Impact Parameter

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With a Ph.D. degree in physics and a position at NASA, Geoffrey A. Landis brings real authority to "hard" science fiction. However, what makes his first short story collection of interest to a wider audience than hard-core science fiction fans is his talent for filling his stories with human interest, rather than just scientific "what ifs."

Yes, there are scientific puzzles here, such as "Into the Blue Abyss," based on the premise that the planet Uranus lacks a solid core and is made up solely of water. And there is the predictable exploration of the paradox of the black hole in "Approaching Perimelasma." Moreover, "The Singular Habits of Wasps" is still another needless homage to Sherlock Holmes, and "What We Really Do Here at NASA" is an easy inside comic view of the space agency.

But there is also the story that won the 1992 Hugo Award, "A Walk in the Sun," which, even as it explores the scientific possibility that because of its reduced gravity one could walk entirely around the moon in a relatively short time, is less about that physical fact than it is about the psychology of the female protagonist as she stays in the sun to save her life.

Not simply science fiction, "Beneath the Stars of Winter" is a testimony to the power of scientific curiosity to survive, even the hardships and horrors of Stalin's labor camps, and "Dark Lady" is less about the complications of calculation than it is about the complexity of character.

You don't have to be a Star Trek extremist or a Star Wars fanatic to be intrigued with these stories and engaged by the people who inhabit them.