LCROSS, and the Hazards of Writing Near-Future Science Fiction

Today the LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) is supposed to launch on an Atlas-V rocket, along with the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter). LCROSS is specifically designed to check for water in shadowed craters at the lunar south pole.

(Artist’s conception of LCROSS approach to the moon, from http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov/. Click to enlarge.)

The mission profile involves crashing the Centaur upper stage into an as-yet-undetermined crater, with the LCROSS vehicle and its sensors following close behind. Not only will LCROSS itself examine the ejecta for signs of water, but the debris from the impact is expected to rise high enough above the moon’s surface to be visible to earth-based instruments as well. Analysis should show whether hydrogen detected by previous missions (e.g., Clementine) is in the form of water.

Why does this demonstrate the hazards of writing near-future SF? Because I know of a novel — written by me, for which I’m trying to find a publisher and an agent — in which a major part of the plot is a difficult journey to the lunar south pole to retrieve ice to keep the fledgling colony alive.

The LCROSS mission could either lend credence to my treatment of lunar conditions, or it could make the novel much more fiction than science. So here’s what I would like:

  • First, I’d like the mission to detect appreciable amounts of water ice, no matter what crater they choose.
  • Second, I’d like NASA to select a different crater than I did, so no matter what LCROSS finds my story could still be plausible. I picked Faustini Crater for my ice expedition, so anywhere else, okay?

Such is the hazard of writing realistic, near-future SF — your assumptions may be subject to verification before your story ever sees print! (Here I repeat my hope that my story will indeed see print. Time will tell. But if you know of a publisher looking for such a story, point them my way!)

If you want more info, here’s the NASA page about the mission.

[BREAK, BREAK]

And, how about a little space history: Five years ago today — June 18, 2004 — marked the first time a U.S. astronaut was in space when his child was born on Earth. Edward Michael “Mike” Fincke was aboard the International Space Station when his wife gave birth to their second child.

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A Few More Queries, And With Them, Rejection

I forgot to post this yesterday, but the fourth week of the agent hunt consisted of sending out several more queries and receiving one very nice rejection. Here’s the tally of the really important statistics:

  • 34 queries submitted
  • 9 rejections

And so it goes.

On the advice of a couple people in the business — whose names I will not use, but whose identities might be guessed by people familiar with my experience in the very small SF&F world — I also submitted a partial (3 chapters and synopsis) to one of the major SF publishers. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

Hopefully someone out there will be interested in publishing a near-future science fiction story about colonizing the moon — the risks people will take, the hardships they’ll endure, and the sacrifices they’ll make to achieve a difficult goal. Here’s hoping!

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Shhh, be vewwy quiet … I'm agent hunting

My hunt for a literary agent to represent WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS — and such other work as I hope to produce in the next ever-how-many years — continues. Slowly. I do have a day job, after all. And a night job.

So, after two weeks pursuing elusive agents, tracking them by their Internet presences and deciphering the glyphs they’ve carved in electronic “guidelines,” I’ve racked up the following record:

  • 20 queries submitted
  • 4 “thanks, but this isn’t right for us” rejections
  • 3 “interesting, tell us more” responses
  • 2 manuscripts submitted
  • 1 “partial” submitted — 50 pages & synopsis

If you want to play “hunt the agent” with me, see if you can spot one of the wild agents who might be interested in a near-future, realistic science fiction novel about survival and sacrifice in the early days of a lunar colony. If you see some, don’t scare them away! Try to chase them in my direction. And let me know, so I can get the right query ready! 😉

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Image by Gaetan Lee, from Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

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Agent Hunt

No, I don’t mean to refer to Ethan Hunt from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

Tonight I started my hunt for an agent to represent my novel — a story of survival and sacrifice in the early days of the first lunar colony, tentatively titled* WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS.

Specifically, I sent out queries to five agents who have sterling reputations and accept electronic inquiries.

I’ll send more queries out, in batches, in the next few weeks, and I’ll post updates as I have them. Meanwhile, I need to finish getting ready to go to RavenCon.

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*Tentatively because, if a publisher decides to take the book, they will decide the title based on what they think is most marketable. That, however, is far in the future.

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Catching Up From a Busy Weekend, and a Near-Disaster Revealed

I missed two space anniversaries this weekend, because I spent most of the time finishing a short story and most of the rest of the time either at church or preparing for the worship services. (Excuses, excuses.)

First, the space anniversaries I missed:

– Ten years ago Saturday — March 28, 1999 — Sea Launch launched their “DemoSat,” essentially a ballast-filled “dummy” spacecraft, from the Odyssey launch platform, a converted North Sea oil drilling platform. I had the pleasure of sailing on the Odyssey three years later for the launch of the Galaxy III-C spacecraft.

