On the day after Wally Funk successfully completed her flight on the Blue Origins rocket ship, what could be more appropriate than some thoughts about how the 1960s space program could have really included at least one woman astronaut? My Analog story, “The Next Frontier,” explores this possibility. For readers and writers, here’s how I took my initial idea all the way to the completed story, which I hope you will read, too!
I’m excited to announce that not only is my new story, The Next Frontier, in the current July/August issue of Analog Science Fiction, but you can read an excerpt! I hope you’ll love the heroine of my alternate history tale of the competition to reach the Moon. I had so much fun inventing her!
You get to read my story, “The Next Frontier,” in Analog Magazine beginning June 15. I branch out into one of my favorite topics: the early days of humans venturing out beyond our home world. It’s an alternate history tale that I hope you will have as much fun reading as I did writing. Ah, it’s so tempting to say more, but nope. You’ll have to find out for yourself. Check out the July/August issue of Analog in print or digital.
Give yourself a gold star if you recognized this iconic image of the Apollo 12 Lunar Module known as “Intrepid” sitting upon the Ocean of Storms. (Apollo 11, of course, landed in the Sea of Tranquility.)
Aboard Apollo 12, Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean swung open that hatch and descended to the dusty surface. Make no mistake, their accomplishment marked the second stunning success for NASA’s Moon missions coming just four short months after the first Moon landing on July 16, 1969.
Yeah, we all know, the second of anything doesn’t get even half the love of the first. More’s the pity in this case. Consider:
- Apollo 12 landed in more challenging terrain than the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 set down.
- Apollo 12 stayed on the Moon’s surface longer than Apollo 11, permitting the astronauts to spent more time making scientific observations and performing experiments.
- The Apollo 12 astronauts collected 75 pounds of Moon rocks as compared to the 48 pounds of rocks collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts
- Even though Apollo 12 was struck by lightning twice when it launched, the mission was a stunning success.
Apollo 12 was intended, in part, to serve as a backup in case Apollo 11 did not come off without a hitch. President John F. Kennedy had famously kicked off the “Moon Race” in 1961 when he announced the plan for the United States to “send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.”
While the Apollo Space program assuredly fired the imaginations of many science fiction writers half a century ago, I’m here to tell you that it still does! In looking back at the 50+ years of the space program, I can’t help but wonder what if things had gone a little bit differently? How might the subsequent exploration of the Moon, Mars, Venus, comets, asteroids, the Sun, and the outer planets have played out?
So I’ve written a story that’s due to come out next year. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell you more from time to time as we get closer to publication. I’ll talk about how I got the idea, the times I kicked around some thoughts with other writer buddies, how long it took me to actually write that story (hint: longer than you might expect), and my process for doing research and finding experts who could check my science and history. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Fifty years ago today I thrilled at the Moon landing, which I watched on a a grainy black-and-white TV with my parents and brother. From that day forth, the kid who was me believed she could, one day, work on the Moon if she wanted to. After all, our later-reviled President, Richard Nixon, told us that “The sky is no longer the limit.” Oh how I could hardly wait to land my own job on the Moon!
Technology has come a long way in fifty years, which is how I was able to sit on the national Mall yesterday evening with thousands of others watching a projection of the Apollo 11 rocket onto the Washington Monument. This was part of a program in which NASA and the Smithsonian commemorated the momentous achievement of all the women and men who poured their passion into making Apollo 11 a reality. And there I sat on the grass remembering my own dream job on the Moon.
Actually, my trip down memory lane began on a rainy night at the ballpark some days earlier. There, I chanced upon a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit, which got me to musing about what happened to that kid who thought she could work on the Moon when she grew up. I’ll tell you, dear readers. That kid, who is as much me as she ever was, went on to get a job on the Moon! That is to say, I became a science fiction writer and found out that when I unleash my imagination, the sky is indeed no longer the limit.
Calling all Moms and Dads: Would you send your kids to colonize Mars? I tackle this subject in my guest editorial in the July-August issue of Analog. Available now. Hope you’ll give it a read. I’m always happy to hear from my readers what you think.
