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Dying Astronaut Science Fiction
hat is Dying Astronaut Science Fiction?
Astronauts make awesome characters in Sci FI stories because they have had a real impact on our actual world and they are a part of humanity's exploration of the universe. Since the twentieth century our exploration has been conducted with skateboard-sized robots, but the astronaut is a character who has, and will continue to have a beloved place in Sci Fi. But, tales about brave space explorers have existed well before humans actually traveled into space—about a decade before Yuri Gagarin's historic trip in 1961.
There have been many stories the feature astronauts as characters—however, because of the perils of space travel, there have been a significant number of stories about astronauts facing potentially fatal situations. Venturing beyond the Earth's atmosphere is an adventure, it is extraordinary, it is full of possibility and discovery, but there are risks. Some of these risks we know about—mechanical failure, asteroids—but some are unknown. And any risk—whether known or unknown—has not only life-threatening possibilities, but tension and drama that are the building blocks of gripping stories.
Other Features of Dying Astronaut Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Moderate-High. The technology around space exploration is amazing and ubiquitous—there would be no astronauts without technology. And astronauts themselves are often scientists. Science and technology are absolutely key components to the setting and characters of Dying Astronaut stories. The science and technology, even though it may be far beyond our current technology is attainable. That said, not all Dying Astronaut stories are hard Sci Fi.
There is also the element of psychology in Dying Astronaut stories. Sure, there is the look into the mind of someone dying, but there is also the psychological effects of technological developments and of being in space.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. The last moments of a dying astronaut can be incredibly philosophical. Dealing with questions about humanity's place in the universe, destiny, the value of life, the value of discovery. When astronauts embark beyond the Earth's atmosphere they carry with them the dreams of humanity and when they face life threatening situations their stories have far reaching implications.
- Level of Characterization
Variable. Characterization is a difficult attribute to define in regards to this sub-genre because astronauts have become an archetype in Sci Fi—they are the heroes of the space age after all. Because they are archetypes they can be a bit flat as characters—but, in their last moments dying astronauts can become introspective, and in that moment readers glimpse the core of who they are. In addition, as technology has developed, the need for people to be involved in off-world quests has diminished, both in reality and in science fiction. The dreams that have surrounded astronauts may be dissolving, but, as characters astronauts have become better developed—they tend to be more reflective and realistic.
- Level of Plot Complexity
High. This is a sub-genre about discovery (usually) and because astronauts are the vanguard of off-world exploration their stories are ripe for interesting plot lines. Indeed, because Dying Astronaut stories inevitably lead to a heightened climatic moment where life is at stake, the plot is full of energy and tension.
Some stories focus on the single astronaut and can become quite introspective and so the plot will disappear for a bit in favor of characterization or philosophical inquiry. However, the reader is always brought back to the plot and these interludes only serve to underscore the emotion of the story's events.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Although Dying Astronauts have life-threatening situations, they are not necessarily caused by violence. The astronaut may be marooned on an uninhabited planet without hope of rescue—not violent. However, some stores will have other humans, or aliens, or creatures who's goal is to do harm, and these stories can be incredibly violent. Furthermore, even though these stories center around death, the death itself is not always described in graphic detail—but it can be.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Hard Science Fiction. Dying Astronaut and Hard Sci Fi are natural complements, considering the involvement of science and technology in the lives of astronauts.
Near-Future Science Fiction. Many Dying Astronaut stories take place in a future very near our own.
Social Science Fiction. Dying Astronaut stories that have a focus on psychology are also a part of this sub-genre. First-Landings. Astronauts are the vanguard, they are the first to land on other worlds, and the first to die there.
Dying Astronaut Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you don't like watching the drawn out death of a hero. These are stories about the dying and readers know from very close to the beginning that the character or characters will be dying (or at least facing death) and this process is drawn out over the course of the whole book. So if you like your death scenes quick and to the point or if you like it when everyone lives, this sub-genre is not for you.
- 1 Marooned
By Martin Caidin. Three astronauts are marooned in space when the Apollo's SPS engine doesn't fire. The book also provides a look at how the US space program works. (Note, there are two books of this name, one from 1969 and one from 1964—both feature marooned astronauts).
- 2 Station in Space
By James E. Gunn. This book is the story of human exploration in space—and sometimes they are faced with life threatening situations. It is a book that demystifies space travel and discovers the hard truths.
- 3 Orbital Decay
By Allen Steele. Steele's first novel and the beginning of the Near-Space series, this book is told as a memoir of a blue-collar space worker as he lies at the bottom of a canyon on the moon.
- 4 2001: A Space Odyssey
By Arthur C. Clarke. This novel is an epic story, a story in which two astronauts must fight for their lives, against an extraordinary computer named HAL.
- 5 The Man Who Lost the Sea
By Theodore Sturgeon. published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This one is a short story, not a book, but it is a classic Sci Fi story and one that epitomizes this sub-genre—the final moments of a dying astronaut on Mars.
- 6 A Maze of Death
By Philip K. Dick. A dark and philosophical novel about the future of space explorers: colonists. It is a story about death, about reality, about perception.
- 7 Memories of the Space Age
By J.G. Ballard There are a number of short stories in this collection that are Dying Astronaut stories. In these pages there is a fascination with astronauts and with imagination (or the lack thereof).
- 8 The Dead Astronaut
- 9 Marooned on Mars
By Lester del Rey. Chuck is from the moon and he was supposed to be on the mission to Mars, but is replaced by an Earthling. He stows away on their sip with life-threatening consequences.
- 10 The Martian
By Andy Weir. A bit of a retro-inspired novel about an astronaut who is the first man to walk on Mars, but is sure he'll also be the first to die there.
- 11 The Stars My Destination
By Alfred Bester. A mechanic is the sole survivor on a ship that is just a wreck.
- 12 Blindsight
By Peter Watts. A group of freaks (who are also astronauts) are sent on a one way mission to investigate a mysterious object that appears at the edge of human space. Atmospheric and creepy.