Phases of Gravity
by Dan Simmons
Review by Mel Jacob
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064164
Date: 31 December 2011 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Subterranean Press has reissued Simmons 1989 novel, Phases of Gravity. It follows the life of a former astronaut who walked on the moon and is now in civilian life. The ultimately hopeful novel first takes the reader on a downward journey as Richard Baedecker relives the highpoint of his life with a moon landing again and again and then suffers depression and disassociation when nothing else reaches those heights.
His marriage fails and he is estranged from his son Scott now following a guru in India. He meets a young friend of Scott's, Maggie Brown who visits places of power and occupies Richard until he can see his son. The visit doesn't go well. His mid-life crisis begins in India and zigzags to various places as he seeks something he can't identify.
He abandons his job and climbs a mountain with Maggie and a former astronaut. He loves Maggie, but is troubled by their age difference. Another man has proposed to her, yet Baedecker can't bring himself to commit.
The former astronaut has turned religious and founded a Christian organization. Learning another former colleague has Hodgkin's disease, Baedecker visits him and his family. The man's wife is about to have a child. After the man dies in an airplane crash, she asks Baedecker to investigate.
The novel explores relationships, fears, and memory. It moves from present to past and back again in abrupt swings. Images are vivid and moving. Baedecker's relationship with his peers, with his son Scott, and Maggie are rich and detailed.
Simmons writing is excellent, the description evocative, but the evolution of the hero takes time. The novel is more a literary novel than science fiction or any genre. The initial reception of the book by fans was disappointing because it differs so much from Simmons usual novels. However, those who persist will ultimately enjoy the read.