“Poor prior planning yields piss-poor performance,” My Dad and probably a lot of other Dads as well--
“Mr. President,” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs begins, “we have a first contact situation.
Unbelievable though it seems, sir, an alien spacecraft of unknown power and intentions has landed at 1200 hours in the centerfield of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
The craft, which is the size of aircraft carrier, has neither moved nor given any indication of its intentions since then.”
You are the 45th president of the United States. It doesn’t matter what party you came from but you have taken the reigns of power with the usual issues of deficits, unemployment, racial and immigration tensions and the war on terrorism. You had plans for all these things, some might even work. But you never believed you’d be asked to deal with such a situation. Your cabinet, the joint chiefs and your press secretary are watching you intently. They are scared.
The roof has been blown off the world.
You turn to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a uniformed officer who greatly exceeded your own rank when you served as an infantry officer for operations inGrenada. This man has seen deadly combat for his country for decades.
“Do we have a plan for this, General?”
He looks you straight in the eye. “No, sir. If someone had suggested it yesterday, we’d have assigned him to the paper clip dept in Kenosha. Wre gio have to make this one up as we go.”
“Why in God’s name would they land there? Why come down without establishing communication beforehand?”
“Hard to say sir,” the CJCS says, “but it makes some sense. An unknown aircraft approaching DC or New York would be challenged probably attacked if it did not warn off. Charlottehas no such protocols yet it’s obviously a large city where there are substantial government assets. The speedway is a big open space able to take the ship. Even provides some cover as it is out of direct fire, pardon me, direct line of sight, inside the arena. It’s open and yet contained.”
You ponder. What was most important thing you have to do, and what are the other
objectives and in what order?
Answers come. One is the memory of an old movie starring Michael Rennie. A saucer lands in Washington; it’s surrounded by frightened people and National Guard reservists. One fool of a tanker pops the alien with a .45, almost ending the world. Other movies show sinister government conspiracies to capture and dissect aliens and steal their technology. As if they hadn’t possessed the ability to drop nuclear weapons of even accelerated asteroids through Earth’s atmosphere in retribution.
“At all costs,” you begin slowly, “we must avoid conflict with these aliens. They have traveled here from interplanetary if not interstellar distances; their technology is at least as far above ours as Columbus’ was over the Native Americans. Perhaps the disparity is even greater. Cultures are about to collide. One or both may be drastically changed. Conflict will likely be disastrous for
us. The survival of the human species is, and must be, our first objective determining all else.
“We have to hope their intentions are peaceful, until proven otherwise. If they were hostile then a daylight landing in a civilian area would be an odd way to open hostilities.”
Your national science advisor, an eager and idealistic young woman says. “Sir, I don’t believe we have to deal with military issues here. A people so advanced as to travel interstellar space must surely have advanced sociologically as well.”
You stare at the well-meaning young woman and wonder is someone very like her was standing next to Montezuma when he met Cortez.
The general sitting next to her has his mouth drawn in a thin line. You can tell what he thinks of that idea, but his natural inclinations must be watched too. He will see the situation as one of security and threat.
“The biggest danger right now,” you say, “is panic and hysteria. Religious fanatics in the Muslim world are denouncing these new arrivals as devils. Some of our own people are on TV prophesying the end of the world. Other hysterics are demanding immediate attack or immediate surrender. One nut apparently tried to attack the nuclear power plant north of Charlotte thinking it was making the aliens mad. I don’t want some crazed individual taking a shot at, or God forbid, crashing a plane into that ship and starting an interstellar war.
“Mr. Chairman, I want Charlotte and the counties surrounding it put under martial law. No air traffic other then government authorized in North Carolina, South Carolina or Tennessee. A total exclusion zone for fifty miles around the Charlotte Speedway. I want US Airforce interceptors patrolling that area immediately. They will have the same shoot down authority as they have for White House Airspace. The aliens must be protected at all costs!
“I want three concentric rings of security around the site. Within one mile of the craft I want everyone out but Delta Force, CIA, SEALS and Air Force Special Forces and a team of scientists and diplomats. More on that later.
“Beyond one mile I want the best troops you have. They will be setting up a military control zone.
We will need civilian labs and scientists as well as the press and other communications.”