And while you’re at it, check out some first-rate new fiction by my writing buddies, Martin L. Shoemaker and C. Stuart Hardwick. These hot new writers are ones to keep your eyes on, and to read! Here’s the complete Table of Contents for a terrific double issue:
Hello Kansas SF readers: I’ll be signing some of my stories at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson on Tuesday Aug. 16 from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. Come say “hi” to me and other writers: Martin L. Shoemaker, C. Stuart Hardwick, Daniel J. Davis, and Steve Pantazis. I’ve never been to this space museum and am looking forward to it. Hope some of you can drop by. Here’s the press release:
Next, I’ll be in Kansas City on Wed. 8/16 through Mon. 8/22 for MidAmeriCon, the world science fiction and fantasy convention. In addition to signing some of my work, I’ll be on panels talking about dinosaurs, time travel, Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, magic, and cloning mammoths. Those are separate topics (whew!). Hope to see a bunch of you there. Here’s my Worldcon schedule:
What’s New in the World of Dinosaurs!
Thursday 1:00 – 2:00, 2205 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Dinosaurs are cool! New discoveries are being made every day as we unearth bones from the past. In a recent discovery, scientists believe that a pregnant T-Rex found in Montana may have fragments of DNA preserved in her medullary bone. What else is out there? What other news from the past is there to share?
Bennett Coles, Michael Swanwick, Mel. White, Frank Wu (M) Rosemary Claire Smith
Amateur Scientists Doing Real Science
Thursday 2:00 – 3:00, 2206 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We all know of amateur astrophysicists and their successes, but what other science is carried out by non-professionals? What can they teach us about doing science and learning about science in real life situations and in our sf-nal worlds?
Spring Schoenhuth, Rosemary Claire Smith, Renée Sieber (M)
Thursday Aug 18 03:00 PM to 04:00 PM (Kansas City Convention Center)
Launch Pad is an annual event whereby a group of invited writers, editors, and creatives learn about modern science, specifically astronomy, so that they can in turn use it in their work and inspire others. Members who have attended Launch Pad discuss how it has affected their writing and ideas.
Fonda Lee (M), Monica Valentinelli, William Ledbetter, Matthew S. Rotundo, Rosemary Claire Smith
To Clone a Mammoth
Thursday 6:00 – 7:00, 2207 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We’re trying to clone dinosaurs (because that went so well in the Jurassic Park films), but maybe we should start with something smaller. Perhaps… a mammoth! Then again, what would we do with a mammoth? Where would it live? How would we go about cloning it? What are some of the risks, real or imagined, of reviving extinct species using cloning technology?
Rosemary Claire Smith, Mel. White (M), Frank Wu, Takayuki Tatsumi, Lynette M. Burrows
Autographing: Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Rebecca Moesta, Martin Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith
Friday 10:00 – 11:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)
Rebecca Moesta, Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Martin L. Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith
Archaeology in SF
Saturday 2:00 – 3:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Forget Indiana Jones, learn what archaeologists really do and how science fiction and fantasy get it right and wrong.
Dana Cameron, Rhiannon Held, Jason Sanford (M), Jack McDevitt, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith
When The Magic Goes Away
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, 3501H (Kansas City Convention Center)
In a world once filled with magic, mystery, and beauty, where the Old Magic slipped away from the forests, the gates to Faerie closed, and the last ships sailed to the west, what does it mean when the magic fades? We look at representations of coming back to the real world or letting go, and wonder why it is such a potent part of fantasy writing.
Mr. Jared Shurin (M), Heather Rose Jones, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith, Erin Wilcox, Mr. Kevin J. Anderson
Time Travel and the Search for Redemption
Sunday 1:00 – 2:00, 3501D (Kansas City Convention Center)
Much of literature involves characters’ fraught relationship with the past. They are haunted by memories or spend their lives regretting a single horrible decision. Time travel permits the character to confront the past directly, to make literal what in mainstream fiction is only metaphorical. Join us as we discuss stories where time travel is a metaphor or device for witnessing and learning about the past or wishing to correct personal flaws and errors.
Kenneth Schneyer (M), Jack McDevitt, Jason Heller, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith
Once upon a time, it was enough for the hero of a science fiction book or movie to want to save a few people in a space ship from, well whatever was endangering them. That soon morphed into the whole space station, or town or city, needing rescue. Then the stakes got raised and the hero had to save the nation or space colony. That became the world/planet. Eventually the galaxy. Ultimately the entire universe. These days, the situation’s no better in fantasy where the rightful ruler’s life is at stake, oh and also those of the common folk, plus those of generations yet unborn, and that goes for every other country on the map adorning the frontispiece. No pressure or anything.
