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Miller, Walter M. – “Memento Homo” (1954)


An underwhelming follow-up to Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam” of last year, this story also looks at work and class in a near-future idiom, this time through the lens of a dying spaceman, too old and decrepit at the age of 63 to be able to make the moon run any more. He reminisces about the good old days and the not-so-good old days to himself, the memory of his partner, and his wife, endures a visit from his disappointing non-spaceman grandson (a student with aspirations to move up in the world, if I recall correctly – the lower-working-class status of his profession is one of the main themes of the piece). Along those lines, space travel is presented not as a romanticized frontier, but as a workaday profession in which your time is spent in a cramped, hot, metal box. He is holding on to hear the liftoff of the moon run one last time, and the conflict of the piece is provided by a rich neighbor’s party – the “brassy blare of modern ‘slide’” from next door” threatens to drown out the shuttle’s engines. At the last minute, the neighbor has the band play “Taps” in his honor, and his dying wishes to hear the shuttle and have his wife put his space boots on are fulfilled. With just a few words changed this could just as easily have been a sub-Raymond-Carver story of realist working-class fiction, and was apparently based on the life of a railroad laborer Miller knew.

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