“I’ll get the 82nd airborne and the Marine expeditionary force, moving sir,”The CJCS says. “We’ve got all Federal troops in Charlotte moving into blocking positions already.” He glances over his shoulder and a Colonel moves crisply out of the room.
“In the overall Charlotte area we will move in FBI, Federal Marshals, State and local police as well as military police to handle civilian control issues and keep the city running and quiet. We need to settle the area so scientist and politicians can do their work. This is a political situation”
“And if they are hostile?” an admiral asks.
“Our efforts must be directed at avoiding conflict but,” you finish grimly, “if conflict is inevitable, then we must have plans for that. I am summoning, to the underground pentagon, representatives from the security counsel and the UN Secretary General. While I must remain in the White House to reassure the country, the Vice President will be leaving immediately to a secure location.
We dare not risk a loss of command and control either by human actions, alien actions or simple mischance.
Ms. Vice-President, please go now in Marine Two.”
The vice-president looks startled for a second then climbs to her feet, immediately surrounded by her staff and Secret Service. “Yes, sir,” she says. “God be with you, Mr. President.” All her usual charming informality is gone. History is breathing down everyone’s neck.
You turn to the Secretary of State. “John, I have work for you too. You will head a triumvirate
charged with handling this one on scene. You will have the Chief Science advisor at your elbow and the Deputy of the Joint Chiefs. This is a political issue, John. I need to establish who these…people… are and what they want. I am sure we will be attaching a UN rep to your team eventually as well as other governments. For now you will be the highest ranking government official that the aliens can meet face to face.”
“Assuming they have faces,” John says easily. A nervous laugh ripples around the room and you are reassured that you have the right person for the job.
“Before you go,” you say, “brief the UN ambassador and any of the security counsel ambassadors that you can reach. Advise them that the US is going to go to Defcon Two. Advise that they do so as well but urge them, particularly the Russians and the Chinese NOT to respond militarily to any landing. No one of us should make this decision for the species alone or in haste. We are truly in this together as we have never been before in the history of the Earth.”
You look at the CICS. “In the meanwhile, General, you need to provide me with options for attacks with everything from Special Forces immediately in the area up to and through strategic nuclear weapons.”
The room is deadly quiet.
“The latter, ladies and gentleman, is classified ultimate secret. If word gets out of this room that we are planning for such an eventuality I will, as God is my witness, have the leaker arrested and punished to the ultimate extent. I am in deadly earnest about this. Deadly earnest. This is not politics as usual. This is not any other day.”
You turn next to the new director of FEMA and you hope to god he is the improvement that you thought he was when you appointed him. “Start making plans for an orderly voluntary evacuation of civilians from Charlotte. A lot will be fleeing anyway, let’s control it. We may need to change
it to mandatory evacuation at any point. Be prepared. Encourage any company that can transfer their operations and data out of the Charlotte area to do so. Ditto for government operations.”
“Sir,” the national science advisor says hesitantly. “Everything you are doing is reasonable, but in a human context. We are in a non-human context. We don’t know what is reasonable. We don’t know what responses our moves will call from the aliens. ”
“I am aware of that,” you reply, with a touch of impatience. “What alternatives do you have for me in perspective? Who thinks about these issues?”
The Science Advisor looks a bit sheepish. “Sir Xeno-sociology is only a word. We could bring in
some historians who have the perspective of vastly different cultures colliding. It’s happened before.”
You remember the books you’ve read about the Pacific war when Western culture fought Eastern and the savagery normal to warfare became even deeper and more barbaric because of racial and sociological overtones. Kamikazes, suicide boats, children taught to run at soldiers with bamboo spears, an enemy that would not surrender. Other episodes of imperial age combat come to mind, Zulus Vs British, everyone against the Chinese Boxers, Cortez again.
Yes the historians may help, but no matter how different the culture, it is human history.”
“There’s another group,” your press secretary continues, “science fiction writers.”
On any other day this could have gotten him laughed out of the room. Not today.
“Go on,” you say.
“Well Larry Niven wrote about a scenario like this in the book “Footfall.” In the book the president even assembled a team of SF writers for that reason. They’d made up alien cultures, thought about how they might work. What might trigger fight or flight for them?”