But not all SF or fantasy stories have to go that way. [Warning: mild spoilers to follow.] The Martian is a smashing success built upon a plot that turns on one astronaut’s efforts to rescue himself, and only himself, with no more than what he has on hand, which he must use to produce everything he needs for a long time. Yes, several others at a great distance try to come to his aid. And yet it remains a tale of one person’s survival against long odds. It helps that both the book by Andy Weir and the movie focus on a resourceful, likable character, one who is brave, smart, resourceful, and curious. These qualities are precisely what brought a character such as the protagonist to Mars in the first place. He needs every one of these characteristics if he is to prevail in his life-or-death struggle.
You see? You don’t have to raise the stakes to galaxy-spanning, or even global, levels. Not convinced? What if I told you that one person’s fight to survive with minimal resources in an incredibly hostile environment happens to be a plot that has been enthralling us since Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe in 1719?
Still not persuaded? Have you seen the You Tube video that opens with one turtle lying on its back, legs waving uselessly, and then another turtle comes along and manages to right it? How about the video in which a baby polar bear tumbles into the water and Mama Bear plunges in and rescues it? Have you noticed how many jillions of views those clips have racked up? Truly, your character doesn’t need to set out to do anything more than to save himself or herself or one other character, who doesn’t even need to be human.
Sounds easy enough to write a story like this, you say. Well, there is a trick to it. Namely, not just any protagonist will do. Like many newbies, I went through my share of whiny and worthless characters before some really terrific protagonists turned up at my casting call, ones who had what it takes to save themselves. Or to save others. The right stuff. Let ’em have at it.
On this 4th of July, 2015, New Horizons hurtles toward Pluto. It’s a mere 7,240,920 miles away and closing fast. If all goes as planned, we should see tantalizing photos in under two weeks. This serves as a reminder of just how far we have come since people first set foot on the Moon nearly 46 years ago. Here’s one of the iconic photos of Astronaut John Young, commander of Apollo 16.
Today, I am struck, not only by how far we’ve been able to send space craft, but also by the globalization of the efforts to explore other planets, moons, asteroids, and everything else that’s out there. While some may decry the perceived loss of American supremacy in space exploration, I do not share those views. Indeed, I am reminded that centuries ago, the efforts of European explorers to reach distant lands did not depend upon the interest of a single nation or the will of a single monarch. It is precisely the international nature of the attempts to further human understanding of the origins and evolution of the Solar System that reassures me of the progress we are making.
For those like me, who remember the grainy black and white images on our 1969 televisions, it seems like the ability to follow #PlutoFlyby from the comfort of our laptops and phones is yet another demonstration that we’re living in the future.
Hey this is me last week observing Saturn’s rings via a telescope atop the planetarium at the University of Wyoming, during Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. I’ve always loved that Saturn simply looks like the quintessential planet, what with those pretty rings. Plus, the International Space Station chose that time to transit right over our heads. For those who have not seen the ISS, it moves rather fast, and looks bigger than an airplane. It can be distinguished by the fact that it has a curving path and it eventually fades from view. And for the first time, I peered through a pair of night vision goggles at what I was told were satellites. How wonderful it was! But I think my favorite experience that night may have been looking at Jupiter’s moons as they were aligned much like in one of Galileo’s drawings of his own observations.
The next day, I was reminded that it is at least as important–no make that more important–that Galileo not only had the forethought and patience to make systematic observations, but also to record those observations together with dates and times. That’s what made him a scientist and enabled him to come up with his great hypothesis.
The importance of writing down those observations was brought home to me when we did a lab in which we examined data collected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft in a search for extra-solar planets. The first image I looked at had not one, but three planets! I was so excited by what I had seen that I immediately zipped on to the next image, having neglected to record how many planets I’d seen, or what star they were orbiting, or its location. Oops. I had to go back and make notes of my observations.
One really neat thing about going planet hunting is that you can do it too, even if you are not a trained astronomer with access to the equipment that you’d find at a university astronomy department. You will be helping scientists to evaluate which objects may be planets. You can easily and quickly learn to become a planet hunter from the comfort of your very own home computer via a nifty web site called Planet Hunters, which is part of Zooniverse.
Before you set out, though, be warned that it can easily absorb hours at a time. Also, it helps to work on a big, clean screen in a dark room. The idea is that we can all help in the efforts to identify new planets.
Wow, my head is spinning and that was just a sample of the neat stuff I got out of a week at astronomy camp for SF writers.