A blog-to-Twitter test.
This is a blog-to-Facebook test.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HUTCHINSON—08/12/2016—A group of Science Fiction authors will take a break from the World Science Fiction Convention meeting in Kansas City next week to travel to the Cosmosphere for a book signing and tour on Tuesday, August 16th.
Trip organizer and author Martin L. Shoemaker said he has been eager to get the group to the Cosmosphere.
“I have visited the Cosmosphere three times before,” Shoemaker said, “That’s why I’ve been so eager to organize this trip: it is my favorite space museum, period. The collection is good, and the thematic presentation is absolutely superb! I always feel like I’m taking a walking tour of the Space Race.”
Several of the authors will hold a book signing at 1 p.m. The authors and their works are as follows:
Rosemary Claire Smith. Smith’s latest story is in the April 2016 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact: “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs”. Coming up will be a guest editorial in the November Analog: On the Money.
C Stuart Hardwick. Hardwick is a past winner of Writers of the Future. His latest story is “Dreams of the Rocket Men”, a tribute to the pioneers of rocketry in the current issue of Analog.
Daniel J. Davis, Steve Pantazis, and Martin L. Shoemaker were all 2014 winners of Writers of the Future. Daniel’s latest story is “The God Emperor of Lassie Point”, appearing in the anthology Alien Artifacts from Zombies Need Brains Publishing. Steve’s latest story, “The Devil Walks into a Bar”, appears in the current issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Martin’s story “Today I Am Paul” (from Clarkesworld magazine) was nominated for a Nebula award and has appeared in Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-third Annual Edition, The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and eight international translations.
For more information about the book signing, contact Janet Fisher, group sales manager, at 620.665.9340.
The Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum is located at 1100 North Plum in Hutchinson, KS. Its collection includes U.S. space artifacts second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. This unique collection allows the Cosmosphere to tell the story of the Space Race better than any museum in the world while offering fully immersive education experiences that meet the Next Generation Science Standards and introduce students to the power of wondering—asking the critical questions that lead to discovery. The Cosmosphere also features the Carey Digital Dome Theater offering documentary showings daily and recently-released feature films on weekends and a newly renovated Planetarium.
Six years ago today (sort of), I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.
Today I am a Nebula Award loser. And losing has never felt so good.
Of course, I can take comfort that I’m also an AnLab winner.
And it has been selected for Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1, Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 Edition, Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, and Allen Kaster’s Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 8.
But the title of this post isn’t “What I Accomplished”, it’s “What I Learned”. So here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing (and the business thereof) in the past year.
- Friends are better than any award. I can’t emphasize this enough. Stand by them. They’ll be there long after awards are forgotten.
- Readers are also better than any award. The reader response to “Today I Am Paul” has overwhelmed me.
- But awards are pretty cool, too! Even when you lose. And especially when you make new friends along the way. (Hello, Nebula class of 2015!)
- I learned an amazing amount of astronomy in five long days at the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. I’ve already written one story based on what I learned there, and more are in the works. Bonus: I made a bunch of new friends!
- Under the tutelage of Mike Resnick, I’m learning to identify international markets for my work. I need to keep at this, but it’s a start!
- I learned that the people at Writers and Illustrators of the Future really mean it! They care about the careers of their winners. That was even more clear as a returning winner than I ever realized as a new winner. The judges and the Galaxy Press staff welcomed us back as family.
- I learned (again) to listen to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Lessons that they taught me five years ago keep bearing fruit today: trusting yourself and your sense of story; making writing a habit as a way to encourage your brain to write; getting out of your way; persistence; engaging the senses; putting a character in a setting with a problem in the very first paragraphs (and then keeping them there!); and so much more.
- I also (re)learned to listen to Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson on the topic of professionalism. Treat every reader, every writer, every editor and publisher and worker well, because it’s the right thing to do. There are many benefits that come from this, but even if there weren’t: It’s the right thing to do.
