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Literature / Fallen Angels

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First published in 1991 by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn, Fallen Angels takes place on (and above) an Earth that is in the grip of an new ice age as a result of mankind's attempts to curtail runaway global warming. Technophobic governments have been voted into power to save the environment from the evils of pollution, technology, and free-thinking. Glaciers are expanding every year, with huge sheets of ice reaching down past the U.S.-Canadian border. Resources are scarce, tensions are high, and knowing or caring too much about science can land anyone in serious trouble.

...not that any of those things matter to Space Hab astronaut Alex MacLeod or his co-pilot Gordon Tanner. As members of a colony that lives on orbital platforms circling the Earth, they're totally free from the oversight of the Luddites "downstairs." They've got their own concerns: namely, making a successful scoop-dive of Earth's upper atmosphere to collect much needed oxygen and nitrogen for their colony. But that changes when their ship is shot down. Crash-landing on the North Dakota Glacier, the astronauts instantly become the object of a massive manhunt on the part of the United States Government, which has declared the spacemen to be "illegal aliens." Injured by the crash and paralyzed by Earth's gravity, Alex and Gordon are sitting ducks — unless they can be rescued by the only allies their space colony has dirtside.

Stuck on Earth's surface, Sherrine Hartley was once a fan of science fiction. That is, until it became too dangerous to say that sort of thing in a climate of raging censorship and rampant distrust of sciences. If people knew she attended sci-fi conventions and read speculative fiction, she could lose her job or even be sent to a "reeducation" center. So Sherrine left the fandom behind, kept her head down, tried to live the mundane life — until her ex-boyfriend Bob Needleton called at 3 in the morning with a proposition to rescue the "Fallen Angels."

Sherrine joins Bob and a cadre of friends from the underground sci-fi fandom she thought she'd never see again on a quest to save the downed Angels and get them back to the Space Hab. But their mission won't be as simple as digging the astronauts out of the ice. They'll have to find a rocket to get the spacers back into orbit; no easy feat in a country that shuttered the space program. And the government is hot on their trail, with the chase headed up by the cunning Captain Lee Arteria of the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations. What follows is a mad dash across the United States and a make-or-break effort to get the Angels off-planet.

The book is largely a satirical nose-thumbing at "anti-science" contingents of the late 80's: namely environmentalists, humanist academics, and politicians who cut the budget for the space program. It's also a tongue-in-cheek love letter to sci-fi fans and fandom culture of the same era, teeming with references to classic works of science fiction and big names in the genre. (There's even a web page listing all the cameos and character references that appear in the book — the original link is down as of 2023, but an archived copy can be found in the Wayback Machine )

Fallen Angels Contains Examples Of:

  • Anti-Intellectualism: Widespread panic over global warming has resulted in an anti-science backlash against hard sciences (physics, chemistry, computing, etc...) and the persecution of anyone who works or teaches in those fields, astronauts living in the free Space Habs, and... fans of science fiction media.
  • Book Burning: Science fiction (and any fantasy that gets too political) is banned, at least in the United States. Just owning science fiction books is enough to warrant a very thorough interview by the police, never mind the reeducation centers one could get sent too if the material is deemed too seditious. (When Sherrine's apartment is raided the police discover her copies of "The Sixth Winter", "The Man Who Awoke", and "Fahrenheit 451", any one of which could get her in serious trouble.) It's nigh impossible to find printed publications, and all online message boards that sci-fi fans use to communicate are heavily coded to avoid detection.
  • Braving the Blizzard: As the rescuers drive through Wisconsin with the Air Force police hot on their tail, a deadly blizzard sweeps down off the glaciers and makes it too dangerous to travel. The rescuers and the Angels only survive because they manage to find a farm that Thor worked on some years ago and take shelter with the family that lives there. Some of the farmhands aren't so fortunate, and wind up freezing to death after getting lost in whiteout conditions.
  • Burial in Space: Zig-ZaggedHeinlein's body is unavailable (due to having been cremated and scattered in the ocean) so his fans give the astronauts a pint of seawater to place on the moon's surface as a sort of memorial.
    When Mr. Heinlein died, he was, according to his instructions, cremated and his ashes scattered at sea from a U.S. Navy warship. Some of us feel it would be appropriate to honor him by placing a pint of seawater and a suitably inscribed shipping tag on Mare Imbrium. The poem to be inscribed is R.L. Stevenson's "Requiem."
  • Call to Adventure: A literal phone call, in this case — Sherrine's ex-boyfriend calls her in the middle of the night to ask her to participate in the rescue of the downed spacers.
  • Code Name: The fans are already used to referring to their beloved franchises and fan-ish activities in a circumlocutory fashion, but they jump at the chance to give themselves and the Angels codenames for the rescue operation. Alex is codenamed "Gabriel," Gordon is codenamed "Rafael," Bob Needleton gets the codename "Pins," and Sherrine receives the oh-so-creative moniker of "FemmeFan."
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: When Captain Arteria catches up with the sci-fi fans and the Angels at the Titan launch site, she drags Bob into a control room in order to "bring his seed with her" when she gets onboard the Titan. Bob doesn't get the chance to protest.
  • Eskimo Land: With the rapid global cooling and expanding range of glaciers, most of Canada and the northern United States has become a frigid tundra traversed only by the native inhabitants accustomed to life in the bitter cold. The rescue party encounters a group of stereotypical "Eskimos" led by patriarch Krumangapik (in a section of the book filled with talk of dogsleds, picking lice out of parkas, wife-swapping, cannibalism, and abandoning the elderly to ice floes) who help them survive the trek across the glacier.
    "Nobody there but Eskimos," he explained. "An Ice Age doesn't bother them any. Hell, they probably think they've all died and gone to Inuit Heaven."
  • Fan Convention: The book crams a bevy of conventions into the plot, backstory, and epilogue:
    • Despite being outlawed by the government, science fiction fans still gather together in clandestine conventions to dress up, trade goods, and sing filk songs. Some cons are so small they only have a dozen or so fans in attendance. "Cruz-Con," in Santa Cruz, consisted of a handful of fans camped out on the lawn of Robert Heinlein's estate.
    • After the Angels are rescued from their crashed ship, they're driven to the secret "Worldcon" convention at Tremont J. Fielding's mansion to recover.
    • The rescuers and the Angels attend another convention, "Microcon," as they road-trip across the Midwest and Western states. The 30 or so attendees booked out an entire motel at the last minute in order to give the Angels and their escort a safe place to rest.
    • In the epilogue, the first return mission of the Titan rocket touches down in the sunny Caribbean for the first of many expected resupply missions for the Space Hab. The rocket and its crew are met by the joyous attendees of "Cruise-Con," the first science fiction convention to be held on a yacht.
  • Gender Reveal: When Captain Ateria confronts the sci-fi fans assembled at the Titan, she strips off her uniform and makes a case for getting herself onboard the launch — she's a fertile woman of child-bearing age, and she intends to have sex with Bob in order to acquire his "seed" to boost the genetic diversity among the Habbers (whether Bob wants to or not).
  • Glacial Apocalypse: An attempt to counteract Global Warming worked altogether too well and lowered the Earth's temperature enough for large glaciers to form, which in turn have been reflecting away enough light and heat to cool the Earth more and more the larger they grow, resulting in a runway global cooling event. Canada and most of the northern United States have been destroyed by the advancing ice, while barbarism and feudal systems have formed along their advancing edges where government and civilization are breaking down. Winnipeg has managed to keep itself thawed in the middle of the ice through solar power beamed down from space stations, while the US government's totalitarian rulers largely refuse to admit that any problem exists.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: The fictional "ruling coalition of proxmires, falwells, rifkins and maclaines" that fills the ranks of government is composed of groups who in real life regard each other (sometimes literally) as minions of the Devil, but in the novel work harmoniously to make life miserable for the Good Guys because nothing else counts against their (alleged) technophobic mindset.note  If Jesus, then crystals, and vice versa. If Ludd, then Jesus. In-universe this tenuous alliance is explained to be the result of decades of political maneuvering; just as combining socialism with Catholicism to create liberation theology made the Catholic Church a supporter of the Soviet Union and extended the Cold War for a few more decades, combining Green and Catholic thinking into "Eco-fundamentalism" enabled the authorities to gain bipartisan support from Green liberals and fundamentalist conservatives, cementing their political power in the West. A group marriage made in hell; Luddites, fundies, environmentalists and spiritualists all realizing they aren't so different in that they all yearn for Ye Goode Olde Days (even if they can't agree on what made those Goode Olde Days so enviable in the first place, just that the present = bad, modern science and technology hasn't made it any better, therefore hard sciences are the enemy).
