I thought of it again when I was listening to "This American Life". For my birthday, the Cooks bought me wireless headphones and I have gotten into the habit of streaming NPR while I get ready into my headphones.
I went through a phase when I was about 15 where I read a lot of Piers Anthony myself. I used to stop by the library or the comic book store and read a book before coming home some days. I never bought any of his novels, because they usually had scantily clad heroines on the cover. So, the comic book store owner must have hated me because I would come in, read a novel, a stack of comic books, and go home without spending a penny.
During this time, I remember one day that I missed my bus. It was raining. The next bus was an hour away and I didn't want to walk home in the rain so I stopped in the library. I saw the book sitting on a shelf, I remember the dust jacket had a picture of a computer. The title may have been "Press Enter. . .", but it isn't the Hugo award winning story with that name. I read it in one sitting, which meant that I missed the next bus and was very late getting home.
The story begins with a deep space astronaut waking up. He had been in suspended animation, alone, on a deep space mission that would take almost a hundred years. He had a splitting headache, and a fading memory of bad dreams - voices in deep space calling to him. The ship's computer beeped at him to pay attention to landing his spaceship. To his utter surprise he isn't looking at an alien world, but Earth. He tries to make radio contact, but the planet is silent. The only radio signal is from a small town in California.
He lands just outside of town, and finds everything to be empty - no people anywhere. There is a radio signal from the town center. He finds the source to be a computer blinking, "Press Enter. . . " The computer then tells him the story of a Boy. This is the book within the book. The rest of the book alternated between the Astronaut's story and the computer's account of this Boy.
The Boy has bad dreams, remarkably like the Astronauts: voices among the stars. There is one woman in particular that he talks with in his dreams. She was a settler on a colony ship, but the ship she says hit a meteor and they spilled out, still in stasis, out of the belly of the ship into the cold vacuum. As a boy he tells his mother, his teacher, his friends, everyone about his friend - the frozen woman in space. He becomes obsessed with her. His mother was worried about him and took him to a counselor. One day government men come and set up equipment in his room, tell him it will be OK, they would take the bad dreams away.
The Boy forgot about his dreams. As a Teen, he is awkward, does not fit in. He meets a man in the park that is growing vegetables in a large garden. The man is a veteran of the last war, treated for PTSD with a new method to remove painful memories, but it leaves the veterans somewhat broken in new ways. They find comfort in repetitive motion and struggle to fit into the modern society. The city set aside a portion of the park where they farm. The Boy joins them everyday, and feels at home with them, they have many of the same tics and needs. One of them teaches him Tai Chi and as he matures he masters and adapts it.
Pretty soon he has a local following doing exercises and philosophy. This grows into a movement like Falun Gong. As he matures, he meditates often, and begins to have dreams again about the woman in the dark out in the stars. She missed him. Why did he stop talking to her, she asks him. She is lonely. She worries the other settlers are dead. He weaves these dreams into his teaching and writing on the net and to his group. As he does, he finds that the Government tries to shut him down. He is imprisoned for a short time.
While on parole he decides to escape to Antarctica. It had been settled by genetically engineered Chilean miners and had declared its independence along with a handful of US and Russian scientists. It is the new frontier, and the only requirement for citizenship is painful genetic engineering for adaption to the cold. He is introduced to an Antarctic contact that puts him in a shipping crate full of medical equipment. As the door shuts, the contact tells him he must be very quiet, and he is sorry, because the trip would be very, very unpleasant. It is a transformative experience. Through the pain and itching he clings to his dream woman in the cold of space.
. . . .