- I learned the power of Cyberoptix Tie Lab. Their ties have become my trademark. (Me, a guy who hates ties!) They’re amusing, and they also serve as ice breakers. People ask me what tie I’m wearing today, and why. (And there’s always a why.)
- And perhaps most important for my writing, I’ve learned the power of dictation. Oh, I’ve dictated stories for a while now, including “Today I Am Paul”. That story was a single, fifty-minute dictation session; and what you see in print is pretty close to what I dictated. But eventually I realized: Every story that I sold in the last three years was a dictated story. Dictation works for me, so I decided to do more of it. So now when I climb into the Aldrin (my Jeep), if I’m not listening to traffic reports, I dictate into my hands-free app on my phone. As Dean and Kris teach, it’s both a habit and a way to get out of my way and let story happen.
So there it is. It has been a fantastic year, no doubt. Now I have to get back to work and make this year even better!
A Review of Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt
Note: This book is a sequel to Ancient Shores, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. You don’t have to read that book to understand this one, but I highly recommend that you do. This review will necessarily include spoilers for that book.
I have sometimes said of Jack McDevitt that he likes to write archaeological science fiction: stories where an artifact from the distant past reveals a mystery in the story’s “present” (which might be our distant future). The Alex Benedict books are about a famous treasure hunter in this mold. Many of the Priscilla Hutchins books involve an ancient force that systematically wipes out civilizations, leaving us little to study but ruins.
But while reading Thunderbird, I realized that I wasn’t giving McDevitt broad enough credit: he likes cultural science fiction, exploring the impact of discoveries on a culture. That was true from his very first novel, The Hercules Text, the story of how a message from a distant civilization affects our own.
McDevitt also delights in not answering all the questions. He has said that not answering makes a story more realistic. In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day.
And both of those ideas were found in Ancient Shores, a book that starts with a North Dakota farmer making a strange discovery: a yacht buried in his fields, fields which were beneath a vast inland sea… ten-thousand years ago. The sailboat has mysterious properties: it isn’t quite the right size and its fittings aren’t quite the right shape for humans; and it is impervious to wear and tear, almost impossible to damage, and hence impossible for anyone to estimate its age. The yacht leads eventually to the discovery of the Roundhouse, a dock on the Sioux-owned cliffs that once overlooked the sea; and in the Roundhouse they find a working gateway to other stars.
That book is classic McDevitt. We see how these discoveries affect both individuals and the culture at large. Some want to explore. Some want to run and hide. Some see danger in how these alien technologies can disrupt the economy and render the world more dangerous. Some see their own fears and must decide to stand up to them or cower in shame. And the Mni Wakan Oyate tribe of the Sioux see the return of an ancient conflict as the U.S. government decides to “solve” the problem by destroying the Roundhouse. Only through the timely intercession of scientists and celebrities is the destruction halted. For now.
It’s a victory, and the book ends on a high note; but… In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Where did the Roundhouse come from? How does it work? Can the Sioux keep control, or will the government take over? And what is that strange sentient whirlwind that aids travelers in distress? Some mysteries must wait for another day.
Thunderbird is another day. (Literally. Ancient Shores took place in 1996 or so, the time that book was published. Thunderbird takes place today; but at the same time, Thunderbird takes place immediately after Ancient Shores. There was a brief bit in chapter 1 or 2 where McDevitt sneakily brought the prior book into the present. You would have to really look to notice, but I was watching for it. This book is in the present, with ubiquitous cell phones and Internet and cable news and modern politics.) And answers are forthcoming – as are surprises.
Many of the same characters are involved: U.S. President Matthew Taylor, Sioux Chairman James Walker, scientist April Cannon, and security guard Andrea Hawk. Others have been reduced to cameos, such as Matt Collingwood, the pilot who helped to find the Roundhouse. Tom Lasker, the farmer who found the yacht, is mentioned but never appears.