– Thirty-five years ago yesterday — March 29, 1974 — Mariner 10 made the first flyby of Mercury.

As for the near-disaster, Spaceflight Now ran a CBS News story Friday in which Robert “Hoot” Gibson recalled details of the damage sustained by the shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-27, which launched on December 2, 1988. The shuttle received more damage than on any other mission, and the crew worried that they might not survive re-entry. It’s a frightening story of miscommunication: the classified military mission was conducted under a communications blackout, so when the crew sent video of the damaged areas the encryption degraded the images so much that NASA engineers didn’t believe there was a real problem.

I checked into the mission a little more, and when I saw the mission patch this story became even more compelling to me. I didn’t realize it when I posted the space anniversary of the launch, but when Atlantis landed at Edwards AFB I was on duty as part of the AF Flight Test Center recovery team. We, of course, knew nothing about the damaged tiles or how close that shuttle came to not making it back at all.

(STS-27 mission patch. Click to enlarge.)

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Progress Report and Space History

MARE NUBIUM, my novel of lunar colonization and survival, is now 70,000 words long. I have six weeks left if I’m going to finish the thing by Halloween. I need to pick up the pace.

On the space history front, 45 years ago today — September 18, 1963 — the lifting body demonstrator “ASSET-1” (a precursor to the Space Shuttle) flew to an altitude of 35 miles at the Eastern Space & Missile Center. You can read about the ASSET program on this Air Force fact sheet or this Wikipedia page.

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The Wave-Particle Duality of Truth

Today on TED I watched a video of author Amy Tan talking about something near and dear to my writerly heart: creativity. Late in the presentation she made a comment about catching “particles of truth” as opposed to the whole truth, and I immediately thought of the wave-particle duality of light and wondered about truth: what wave-like versus particle-like characteristics does it present?

And of course I thought it would be great to write a science fiction story along the lines of “The Wave Theory of Truth.”* Of course, right now I don’t have any idea how I would begin such a tale, and I’d be much better served hammering the keyboard trying to build my novel. So I’ll have to leave this idea for another day. (C’est la vie.)

Anyway, aside from her slides being hard to read, you might enjoy Amy Tan’s TED talk.

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* Not to be confused with the odd (in my estimation) entries available on the web that include the phrase.

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Why I Write Stories

On my shelves are books by people at least tangentially related to me, but which I have never read. I’ve picked them up, thumbed through them, and put them back again more times than I can count.

The history of the Page family is interesting mostly for the plate in the front with the same coat of arms that’s engraved on my onyx tie tack (which may have been part of an official seal); the printed version is much more detailed than the signet, with the motto Spe Labor Levis (“With Hope, Labor Becomes Light”) proudly emblazoned on the scroll. I haven’t cared to read it because marriage and adoption make that family name about thrice-removed from me (that, and the fact that it’s 115 years old and not in great shape). In a similar way, the slender chemistry book is interesting primarily in establishing for me a link between nitric acid and the manufacture of explosives, but it’s not something I care to pore over. I feel certain my descendents and others further removed will feel the same way about my nonfiction, which I’ve tried to make timely but will never be timeless.

If I can write some decent stories, however — with lively, realistic characters facing difficult challenges — stories that speak clearly and perhaps powerfully, stories refined in the crucible of professional editing and publication — maybe they will be more than bookshelf curiosities. At this point in time that’s still an “if,” but I keep plugging along. And maybe as my body returns to the elements of the universe, someone can read my words and find some value in them.

That’s why I write stories.

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We All Believe in Magic … Or We Should

The article Magical Thinking by Matthew Hutson (Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 2008) brought to mind my short story, “The Rocket Seamstress.” This passage from the article especially reminded me of Jelena Olenek, the Russian grandmother who is the main character of my story:

People who truly trust in their rituals exhibit a phenomenon known as “illusion of control,” the belief that they have more influence over the world than they actually do. And it’s not a bad delusion to have—a sense of control encourages people to work harder than they might otherwise. In fact, a fully accurate assessment of your powers, a state known as “depressive realism,” haunts people with clinical depression, who in general show less magical thinking.

Jelena’s magic makes the mighty Russian rockets fly, but there is every possibility that her magic is only a personal delusion. From this magazine article, however, we may get the idea that Jelena is mentally healthier than her relatives who don’t believe in her magic or any magic.

“To be totally ‘unmagical’ is very unhealthy,” says Peter Brugger, head of neuropsychology at University Hospital Zurich.

“The Rocket Seamstress” was originally published in Zahir. It’s now available from Anthology Builder.

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