A story of unrequited love featuring a main character who just happens to be the first female in space? Why, I don't mind if I do. "Eros 7" (found in Jim Shepard's phenomenal collection Like You'd Understand, Anyway) chronicles the days leading up to the launch, as well as the orbit and aftermath of the Vostok 6 mission, which took the first woman into space. I'd like to point out that although Shepard's story is fiction, his characters and subject matter are real: Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, piloted her craft through 48 orbits during the Vostok 6 mission. The story is told through a series of diary entries by Tereshkova as she waits, along with her backup cosmonaut in a cottage in Kazakhstan, to be shot into orbit and reunited with her cosmonaut crush, Valery Bykovsky. Bykosky is, even as Valentina preps for launch, orbiting the earth in his own craft, the Vostok 5...
Even though the theme for February's installment of book reports is love, it's not necessarily happily ever after. Shepard's collection of stories illuminates the uncertainty, fear, sweetness, and devotion that grips us all with startling effect at different points in our lives. And really, how heart-wrenching would it be to go all the way to outer space to be alone with the person you love and then have that person mostly ignore you during the 17 minutes of non-monitored orbit?
The vibrations stopped. The capsule was a marketplace of fans and pumps. It was rotating gently, and through the porthole came a shock of indigo, replaced just as quickly with an ardent black. Tereshkova, I thought. You're in outer space.
I saw the sun. Clouds. Islands and a coastline. The light blue of the horizon was violet at the edge of its curve. Beyond that were stars. When the sun appeared again, the illumination was so intense I had to turn away.
"Hello, Seagull," Bykovsky called. I leaned forward against my straps and looked out the porthole, as though he were waving.
"Hello, Hawk," I answered. Stars wheeled across my line of vision. -- Jim Shepard
If you haven't sampled Jim Shepard, I advise you to pick up Like You'd Understand, Anyway or Love and Hydrogen. You might also like CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender, and The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr.
1. Blade Runner, by Wiktor Franko; 2. São Paulo, Brazil from the Space Station, by NASA ISS; 3. Sunrise over South America as seen from the ISS, by Ron Garan via National Geographic; 4. Stockholm apartment, via Solid Frog; 5. Wildflowers in a jar, by Prettiness and Buttons; 6. Country bunks, via Green Wellies; 7. Alexa Chung, via Moon and Trees; 8. Camel pants; by Burberry; 9. Vintage olive jumpsuit, via Envy; 10. Valery Bykovsky, Valentina Tereshkova, and Yuri Gagarin, 1965, via Relish in Russia; 11. Vintage diary, via Life in Color Photography; 12. Vostok 5-6 mission patch, via Wikipedia.