Richard Baedecker thinks his greatest challenge was walking on the moon, but then he meets a mysterious woman who shows him his past. Join Baedecker as he comes to grips with the son and wife he lost in his passion for space exploration, his forgotten childhood and the loss he experienced during the death-flight of the Challenger. The most difficult exploration of his life is not the cold, rocky crevices of the moon, but the warm interior of his heart. Brilliant and beautifully written, PHASES OF GRAVITY is a masterpiece about love and loss that transports readers far beyond the confines of space and time.
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April 01, 2001
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Excerpt from Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons
Pan Am Flight 001 left the moonlight behind it and dropped into clouds and darkness as it felt its way toward a landing in New Delhi. Staring out at the port wing, Baedecker felt the weight pulling at him and mixing with the tension of an old pilot being forced to suffer a landing as a passenger. The wheels touched tarmac in an almost perfect touchdown and Baedecker glanced at his watch. It was 3:47 A.M. local time. Tiny motes of pain danced behind his eyes as he looked out past the flashing wingtip light at the dark silhouettes of water towers and service buildings moving past. The massive 747 swung sharply to the right and rolled to the end of its taxi run. The sound of engines swelled one final time and then dropped into silence, leaving Baedecker with the tired pounding of his own pulse in his ears. He had not slept for twenty-four hours.
Even before the shuffling line reached the forward exit, Baedecker felt the wave of heat and humidity strike him. Descending the ramp toward the sticky asphalt, he became aware of the tremendous mass of the planet under him, weighted even further by the hundreds of millions of wretched souls populating the subcontinent, and he hunched his shoulders against the inexorable pull of depression.
I should have done the credit card commercial, thought Baedecker. He stood in the gloom with the other passengers and waited for a blue-and-white jitney to approach them across the dark expanse of pavement. The terminal was a distant blur of lights on the horizon. Clouds reflected the rows of blinking lights beyond the runway.
It would not have been very difficult. All they had asked of him was to sit in front of the cameras and lights, smile, and say, "Do you know me? Sixteen years ago I walked on the moon. That doesn't help me though when I want to reserve an airline seat or pay for dinner in a French caf?." Two more lines of such drivel and then the standard closing with his name being punched out on the plastic card -- RICHARD E. BAEDECKER.
The customs building was a huge, echoing warehouse of a place. Sodium yellow lights hung from metal rafters and made people's skin look greasy and waxlike. Baedecker's shirt was already plastered to his body in a dozen places. The lines moved slowly. Baedecker was used to the officiousness of customs officials, but these black-haired, brown-shirted little men seemed to be reaching for new heights of official unpleasantness. Three places in front of him in the line, an older Indian woman stood with her two daughters, all three in cheap cotton saris. Impatient with their replies, the agent behind the scratched counter dumped their two cheap suitcases on the floor of the shed. Brightly printed cloth, bras, and torn underpants spilled out in a heap. The customs man turned to another agent and said something in rapid Hindi that brought smirks to their faces.
Baedecker was almost dozing when he realized that one of the customs men was talking to him.
"I said -- is this all you have to declare? You are bringing in nothing else?" The singsong of Indian English seemed strangely familiar to Baedecker. He had encountered it with Indian hotel-management trainees around the world. Only then the tone was not edged with a strange suspiciousness and anger.
"Yes. That's all." Baedecker nodded toward the pink form they had filled out before landing.