Some people have an almost guttural aversion to flashbacks——my wife, for instance. Perhaps because she feels a reliance on them implies a certain laziness by the author who just can’t be bothered to craft a careful straight-forward chronology. (After all, Jane Austen didn’t make much use of them). This reminds me a little of my elderly father’s feeling about abstract paintings which he would insist bear little resemblance to ‘real objects’ because the artists in question lacked the skill to paint ‘real’ objects.
The main action of Lunatics takes place within the four days my astronauts are on the surface of the Moon.
Every chapter of the book is anchored to this Mission Timeline and the four EVAs (extra-vehicular-activities, or “moon-walks”) the astronauts perform. Throughout each of these days, there are numerous flashbacks, numerous times when a stray thought, a sight, a sound——something draws one or another of the astronauts back to an earlier time.
This process is how my memory works, at any rate. My brain is hopelessly wrapped up in a writhing mass of word associations. All it takes is a particular word in a particular context and I can be hurled back years into the past, re-living a particularly poignant moment or——truth be told——sometimes a very trivial one too.
Of the three astronauts, Deke Slayton, would have had the greatest opportunity to have his thoughts wander, working 60 miles above the moon completely alone and, half the time——as he circled the Far Side——out of radio contact with all of humanity. Flashbacks seem appropriate in Deke’s circumstance.
For von Braun and Bean they present more of a problem. Lunar EVAs were very strictly choreographed so that not a moment of time should be squandered. Largely the astronauts would be very focused on a sequence of demanding physical tasks. However, there would be exceptions, moments when their thoughts would be free to wander a little. For example
1)during traverses on the Rover when von Braun, particularly, would have little to do except describe the passing scenery.
2)when local topography would temporarily put the astronauts out of radio contact, and
3) within the LEM, just before, during, or after sleep periods. Few of the moon-walkers reported sleeping well on the moon, so their lunar insomnia would surely have invited regular flashbacks.
Finally, I think there is something about people placed in extreme and isolated conditions which unfailingly invites them to reflect deeply, given the least chance. To simply be able to look up over your shoulder and see your home-planet hanging in the sky. To realize just how far away you are from everything familiar, predictable and comforting. To know, in a very concrete way, that any minute could be your last——these, I’m convinced are circumstances which make self-reflection and vivid flashbacks highly likely.
Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.