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Ian Sales – Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep AboveThe Apollo Quartet is a series of Novellas by Ian Sales, telling stories derived from the US Space Programme – each of them on their own topic, and with their own departure point somewhere along the line from the history of spaceflight which we know. Some of them have SFnal elements and/or are projected into the future, whilst others are pure Alternate History. All of them are beautifully styled – the font they are printed in looks like the manual typewriter sheets that the US produced for their documents and checklists; they are full of the classic abbreviations and acronyms in use by NASA (and thus require a Glossary to translate the resulting, equally classic Alphabet Soup); they come with a Bibliography and list of Online Sources, and generally feel exceedingly well researched.

The first book in the series, called Adrift on the Sea of Rains, won the BSFA Award, and was a finalist for the Sidewise Award in 2012. The second book was called The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself – you might notice some trend concerning titles here. All of them are quotes from a relevant source, and/or have other clever connotations with the story as well as the historical realities behind them. Succinct they are not, but all the more evocative I feel!

“This is not our world. But it very nearly was.”

Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, the book at hand, is the one cutting closest to the bone of actual history (as known in our time line!) so far; Ian indicates in his notes that there is only one character in the story which he entirely invented. The title, just to come back to this topic, is a quote from a Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo.

The story told starts prior to the Apollo project, with the Mercury 13. The men, including the fighter pilots which made up the early NASA Astronaut Corps are away fighting in Korea, and so the women step up to ‘take up the slack’ as Jackie Cochran, their ‘leader’ (plenty of politics there) calls it. And so the group of women, who in our history only served to prove that women could pass the same tests the men did, actually become the Astronauts flying the Mercury and Gemini missions leading up to Apollo. Up to a point…

This story thread is told in counterpoint with a story of an expedition, in the Trieste II Bathyscaphe, to find a lost return capsule with film from a Corona spy satellite, sitting near the Marina Trench below nearly 20.000ft of water. But this is not all they find…

The Space episodes are titled Up, the submarine ones Down. Sales segues into other modes (and thus titles) at the conclusion of the story, including a description of the Trieste and Trieste II Bathyscaphes, and the actual mission to retrieve these lost films rolls from the spy satellites. We also are told the story of the Mercury 13 as it played in out in our history, with all the attendant preconceptions and misogyny of the time. The main difference I found besides the up-front female/male switch, and the developments outside this which the story develops, was that the time line of events had been stretched lightly, with Apollo 1 only scheduled to fly in early 1969.

Overall this is a fitting entry in the series, albeit one which feels quite lightweight in terms of length as well as fictional/extra content. Now, this might well be on purpose, and might well be what needed to be told – I also note that the next book in the series (and, per the series’ name, the final one), titled All That Outer Space Allows, is quite a bit longer.
I can strongly recommend the series for anyone interested in US Spaceflight History, and generally Alternate History. The presentation of the books and the content surrounding the stories, the entire package, so to say, is marvellous, and the stories told are fascinating in themselves, and thought provoking in showing how little it can take for history to take a different path.

More Ian Sales

Title: Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above
Author: Ian Sales
Series: Apollo Quartet
Series Number: 3/4
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Whippleshield Books
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 2013
Review Date: 160718
ISBN: 9780957188872
Price: UKP 6.99
Pages: 70
Format: Hardback
Topic: Alternate History
Topic: Spaceflight



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