Review #27: Beach Blanket Spaceship by Sandra McDonald

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 7, 2010 in Reviews |

Author Website: http://homepage.mac.com/samcdonald/
Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine, August 2nd, 2010

surfPhoto by Mike Baird Creative Commons

The Story:

Colonel Frank Merullo of the United States Air Force is stuck in a Vee-Reel — a virtual reality movie playing out before his eyes when he’s supposed to be focused on the crew of his spaceship and getting them safely to one of Neptune’s moons. This particular Vee-Reel is his Lieutenant’s creation, an old 1960s teen surf movie with polite, welcoming characters. Merullo is slow to get involved in the movie, sure that at any moment he’ll wake up an be back aboard his ship, but after the Vee-Reel’s failsafe device doesn’t disengage him from the system, Merullo starts to suspect that something else is going on.

The Craft: 20 Master Plot – Discovery

SPOILERS

Stuck in a virtual reality movie that he never authorized, Colonel Frank Merullo does his best to hold on to what ties him to his ship. He refuses to take off his space suit as characters flock around him in their swimsuits at the beach, laying out and catching waves and having the times of their lives. But as the movie progresses and rescue seems less and less likely, Merullo starts to let down his guard some, getting to know the characters and trying to figure out what this simulation is supposed to mean. Away from the Space Corps and its regulations, he finally gets the chance to discover things about himself, of life, love, loss — all the sacrifices he’s made to get to where he is.

The Vee-Reel starts feeling more personal, the characters taking on faces from Merullo’s past. He struggles to hang on to the memories, but they’re slipping fast. He looks for his space suit, his last tie to reality, but it’s gone missing. Five dead gulls lie in the surf, and suddenly Merullo starts to realize the truth, that this is his last chance to deal, to let go of the man that the Space Corps had made him, and reclaim a little bit of himself before his forever is over.

I liked how this story kept me guessing if Merullo really was in a Vee-Reel or simply out of his mind. This journey of his was a very personal one, of him confronting the life that he’d made for himself, fulfilling in so many ways, but lacking in the ways that matter most. This story shied away from melodrama and used symbolism effectively, but I can’t help but feel just a bit slighted by the story, and though it illustrates a good lesson, I wish there was more to chew on.

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