“Other names?” you prompt, nodding to the FBI director, who’d aid is furiously working a computer. You’re delighted that your press secretary is an SF fan
“CJ Cherryh,” The press secretary says. “She practically invented anthropological science fiction. Jerry Pournelle, Arthur C Clarke…. He rattles out more names unfamiliar to you.
“Get them,”you say to the FBI director. “They’ll probably be eager to help but get them regardless. Hire them, draft them, reactivate them, put them in black helicopters and threaten to drop them in the sea, but get them all here as soon as possible.” The FBI aid departs at a fast jog.
You look at the Press Secretary. “I am going to be before the American people and the people of the world almost hourly for the next few days. People have to feel that the government is working and that the situation is under control.”
“Is it?” the Press Secretary asks.
“Hell, no,”you reply. “Wish we had given this one some thought before today.”
In Defense of Human Spaceflight
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.” Frank Boreman Apollo 8
“Robotic exploration is to real exploration as masturbation is to glorious, loving sex.”-
Nothing is more irrelevant than the supposition, even if true, that robots can carry out space exploration better than humans. The exploration of space is not only a matter of thrust ratios, frequencies and angstroms; it is a matter both of our survival and of our spiritual and moral growth as a species. Are we merely dust that through some accident of cosmic proportions has
become aware of itself? Are we the only life in all the long, lonely, light-years? Or are we travelers in time and space on a journey searching for “The Meaning of it All?”
That search proceeds outward in every direction every day. Down into the microbe and the
most basic bits of life, outward into the heavens at the limits of visual, X-ray and radio telescopes. It continues in quiet moments when we contemplate the universe in our individual lives, whether in a monk’s meditation at a monastery, a child’s prayer, or the appreciation of some wild and untouched place.
This is the distinction between us and our machines. The plucky rovers on Mars are not
plucky- that is anthropomorphism. Nor are they exhilarated by the awe and mystery that reaches from, “the inner mind to the Outer Limits.” They will never call back from Mars saying, “Mars is so cool!” and refer to anything more than the temperature. They are not self-aware. They have no possibility of an existence after this, no chance that they could ever be more than they are at this moment.
Can’t we get our thrills secondhand? No. A camera is not an eye and a rover is not a person. Does anyone believe that Sojourner on Mars had the impact of Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man” on our moon? We go to the ocean depths, the clouds and the vacuum beyond, not merely for commerce, not only to fight our battles, but to gain new perspectives on our condition, and ourselves, to obtain new measurements for our awareness.
To anyone who has seen the Mona Lisa in person, seeing it on TV or in an art book is meaningless. The original cannot be captured, it must be experienced.
Perhaps a better example came from my own experience. My wife and I were walking at the wonderful Asheville zoo. We were on a stairway; unbeknownst to us we were just outside the lion’s exhibit. A lion roared. I’ve heard the MGM lion do it at movies for years. But this wasn’t a
recording. It was a real lion at point blank range and it bypassed our conscious minds to hit our hindbrains first. My wife flew up the stairs in a blur. Black belt that I am, I snapped around in a fighting stance faster than ever before. A classic example of fight-flight reflexes, for all that my only chance against the lion would have been to choke it to death by stuffing myself down its gullet. You can watch “Animal Planet” until hell freezes over and it will not for one instant, approximate the reality of what is like to hear a lion roar in person.
There are of course the usual arguments against humans in space. But let’s start with an
examination of that statement, “humans in space.” Humanity is now and has always been “in space.” The thing in the sky is a G-2 main sequence star perhaps halfway through its lifespan. Its attributes govern every second of our existence on this ball of rock we live on. We are in space every moment of our life. The so-called “realists” who think of space as something outré, that doesn’t involve them, suffer from myopia of epic proportions, like an astronomer who looks through the wrong end of a telescope.
Space has and can intrude on even their parochial world in an instant. October 29, 2003 -
the Halloween Storm - spawned auroras that were seen over most of North America. Extensive satellite problems were reported, including the loss of the $450 million Midori-2 research satellite. A huge solar storm impacted the Earth, just 19 hours after leaving the sun. Days later on November 4, 2003, one of the most powerful X-ray flares ever detected swamped the sensors of dozens of satellites, causing satellite operations anomalies. Astronauts hid as deep as they could go in the International Space Station, but still reported radiation effects including ocular “shooting stars.”
