and Ben hash it out and Walter’s presence remains, despite his absence.

That’s about all I can say. There are conversations and there are arguments. The search for answers is one that depends on your ability to believe. The acquisition of comfort is obtained in different ways, or not at all, as the case may be.

I’m not sure who should read this. There is sex and there are drugs and there is blasphemy. There are no politics, nor is there rock and roll. This is not a message and it’s not an opinion disguised as prose. No one “wins.” I think this may have been written in a pretty dark place:

I could hear Ben hollering in the distance again like a wolf. I touched the urn. Cold. I pulled away from it and my heart sank.

“Ashes. Dust,” I mused sadly, looking back up at Angela.

“Feel doomed much?” she said.

“I do.”

“You should. You’re not special. You’re as fucked as anyone.”

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