And there are plenty of new characters, chief among them being Brad Hollister, a radio host and reporter who gets slowly drawn into the missions. The Sioux unexpectedly find themselves with a space program, one more advanced than anyone else on Earth can imagine; and Brad is there to observe it. While other characters are caught up in the diplomacy and politics, Brad is there as a witness, the reader’s eyes and ears to the excitement. He understandably struggles with fear (Would you trust your life to 10,000-year-old technology?) and then shame over that fear. This struggle made it very easy to identify with him. We all want to believe we’ll be brave in the face of danger, but what happens when we’re really tested?
And there are aliens. Yes, in this book, the Sioux and their allies meet aliens: the ape-like Arkons, the not-quite-human Riverwalkers, and the aforementioned sentient windstorm. McDevitt explores each culture (though some deeper than others), and each adds to the mystery of the Roundhouse.
In the end, McDevitt answers many questions, but subtly. The reader, like the characters, has to decide what to believe from the evidence they find. I think that Brad learned who the gate builders were and part of why the gates were built; but there’s enough room to argue about it, and not everyone accepts their answers.
If Brad is right about the gate builders, then the Sioux people have a fascinating future ahead if they can use what they have learned; and yet the ending puts that future out of reach. For now. It’s a more definitive ending than the end of Ancient Shores, but did it answer all the questions? Maybe you missed the part where I said this is a Jack McDevitt book. We have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day – and (I hope) another sequel.
My verdict? I was intrigued in many places. I was surprised in all the right parts. I laughed out loud at several scenes. I was frustrated by some of the stupid decisions while still understanding why the characters made them. I enjoyed the characters (particularly Brad and April). The ending satisfied me while still leaving me wanting more. And the epilogue made me smile. I recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction.
Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Before that, I preordered the Kindle version on the first day it was available, and I have preordered the hardcover so that I can get it autographed.
Five years ago today, I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.
No, that’s a lie. As Dean Wesley Smith says, never trust a writer. We lie for a living. Some of us get good at it.
My first submission was 38 years ago, give or take. I don’t recall the precise date. It was a bad pun story, embarrassingly bad, and George Scithers from Asimov’s Science Fiction sent me a nice personal rejection.
I gave up. I figured I didn’t have what it takes. (And that’s how new I was: I didn’t realize that a personal rejection was supposed to be encouraging.)
My second submission was a few years later, a maudlin little story about an astronaut who wakes up in a world so obsessed with safety that they never do anything. That one got a form rejection.
I gave up.
My third submission was a couple years after that. TSR (the D&D company) had bought Amazing Stories, and I had a humorous adventure story steeped in D&D lore, so I figured it was a good fit. The editor (coincidentally, George Scithers again) sent me a very nice note that said it was a fun story, but he just couldn’t use it.
I gave up. For over two decades. I still wrote – I even sold a software design book – but I just couldn’t bring myself to submit any fiction.
In 2010, my brother-in-law read what I thought was the first chapter of a novel. He said, “That’s not a chapter, that’s a story. Send it in.” So I did. And it got a form rejection.
I sent it to another market. I wrote more stories. I sent those out. I got more rejections.
I gave up. I sent out one last story, and then I gave up.
Then in March of 2011, that last submission became a Finalist in Writers of the Future. It didn’t win, but it did something more important: it got me to stop giving up. Rejection wasn’t stopping me, I was stopping me.
In April 2011 – not even a year from what I’ll call my first modern submission – I sold “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” to Digital Science Fiction, my first pro-rates sale. In July, I sold them “Father-Daughter Outing”. After that, sadly, Digital suspended publication of their anthology (though they’re still selling other books); but I’ll always be grateful to them for believing in me.
In March of 2012, I had an acceptance – but not a sale, this was for charity – in The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity, Vol. 1. It might not have been a sale, but my story “Gruff Riders” appeared alongside stories from Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees plus dozens of other great writers. I was proud to have a story there, and I would be proud to do it again.
Then in September 2012, Analog bought my novelette “Not Close Enough”. In February 2013, they bought “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. In 2014, they bought “Brigas Nunca Mais” and “Racing to Mars”. This year they bought “Early Warning”. Meanwhile, in 2013, Galaxy’s Edge bought “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”.