Meteor Crater lies thirty-five miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. It dates from an impact 50,000 years ago. We were here. We just weren’t under that one as humans hadn't reached North America. Which is good, as this was a 2.5 megaton wake-up call. That was utterly dwarfed by the 1908 event in Tunguska, Siberia. That event, thought to be an airburst of a bit of cosmic flotsam, was in the 10-15 megaton range, right up there with a strategic-level hydrogen fusion bomb. These cosmic marbles aren’t gone and there is nothing that says Earth’s orbit is sacrosanct from them just because we have cell phones, cable TV and it would be gosh darn inconvenient for us to stop a thirty-five mile long rock at 45,000 mph.
Mars is due to get one of those later this year. It will come in over one of the Mars rovers, who will not note it with anything other than detached mechanical efficiency, if their limited instrument packages allow them to take any note at all. We will get to see it on TV, but there, my friends, for the grace of God, go we.
I remember looking up at comet Hale-Bopp during its last approach to Earth. While others were enjoying the cosmic light show (and I won’t claim to be immune to that) I did realize that I was looking at global species extinction mere light-minutes away, had the orbit been a little different. A miss is as good as a mile with cosmic bowling but you are playing for all the marbles. When you look at the moon, realize that you are looking at a body created because something hit the good earth we’re standing on, hard enough to tear that bit off and hurl it into the sky. If that is too big for you, too out there and distant for your contemplation, go stand by Upheaval Dome in Utah.
But a mere chunk of rock is survivable. It’s not likely to get all of us, though it could. Even if it didn’t wipe us all out, would a technic civilization ever arise again? We’ve mined most of the easily reachable resources around. Could we start over again?
There are greater terrors in space that could whiff out our planet like a child blows out a candle on a birthday cake. We can protect ourselves and our genetic heritage from some of them. Asteroids might be pushed or blasted away from us, but if a gamma ray burst goes off in our local area of space, well, game over. Even basic levels of local space control will entail investment in infrastructure in space that dwarf all we have done to date. We will need stations and not merely something like the International Space Station, but true factories, colonial stations and deep-space ships. This can’t be thrown together from nothing, despite what Bruce Willis’ did in“Armageddon.”
Some of the “robot-firsters” will decry manned space, their advocacy exceeding that of Asimov’s Susan Calvin, “It’s too expensive.” They will be joined by the social engineers, “We need all the money to solve our problems down here on Earth.”
Disabuse yourself of the notion that if all Earth’s miniscule space budgets were plowed into the social budgets of countries, that there would be a measurable decrease in the world’s problems.
Trillions have been poured into anti-poverty programs. Whether this has been effective or not is a discussion for another place- however one must notice that poverty, ignorance and warfare are doing quite well. If they were a stock they might have gone up like you hope your 401K would.
In any event, the world’s space budget is a mere rounding error on social spending.
Even more fundamentally, the two issues are unrelated. Space is a technological battle with a social component. Poverty is a political and social problem and far less a scientific one. It is related to the nature of our species and its existence. Or as my Dad put it in the most basic terms, “ If at the beginning of time you gave everyone in the world a refrigerator, at the end of the first month there would be those with a thousand refrigerators and those with none.” And so it will always be.
Space is not simply a hole into which money that could be better used for food stamps
or worker retraining is flushed. It fundamentally helps economies and the poor. The single most powerful example of this is the weather satellite. Storms that sank ships and destroyed cities are now spotted early enough for avoidance and evacuation. Farmers have the ability to plan for weather and crop management in a way their ancestors could not have dreamed of.
Communication satellites make the world one huge party line. The president of the United
States and the premier of China can speak in real-time. A doctor in New York City can diagnose and help treat an appendectomy in Antarctica. On a more basic level, electronics have become so reliable they are almost taken for granted. We have computer chips, solar cells, biomedical sensors, cell phones, blackberrys and laptops from the space program’s drive for technology.
Other may piously intone that we should not go out in to space until we get our act together as a species. The idea that we must somehow correct all of Earth’s ills or somehow evolve to a pure state of political organization is naiveté. Or if it is not, it may well be that in exploring space we will gain the perspectives needed to allow change to come. Perhaps we will truly come to see Spaceship Earth as the small fragile place it is, with no safe place to leave our hazardous junk and no crew who are unimportant. Earthrise on the moon made a seachange in how we see ourselves and our little blue marble. The rise of the world-wide ecological movement has some root in the arid soil of the moon.
