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Taking a Fall
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Next week Felix Baumgartner plans to leap from a height of 23 miles in an attempt to break a 1960 free-fall record. ( LA Times: Aerial daredevil's free fall will be stratospheric )

The upcoming jump (somehow "upcoming" doesn't sound like the right word) reminded me of my first published fiction, if you don't count crayoned comic books sold on the playground as published. (Can a book be commercial yet unpublished?) Granted, the "publication" was only in our spirit duplicated high school newsletter but it was a high point for my fiction for many years to come, sad to say.

Four and a half decades later I can't remember the details, not even the title, which is funny because I can vividly recall my byline right beneath the title. Faint and purplish as it was, that byline looked like a flashing neon sign to me.

I also remember the elegantly simple plot. The hero falls out of an airplane and things go down from there. The major complication is that the hero isn't wearing a parachute.

On the other hand, I don't know what sort of airplane was involved, or how high it was flying, or why my hero parted ways with it. And no, although he didn't bring a pressure suit, he didn't freeze solid or lapse into unconsciousness so either he wasn't as far up as modern jets fly or else I was writing magic realism.

The conflict was classic, the most gripping and basic available to any writer: man against nature. Which is to say my hero versus gravity. So okay, not much of a contest.

Anyway he fell, and as you might expect, kept getting closer to the ground. First he was above the clouds where you might think you're flying, then he was below them where you begin to wonder which field has your name on it.

Then he could make out roads, and houses, and more fields, and cows in the fields, and the pebbles and --

He philosophized quite a bit, as one does after falling out of planes. I reckon at one point he probably reasoned that he would never hit because first he'd be a foot from the ground and then half that distance and so forth. Since the story ended "--" or maybe "..." (I've always had a weakness for the ellipsis. So mysterious!) my hero might still be hovering an immeasurably tiny distance from the ground, as if at the event horizon of a black hole.

If the story was supposed to be a metaphor for the life I was headed towards I was prescient.

At a high school reunion I attended one of my classmates came up to me and said how vividly he recalled the story. That was twenty years ago. Hopefully, for both of us, he's forgotten it by now.

And no, no, a thousand times no! I do not have a copy.

But Greg Benford offers a much better story about a fall. Orbitfall

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