And… Gardner Dozois selected “Murder on the Aldrin Express” for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, which was reprinted in the UK as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27. Allan Kaster also selected it for Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4, an audiobook/ebook anthology. And coming full circle, in 2014 “Unrefined” was awarded third place in Writers of the Future Volume 31.
So an anniversary is a time to reflect. What have I learned?
The most important thing is simple, and at the same time the hardest lesson of all: Stop giving up. Or as Galaxy Quest taught us, “Never give up, never surrender!” My number one advice to new writers, especially young writers, is “Don’t be like me. Don’t give up.”
Does not giving up guarantee sales? Of course not! That’s why this advice is so hard to follow: not giving up means facing rejection after rejection, never knowing if you’ll ever see a sale. Or a second after your first. Or…
So the other thing I learned is to keep learning, keep getting better. And this advice scares me. See, I don’t do a lot of conscious learning. Oh, I read writer blogs and books, I attend workshops, and I talk with other writers. Those are all good things to do, and I recommend them. But I’m not good at thinking about the lessons I learn. I read, I listen, and I try to absorb, but I don’t consciously apply the lessons. I just write, and I hope. I worry that if I don’t work harder at this, I may hit a plateau and not know how to climb off it.
So I’m working on this; but at the same time I worry about the story of the centipede. He walked all around, just fine, until somebody asked him how he kept all those feet coordinated. He started thinking about it, he couldn’t figure out, and he could never walk again without tripping over his own feet. I worry that if I try to consciously change, I may lose whatever it is that I’m doing right. And I don’t know what that is.
I don’t know what that is! And that, my friends, is scary! I’m flying blind.
And that, again, brings us full circle. I can tell you a hundred little things that I’ve learned along the way; but I still know nothing, not really. I can tell you what worked for me in particular cases, but I can’t tell you what will work for you. I can’t tell me what will work for me next time.
And anyone who says they can tell you: they’re a writer, they lie for a living. Don’t trust them. Even when they believe their lies, they’re really just telling you what worked for them in some cases. As long-time Writers of the Future judge Algis Budrys said, there is seldom only one right way of doing anything. If someone tries to tell you The Way, remember that it’s only A Way. One among countless. Learn what they’re teaching, but think of it as a tool in your toolbox, not a rule you must follow. Try it out, see how it works for you. It’s not The Way, but it might be useful.
But this is no lie: there is a way, a way that significantly improves your chances. I’ve already laid it out above, but let me put it together here. Don’t stop learning, and don’t stop trying.
WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!
(Speaking of which, there’s a novel calling to me… Get back to work!)
In the earliest stories of Blue Collar Space, I had only a vague and often inconsistent rank structure. Eventually I wrote down one consistent structure so that I could refer to it; and since readers have asked how to compare the ranks, I’m documenting it here.
But before I can discuss ranks, I should first explain the different multinational space services. These have different jurisdictions and responsibilities in space, but currently they all use the same rank structure.
- Security Service (a.k.a. “The Admiralty”). This service is staffed by military personnel from the different member nations of the System Initiative. They are not technically a military in that they cannot (in theory) be used in war. There are too many national interests involved, and the decision-making process is too carefully balanced, for military operations. Instead, they are intended to enforce security and international regulations. They are technically within Space Corps (see below), but they see themselves as a separate elite service.
- Space Corps. This service is the home of multinational exploration missions, as well as space stations and other common facilities.
- Transport Corps. This is an umbrella service for passenger and cargo transport operations, and is largely made up of private vessels and crews. The Transport Corps certifies and evaluates these efforts so as to ensure the highest standards of operation; and most nations and corporations prefer to contractTransport Corps personnel as the easiest way to staff their missions. It is not illegal to operate a vessel without Transport Corps certification, but it’s difficult to get insurance or passengers if you do.