  • Libertarians IN SPACE!: The Space Habbers escaped the planet's surface to live on orbital platforms because the Earth (or at least the United States) was falling into a intense technophobic panic over global warming. Many Habbers would have been in danger of being "re-educated" or killed had they stayed on Earth, and they wanted their children to have the same freedoms and education in the sciences as they did growing up. The blurb even calls the Habs "the last bastions of high technology and intellectual freedom on or over Earth."
  • Obliviously Beautiful: Sherrine's tall, gawky stature makes her self-conscious about her looks, but she's irresistible to the astronauts. Compared to other Earth girls, whose curves make them "too bulky" for a spacer's tastes, Alex and Gordon both prefer Sherrine.
  • Orion Drive: Discussed in-story when the rescuers talk about how to get the Angels back into orbit, but (thankfully) never put into practice.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals:
    • Anyone who works or teaches in the sciences (a group of nuclear physicists are mentioned to have been lynched by a mob of angry luddites), but the story focuses on the tribulations of the science fiction fandom. The sci-fi fans who have been driven underground are all sane, level-headed, empathetic people, while the government agencies and police forces that hunt them (and the various feudal conclaves they run across) are staffed by a combination of dogmatic lunatics, bubble-headed hippies, and greedy, petty, self-serving proxmires with their heads in the sand.
    • The Space Habbers are reviled by the technophobic governments on Earth, by virtue of living in a high-tech orbital colony. The Spacers are universally intelligent, practical people. The governments that vilify them are filled with caricatures of rabid feminists/ bleeding heart humanist academics/ dictatorial conservative Christians/ industry-strangling environmentalists who fabricate reasons for their base to distrust the Spacers, like claiming that the scoop ship runs are "stealing" the Earth's insulating atmosphere and speeding the onslaught of the glaciers.
  • Reentry Scare: Piranha, Alex and Gordon's scoop ship, is designed to skim the atmosphere and dock back at the space station — not to touchdown on Earth. It doesn't even have landing gear. When the Piranha is torpedoed, they know they'll be unable to fly back to the station and are forced to to brace for a terrifying dive into the atmosphere during which their ship could burn up if they angle the entry wrong. And that's before factoring in the inevitable crash landing.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When the illegal Science Fiction Convention at Tremont J. Fielding's mansion is raided by the Green Police, the Cops, and the Air Force, aspiring science fiction writer Anthony Horrowitz strolls up to the assembled forces and asks them to review his latest illegal works on the samizdat net, including "Vampire Unicorns from Planet Thraxisp." This functions as part of the convention's efforts to distract the various police agencies long enough for the astronauts to make their escape.
  • Rescue Romance: Sherrine is the only woman on the rescue team that recovers the downed astronauts from the glacier; both Alex and Gordon develop feelings for her.
  • Road Trip Plot: The rescuers must first drive up to the North Dakota Glacier where the Angels are stranded, then smuggle the downed spacers across the Midwest — through Wisconsin, then down to Chicago — before they drive out to the Titan rocket launch site in California, and finally back into space.
  • Science Is Bad: The government of the United States has been taken over by an unlikely alliance of Christian Fundamentalists, New Age Hippies, Liberal Humanist Academics/ Feminists, and Radical Environmentalists all united in their disdain of technology, industrialization, and the "hard sciences" that caused global warming.
  • Science Is Useless: The combined anti-science leanings of all the factions in government (see Science Is Bad above) have led to the public abandoning any technology that's deemed "inappropriate." That includes GPS and weather tracking satellites, as the technophobic hatred of the space program led to the defunding of NASA and a moratorium on repairing or replacing any orbital equipment.
  • Science Is Wrong: The coalition of New Age Hippies, Liberal Humanist Academics, Radical Environmentalists, and Christian Fundamentalists who have been voted into power are more than willing to deny "hard science" if it doesn't fit their agenda. An elected government official tells the astronaut-search-directors that the spacemen they're looking for can't possibly freeze to death on the glacier, because ice is a crystal and crystals known for their healing properties.
    "Ice is a crystal, and crystals focus the life power. Yes, yes, I know people have frozen on the Ice in spite of that; but all sickness comes from negative thinking. One must be open to the lifeaffirming powers of the crystal."
  • Shout-Out: There are dozens of shoutouts to popular authors and big name fans of the mid-1900's, not to mention classic works of sci-fi. A handful of those shoutouts include:
    • One of the founding fathers of the science fiction fandom, Forest J. Ackerman (or "4SJ"), makes an appearance as the character of Tremont J. Fielding (or 3MJ) — host of a clandestine SF convention.
    • Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson get a shoutout in the character of "Poul Dickson."
    • Fanzine File 770 publisher and editor Mike Glyer appears as the character of "Mike Glider."
    • Famous filk artists make a cameo appearance at several points in the book, including Leslie Fish as "Jenny Trout" and Frank Gasperik as "Harry," while some popular filk songs are included word-for-word or alluded to in the text. The lyrics to Julia Ecklar's "Phoenix" are repeated several times:
      And my wings are made of tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel
      I am the joy of Terra for the power that I wield
      Once upon a lifetime, I died a pioneer
      Now I sing within a spaceship's heart - does anybody hear?
  • Space People: The "spacers"/ Angels/ Habbers. They live in orbital platforms cobbled together out of the International Space Station, Mir, and rocket ships. Alex MacLeod was born on Earth, but has spent so long in space that he struggles to walk in Earth's gravity. Gordon Tanner was born in the orbital habitat, and despite his youth he has an even harder time adjusting to gravity.
  • Time Marches On: The book was written in the early 90's, and the major antagonistic forces are... agents of a government coalition dedicated to stopping global warming.