This tale of space conquest brims with dramatic events and stunning reversals
The mishaps started all at once. Even before District Secretary Marian Jaworski had composed himself from the scandal awaiting him at the Konstanty Ciolkowski Space Center, Victor Dobrowolski was already snug in his spacesuit. In a matter of hours, he was seated, raring to go, in the pilot’s chair of a classified military spacecraft that the Bureau of Engineers had been developing in secrecy since the mid-1970s. Netze-2015 – so went its code name. It was a hideous piece of work known to site personnel as “Slipper” due to its oddly boot-like shape. A shape that, for the moment, was invisible, for Netze was sheathed inside its service structure, mated to a Siren-5B rocket. This formidable body of staggering height was braced by four solid-propellant rockets in radial formation that would propel the ship into the orbit of the Onarna Space Station. From there, a third-stage Siren rocket would set Netze on a Mars-bound course, at which point the spacecraft would manoeuvre on its own fuel. Equipped with sealed hatches designed to carry military surveillance devices, Netze could, in a pinch, double as a rescue vessel so that Dobrowolski could escort Novotko and her crew to low orbit, where they could dock to the International Space Station Europa. Netze’s initial acceleration was so great that its effects on the pilot inside would exceed the typical discomforts of liftoff. Success was hardly guaranteed. This is why Dobrowolski, a world-class cosmonaut of the democratic world, second only to Nowicki, had been chosen for
He was sitting in the Slipper’s cabin, listening to the countdown, when he heard a bang. A distorted sound
penetrated the cabin, drowning out Flight Control’s numerical chant. Victor, alarmed, turned his head inside the helmet of his spacesuit. It sounded like someone was banging right on the vessel’s casing. But that was impossible. At least theoretically impossible, for the banging resounded still and was growing louder. And there – yes – some other sound, could it be a woman’s voice?
‘Control?’ he spoke tentatively into his headset.
‘Vic?’ came the muffled voice of Maciek Strzępa, communications officer and Vic’s old friend. ‘Listen, Vic, you’re breaking up…Do you read?’
‘Maciek, hold on, you’re not coming through. Something’s banging on the hull! Hey, listen!’ Victor craned his head inside the helmet, as if to bring his ear up to the hull.
‘There. Hell, we’re live!’ came Maciek’s garbled voice.
And at that moment the clamour grew louder. Dobrowolski heard a slam, and a harsh light assailed his eyes. In the haze an image took shape before him, something resembling an angel. ‘Nonsense,’ he thought. ‘There’s no such thing.’ But what else could it be? Shadowed against a radiant block of light was an elegant figure with long, wavy hair.
A block of light? Long hair? But surely, an angel should have wings…
‘Victor, oh hell!’ The angel caught him by the collar. By what collar? Shit. Victor raised a gloved hand to his helmet visor and was surprised to find that both glove and helmet had vanished. He blinked. The image before him blurred, as if smeared to one side. Noise rushed in his ears. Shit, must be the G-force, he thought in a fog. Hallucinations from the solitude of flight, he resolved. He managed to focus his vision and made out a tangle of dark hair and eyes glinting with anger, fixed dead on him.
‘Victor, what the hell!’ Finally he recognised the owner of those incensed eyes. It was Gloria. His friend from the second year of Flight School, which he had just finished. Yes, only just finished, that’s right! They’d sailed through their exams and test flights and pulled it all off. Gorgeous Gloria, who turned the heads of all her male classmates.
‘What… what’s going on here?’ he moaned while all around them, the world was spinning like a centrifuge into which their trainers and instructors had thrown them to the mercy of the G-force.
Excerpt translated by Eliza Rose
This tale of space conquest brims with dramatic events and stunning reversals
World War II is over, but the situation on the front remains unstable. So opens the novel Cold Light of the Stars. The war’s aftermath is not the only point where this world diverges from our own. Classified data from the Nazi space programme has been intercepted by Polish forces. In a postwar Europe bisected by the Iron Curtain, the Socialist Bloc enjoys ample freedom, and the emerging field of space exploration is hardly monopolised by the United States or Soviet Union. The men and women of Poland are at the vanguard of the new Space Age.
Biedrzycki’s highly original alternative history rides the momentum of two current trends: popular culture’s nostalgia for retro fantasy and the 21st century revival of space exploration. Cold Light of the Stars tells the story of Galactic Gloria (the first Polish woman in space), her husband Victor and their close friend Jerzy, who are all embroiled in a complex triangle of fierce attachments. This episodic tale of space conquest brims with dramatic events and stunning reversals. Reminiscent of the Oscar-winning Gravity, the novel reveals that the gravest threats lurking in space are not little green aliens but glitchy technology, human error and the vacuum itself – that place where even the loudest scream falls on deaf ears. Yet the novel’s heroes are not on a doomsday course. On their side is the headstrong socialist spirit, bravura of youth and idealism of the wild frontier.
English-language readers have Andy Weir’s The Martian. Biedrzycki, aided by rich supplemental materials (diagrams, illustrations, apocryphal articles from the described period), spins a similar story that is nonetheless rooted in an alternative reality – one that holds great allure today.
Translated by Eliza Rose
She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”
First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”
A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”
The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”
This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”
The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”