This category has only a single rank, the lowest possible. It’s technically not a service rank, because Trainees have not yet been enlisted (or commissioned) into a service. The purpose of Trainee rank is to determine whether personnel are qualified for the space services,
- T-1 T Trainee
This category also has only a single rank: Recruit, the lowest possible enlisted rank. Recruits are not yet certified for space duty, and hence can only be assigned to ground stations (except in extraordinary circumstances).
- E-0 R Recruit
Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty, but only in stations and other facilities that do not travel (i.e., nothing with a drive).
- E-1 SR Spacer Recruit
- E-2 SA Spacer Apprentice
- E-3 SP Spacer
Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty in both stations and vessels.
- E-4 AS3 Astronaut 3rd Class – Certified for Earth orbit operations
- E-5 AS2 Astronaut 2nd Class – Certified for Earth-Luna operations
- E-6 AS1 Astronaut 1st Class – Certified for all Solar System travel
- E-7 CAS Chief Astronaut – A specialist in some vital area such as engineering, environment, etc.
- E-8 SCAS Senior Chief Astronaut – An advanced specialist
- E-9 MCAS Master Chief Astronaut – The highest enlisted rank, with multiple specialty certifications
Non-Commissioned Officer Ranks
As in modern militaries, non-comms run day-to-day operations under the command of officers.
- B-1 BN1 Bosun 1
- B-2 CBN2 Chief Bosun 2
- B-3 CBN3 Chief Bosun 3
- B-4 CBN4 Chief Bosun 4
- B-5 CBN5 Chief Bosun 5
Commissioned Officer Ranks
The personnel who plan and direct vessels and missions.
- O-0 MID Midshipman (Officer trainee)
- O-1 ENS Ensign
- O-2 LTJG Lieutenant Junior Grade
- O-3 LT Lieutenant
- O-4 LCDR Lieutenant Commander
- O-5 CDR Commander
- O-6 CHF Chief
- O-7 CAPT Captain (Commandant for ground posts)
- O-8 RDML Rear Admiral
- O-9 VADM Vice Admiral
- O-10 ADM Admiral
- O-11 FADM Fleet Admiral
“Unrefined” is my Third Place story for Quarter 1 in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31. Here’s an audio sampler:
Thank you to Tung Chi “Jessica” Lee for the amazing illustration for my story, and to Scott R. Parkin for his powerful narration in this sampler.
Where did this story come from? That’s a complicated question for most stories, but I remember the sources of this story pretty clearly.
It started as a story about an asteroid mining team that must deliver a payload under stressful circumstances. I had a vision of a miner having to ride the payload to its destination (that never made it into the story, but I’ll use it some day). I also had a vision of the mining team, a family (more or less) headed by a matriarch trying to hold her team together after her husband died in pursuit of this load.
But characters don’t exist in an economic and social background. Who is this payload for? Where are they shipping it? Where did they travel from, and where will they return to? I had an idea of a mining society based somewhere in the asteroid belt; but immediately I said, “I can’t write that. Jerry Pournelle would never forgive me.” Back in the 1970s, Dr. Pournelle wrote an essay “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships” (collected in A Step Farther Out). The essay explained that fundamentals of rocketry tell us that the SF classic “Belter” civilization (miners that live in some asteroid capitol and then travel through the belt, mining loads to ship to Earth) makes no economic sense. Even a large asteroid has almost no gravity, so it can’t help you to catch it. You have to burn fuel all the way there, and then burn more fuel to get back to your capitol. It turns out to take less fuel to set your base on Earth or Mars. A society that can live in the asteroid belt can live anywhere in the Solar System. So my belt society just wouldn’t work.
But! Dr. Pournelle’s essay ended with a workable alternative. Jupiter has gravity. Lots and lots of gravity. Enough to make it easy to catch with garden-variety rockets. And enough to catch millions, maybe billions of asteroids as little moonlets. Jupiter did the hard work of collecting them, all you have to do is harvest them.