But there is no sign on the cosmic rollercoaster that says you must be this tall and morally evolved to take this ride. I do not see our species changing that much as we head to the stars.
We are man most mortal and doomed to die (for all we are putting it off as far as we can each generation). We will lie, pollute and corruptly make our way among the stars. And why not?
We were not made as angels and we will not become angels anytime soon. We were not required to be angels when we left the cave, when we left Africa, when we walked the land bridge into
America and when we sailed from Europe. The sanctimonious, who set themselves over the rest of us in judgment, will probably never find us fit enough for the stars. Had it been left to them we’d still be in caves.
Our machines are our tools and servants, good ones too. We will take them with us and occasionally send them ahead for there will be hells in the galaxy that no mother’s child should face. We will leave some of those to our mechanical friends. But if our footprints do not overtake their tires and tracks, if we do not confront God’s handiwork and wrest from it the “meaning of it all” then we might have as well stayed home with our Xbox, playing HALO and watching Lucas and Spielberg’s more interesting pictures of space. Or perhaps in the anteroom to Hell we will meet the dinosaurs-they will look at us
and say with sympathy born of a mutual fate. “Asteroid?
Bummer. So you didn’t have a
space program either?”
Sidebar Spacer Spinoffs
Technology - NASA Spinoffs
CUBING - NASA initiative led to the Memory Short Stack, a three-dimensional
semiconductor package in which dozens of integrated circuits are stacked one
atop another to form a cube, offering faster computer processing speeds, higher
levels of integration, lower power requirements than conventional chip sets, and
dramatic reduction in the size and weight of memory-intensive systems, such as
medical imaging devices.
ANALYSIS - This NASA program, originally created for spacecraft design, has
been employed in a broad array of non-aerospace applications, such as the
automobile industry, manufacture of machine tools, and hardware
QUALITY MONITOR - Utilizing a NASA-developed, advanced analytical technique
software package, an air quality monitor system was created, capable of
separating the various gases in bulk smokestack exhaust streams and determining
the amount of individual gases present within the stream for compliance with
smokestack emission standards.
REALITY - NASA-developed research allows a user, with assistance from
advanced technology devices, to figuratively project oneself into a
computer-generated environment, matching the user's head motion, and, when
coupled with a stereo viewing device and appropriate software, creates a
- NASA Spinoffs
BABY FOOD - A microalgae-based, vegetable-like oil called Formulaid
developed from NASA-sponsored research on long duration space travel, contains
two essential fatty acids found in human milk but not in most baby formulas,
believed to be important for infants' mental and visual
PURIFICATION SYSTEM - NASA-developed municipal-size water treatment system
for developing nations, called the Regenerable Biocide Delivery Unit, uses
iodine rather than chlorine to kill bacteria.
LENSES - A modified version of a dual ion beam bonding process developed by
NASA involves coating the lenses with a film of diamond-like carbon that not
only provides scratch resistance, but also decreases surface friction, reducing
PURIFICATION - Space technology designed to sterilize water on long-duration
spacecraft applied to swimming pool purification led to a system that uses two
silver-copper alloy electrodes that generate silver and copper ions when an
electric current passes through them to kill bacteria and algae without
SWIMSUIT - NASA-developed riblets applied to competition swimsuits resulted
in flume testing of 10 to 15 percent faster speeds than any other world class
swim-suit due to the small, barely visible grooves that reduce friction and
aerodynamic drag by modifying the turbulent airflow next to the
BALL AERODYNAMICS - A recently designed golf ball, which has 500 dimples
arranged in a pattern of 60 spherical triangles, employs NASA aerodynamics
technology to create a more symmetrical ball surface, sustaining initial
velocity longer and producing a more stable ball flight for better accuracy and
COOLERS/WARMERS - Based on a NASA-inspired space cooling system employing
thermoelectric technology, the portable cooler/warmer plugs into the cigarette
lighters of autos, recreational vehicles, boats, or motel outlets. Utilizes one
or two miniaturized modules delivering the cooling power of a 10-pound block of
ice and the heating power of up to 125 degrees
TRAINING - Space-developed cardio-muscular conditioner helps athletes
increase muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness through kinetic
SHOES - Moon Boot material encapsulated in running shoe midsoles improve
shock absorption and provides superior stability and motion
and Resource Management - NASA Spinoffs
- The first commercial products manufactured in orbit are tiny microspheres
whose precise dimensions permit their use as reference standards for extremely
accurate calibration of instruments in research and industrial laboratories.
