Everything that’s powerful about Don DeLillo’s writing is contained in his short story “Human Moments in World War III,” about two astronauts orbiting earth during a futuristic conflict. DeLillo uses the science fiction genre to let blunt emotions mix with caustic social commentary:
The banning of nuclear weapons has made the world safe for war.
I try not to think big thoughts or submit to rambling abstractions. But the urge sometimes comes over me. Earth orbit puts men into philosophical temper. How can we help it? We see the planet complete. We have a privileged vista. In our attempts to be equal to the experience, we tend to meditate importantly on subjects like the human condition. It makes a man feel universal, floating over the continents, seeing the rim of the world, a line as clear as a compass arc, knowing it is just a turning of the bend to Atlantic twilight, to sediment plumes and kelp beds, an island chain glowing in the dusky sea.
Read a longer excerpt of the story at the PEN American Center site. The story is also contained in DeLillo’s latest book, The Angel Esmeralda.