So my asteroid mining ship became a small collection of mining ships and stations in Jupiter orbit (named the Pournelle Settlements in Dr. Pournelle’s honor). But if the rock is traveling all the way from Jupiter to Earth, the idea of riding the load in is untenable. The trip would take too long, and the miner would run out of food and air. I needed another method, and I settled on an old SF trope: the mass driver, a large linear accelerator that uses magnets to grab a load and launch it on a desired trajectory. But a big mass driver implied a big station, not a small family operation. Thus was born entrepreneur Wilson Gray and his Refinery Station.
Except for one problem: the original premise of the story was a problem with the delivery. After all that time designing my Refinery Station, I needed to disable it, maybe even destroy it.
And so begins “Unrefined”. Like many of my stories, it begins with a character hanging in an airlock, preparing to leap into space…
EDIT: Auston Habershaw shares the story behind “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration”.
Preorder the paper version here. Ships on October 15.
Full disclosure: one of the authors of this book, Brad R. Torgersen, is one of my very best writing friends, and also one of my writing inspirations and mentors. I am not exactly neutral when it comes to his work. He’s a rising star, and I’m eagerly following his examples as I try to keep up with his success.
More full disclosure: someday, when he least expects it, I shall kick Brad in the shins for being the luckiest author on the planet.
When Mike Resnick (yet more full disclosure: also a friend, mentor, and all-around great guy — with an occasionally biting sense of humor) and the good folks at Arc Manor (and one final bit of full disclosure: they also publish Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which has published two of my stories) announced the Stellar Guild series, I loved the idea. They approach an established pro SF/fantasy author about writing half of a book, and then having an aspiring new pro (chosen by the established pro) write the other half of the book. The veteran and the new writer might write two stories in the same universe, or they might write two halves of a single story. It’s a great way to get some new fiction from the veteran and to discover a new writer. Win-win! And I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Brad had been selected for the program. He’s that good. (Don’t believe me? Check out Lights in the Deep, his first short story collection. If these stories don’t move you, you are stone.) And I even wasn’t surprised when I learned Brad would be paired with Larry Niven, one of his idols.
But when I figured out that they would be working in the Jerryberry Jansen universe, I assumed my best angry Kirk face, and I shouted “BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!” (Later I added “MATTHEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!” when I learned that Niven is so awesome, they had to pair him with two new authors just to maintain the balance.)
The Jansen series — maybe better referred to as the teleportation series, since Jansen is only one of many protagonists — is to my mind the quintessential Larry Niven series. Niven’s signature technique is to take one speculative idea and then ruthlessly, logically follow wherever that idea leads, finding stories as he follows. This to me is science fiction perfection, an ideal that I aspire to in my own stories; and Larry Niven is a perfect master, and this series is where I first saw him in action. Where some stories just assume teleportation exists, Niven asks, “What would it do to society if teleportation existed? What would change? What social stresses might disappear? What new stresses might appear? What new crimes might arise?”
Niven started answering those questions in “Flash Crowd”, wherein a young “newstaper” (journalist), Barry Jerome “Jerryberry” Jansen, unintentionally incites a riot — simply by reporting a riot. (The rest is simply a logical consequence of teleportation.) He followed up with a number of other short stories in the same universe. It’s not as well-known as his Known Space universe, but I think it’s more accessible because it’s smaller and more focused.
This book begins with “Red Tide”, a longer, updated version of “Flash Crowd”. It is still very much the same story (I’ve read the original enough times to tell), but it’s… fresher. The technology and world have been updated in subtle ways to reflect how the world has changed in the 41 years since the story first appeared. Cell phones are now familiar to the modern reader, so of course the characters all have them. The internet and blogs are all old hat, so the story reflects these as part of its background. (I thought the discussion of what distinguished a newstaper from any random blogger with a cell phone camera was brilliant.) In so many subtle ways, this is now a story for the 2010’s, not the 1970’s.