They are sold for applications in environmental control, medical research, and
ENERGY - NASA-pioneered photovoltaic power system for spacecraft
applications was applied to programs to expand terrestrial applications as a
viable alternative energy source in areas where no conventional power source
FORECASTING AID - Space Shuttle environmental control technology led to the
development of the Barorator which continuously measures the atmospheric
pressure and calculates the instantaneous rate of
MANAGEMENT - A NASA-initiated satellite scanning system monitors and maps
forestation by detecting radiation reflected and emitted from
FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL - NASA development of an instrument for use in
space life support research led to commercial development of a system to monitor
an industrial process stream to assure that the effluent water's pH level is in
compliance with environmental regulations.
MONITOR - Development of Jimsphere wind measurement balloon for space
launches allows for making high resolution measurements of the wind profile for
meteorological studies and predictions.
SYSTEMS - A spinoff company formed to commercialize NASA high-data-rate
telemetry technology, manufactures a high-speed processing system for commercial
RESEARCH - NASA research on future moon and Mars bases is investigating
using plants for food, oxygen, and water to reduce the need for outside
supplies. This research utilizes Hydroponics (liquid nutrient solutions) instead
of soil to support plant growth and finds applications for vegetable production
RESISTANT MATERIAL - Materials include chemically-treated fabric for sheets,
uniforms for hazardous material handlers, crew's clothing, furniture, interior
walls of submersibles and auto racer and refueler
INSULATION - Aluminized polymer film is highly effective radiation barrier
for both manned and unmanned spacecraft. Variations of this space-devised
material are also used as an energy conservation technique for homes and
offices. The materials are placed between wall studs and exterior facing before
siding or between roof support and roof sheathing. The radiant barrier blocks
95% of radiant energy. Successful retrofit installations include schools and
shrink wrap ovens.
and Medicine - NASA Spinoffs
IMAGING BREAST BIOPSY SYSTEM - The LORAD Stereo Guide Breast Biopsy system
incorporates advanced Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) as part of a digital camera
system. The resulting device images breast tissue more clearly and efficiently.
Known as stereotactic large-core needle biopsy, this nonsurgical system
developed with Space Telescope Technology is less traumatic and greatly reduces
the pain, scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical
CANCER DETECTION - A solar cell sensor is positioned directly beneath x-ray
film, and determines exactly when film has received sufficient radiation and has
been exposed to optimum density. Associated electronic equipment then sends a
signal to cut off the x-ray source. Reduction of mammography x-ray exposure
reduces radiation hazard and doubles the number of patient exams per
ANGIOPLASTY - Laser angioplasty with a "cool" type of laser, caller an
excimer laser, does not damage blood vessel walls and offers precise
non-surgical cleanings of clogged arteries with extraordinary precision and
fewer complications than in balloon angioplasty.
SKIN DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - Advanced instrument using NASA ultrasound
technology enables immediate assessment of burn damage depth, improving patient
treatment, and may save lives in serious burn
TISSUE STIMULATOR - Employing NASA satellite technology, the device is
implanted in the body to help patient control chronic pain and involuntary
motion disorders through electrical stimulation of targeted nerve centers or
particular areas of the brain.
SUIT - Custom-made suit derived from space suits circulates coolant through
tubes to lower patient's body/ temperature, producing dramatic improvement of
symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other
PACEMAKER - Incorporating multiple NASA technologies, the system consists of
the implant and a physician's computer console containing the programming and a
data printer. Communicates through wireless telemetry
SCREENING - NASA image processing techniques are used to detect eye problems
in very young children. An electronic flash from a 35-millimeter camera sends
light into the child's eyes, and a photorefractor analyzes the retinal reflexes,
producing an image of each eye.