But even more than that: the story is now better as an introduction to Jerryberry. There is now more depth to his background. Some casual references to teleportation’s impact on his father have been expanded into a complex relationship between Barry and his father. That helps explain what drives Barry as a newstaper, and it also explains Barry’s relationship with Robin Whyte, the inventor of teleportation and the other chief protagonist in the book. Over the course of these stories, Whyte becomes something of a surrogate father to Barry, and it makes sense given Barry’s background. (Still, if I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I wanted to see a resolution to Barry’s relation with his dad. Larry Niven, if you’re listening, maybe another story…)
Following “Red Tide” is another Niven short story: “Dial at Random”. This story steps back in time, where Robin Whyte and his team prepare to test their new, experimental long-distance teleport systems. Something goes wrong, and a teenage girl goes on a very unexpected tour. There’s humor and danger and a lot of logical extrapolation on how a teleport system works, and what that means. The only problem is it’s short, so I wanted more!
And Brad provided more! The third story in the book is Brad’s “Sparky the Dog”. (Forgive me, Brad, I keep wanting to say “Sparky the Wonder Dog”.) The story starts with a frame where Jansen visits near the end of Whyte’s life, and we get a nice picture of their surrogate father-son relationship. Then Whyte tells a story from the very earliest teleportation experiments, where Whyte and the aforementioned Sparky go on the ride of their life, facing dangerous gunmen and the perils of the desert. The story answers several questions on how the technology works, and it also shows us a younger, more vital and yet less confident Whyte. And it gives us Sparky the Wonder Dog! (OK, OK, I’ll stop now, but I’m a sucker for dog stories.) But most of all, it lets Jansen (and us) say goodbye to Robin Whyte.
The final story in the book is Matthew Harrington’s “Displacement Activity”. This story has a brief connection to Jansen at the start; but then the chief protagonist, Sam Watt, gets unexpectedly teleported into the distant future and far across the galaxy. There he must learn to survive in a strange society where humans are not quite slaves, but they’re not their own masters. Harrington’s style is notably different from Niven’s, and his humor is different as well. Not bad (of all the pieces, I laughed at his the most), just different. But despite those differences, Sam Watt is a perfect Niven protagonist, right up there with Jerryberry Jansen, Beowulf Schaffer, Gil Hamilton, and the rest. I knew I was reading a different author, but I also immediately felt at home in the universe he described.
If you’re a Niven fan, I can’t recommend this book highly enough: a fresh new spin on “Flash Crowd”, a brand new Niven short story, and two new authors invited to play with Larry’s toys. If you’ve never read Niven, I still recommend this to anyone who likes ruthlessly consistent science fiction.
5 stars (out of 5 — I would give 6 if I could read a story of Jerryberry and his dad)
It’s common writing advice: make your characters struggle. When things are going well for them, throw a disaster at them.
I don’t disagree with this advice. First, it’s part and parcel of the rising-tension structure that’s at the core of traditional western storytelling. And second, it’s a psychological one-two punch: readers empathize and identify with a character who struggles (because we all do); and then readers feel a cathartic rush when the character succeeds in a struggle. Some say this is one of the main draws of fiction: to let the reader vicariously struggle and experience triumph. And by escalating the struggles, you escalate the vicarious triumphs.
But though I understand the advice, I’ve never consciously followed it. In my stories, I just see what should logically happen next, and I write that. Easier, harder, I don’t think about those, I just write the logical next thing. If there’s escalating struggle and rising tension in my stories, it’s entirely subconscious.
But THIS story… Every time I think, “What should happen next?” the answer is “More bad news. It just got worse.” Every time I think, “OK, they have a plan that will succeed, now I just have to write what’s left,” I start writing, and I discover, “Wait a minute. They never thought of this.” There is hazard here everywhere they look. There’s no “triumph,” there’s just survival to reach the next struggle.
Oh, there will be an eventual triumph. I know what it is (I’ve known from the start). And there’s maybe only six to eight challenges left before they get there.
Of course, two weeks ago, I thought there were only five or six challenges remaining, and I’ve hit them with half a dozen challengers since then. So there may still be surprises hiding out there for them. And for me!