URINALYSIS - NASA fluid dynamics studies helped development of system that
automatically extracts and transfers sediment from urine sample to an analyzer
microscope, replacing the manual centrifuge
GAS ANALYZER - Astronaut-monitoring technology used to develop system to
monitor operating rooms for analysis of anesthetic gasses and measurement of
oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen concentrations to assure proper breathing
environment for surgery patients.
WHEELCHAIR - NASA teleoperator and robot technology used to develop chair
and manipulator that respond to 35 one-word voice commands utilizing a
minicomputer to help patient perform daily tasks, like picking up packages,
opening doors, and turning on appliances.
Productivity/Manufacturing Technology - NASA Spinoffs
LIQUIDS - Based on the NASA-developed ferrofluid concept involving synthetic
fluids that can be positioned and controlled by magnetic force, the ferrofluidic
seal was initially applied in a zero-leakage, nonwearing seal for the rotating
shaft of a system used to make semiconductor chips, solving a persistent
problem‹contamination due to leaking seals.
SENSOR SYSTEM - Laser-based automated welder for industrial use incorporates
a laser sensor system originally designed for Space Shuttle External Tank to
track the seam where two pieces of metal are to be joined, measures gaps and
minute misfits, and automatically corrects the welding torch distance and
- Based on a concept for optical communications over interplanetary distances,
microlasers were developed for the commercial market to transmit communication
signals and to drill, cut, or melt materials.
BEARING SYSTEM - Bearings developed from Space Shuttle designs support
moving machinery without physical contact, permitting motion without friction or
wear, and are now used in electric power generation, petroleum refining, machine
tool operation, and natural gas pipelines.
LUBRICANT - A NASA-developed plasma-sprayed coating is used to coat valves
in a new, ten-inch-long, four-cylinder rotary engine, eliminating the need for
lubricating the rotorcam, which has no crankshaft, flywheel, distributor, or
COMPUTER TRAINING - Known as Interactive Multimedia Training (IMT),
originally developed to train astronauts and space operations personnel, now
utilized by the commercial sector to train new employees and upgrade worker
skills, using a computer system that engages all the senses, including text,
video, animation, voice, sounds, and music.
WATERSTRIPPING - Technology developed for preparing Space Shuttle solid
rocket boosters first evolved into the U.S. Air Force's Large Aircraft Robotic
Paint Stripping (LARPS) system, and now used in the commercial airline industry,
where the waterjet processing reduces coating removal time by 90 percent, using
only water at ultra-high pressures up to 55,000
WELDING TORCH - Based on the Variable Polarity Plasma Arc welding
technology, a handheld torch originally developed for joining light alloys used
in NASA's External Tank, is now used by major appliance manufacturers for sheet
Safety - NASA Spinoffs
HAZARD DETECTOR - NASA technology has made commercially available new,
inexpensive, conveniently carried device for protection of people exposed to
potentially dangerous levels of microwave radiation. Weighing only 4 ounces and
about the size of a cigarette pack, it can be carried in a shirt pocket or
clipped to a belt. Unit sounds an audible alarm when microwave radiation reaches
a preset level.
RESPONSE ROBOT - Remotely-operated robot reduces human injury levels by
performing hazardous tasks that would otherwise be handled by
ALARM SYSTEM - Pen-sized ultrasonic transmitter used by prison guards,
teachers, the elderly, and disabled to call for help is based on space telemetry
technology. Pen transmits a silent signal to receiver that will display the
exact location of the emergency.
RESCUE CUTTERS - Lightweight cutters for freeing accident victims from
wreckage developed using NASA pyrotechnic
AIR TANKS - Lighter-weight firefighter's air tanks have been developed. New
back-pack system weighs only 20 lbs. for 30 minute air supply, 13 lbs. less than
conventional firefighting tanks. They are pressurized at 4,500 psia (twice
current tanks). A warning device tells the fireman when he or she is running out
STORM WARNING SYSTEM - Lightning detector gives 30-minute warning to
golfers, boaters, homeowners, business owners, and private
LIFE RAFT - Developed for the Apollo program, fully inflates in 12 seconds
and protects lives during extremely adverse weather conditions with
self-righting and gravity compensation features.
- NASA Spinoffs
WINTER TIRES - Viking Lander parachute shroud material is adapted and used
to manufacture radial tires, increasing the tire material's chainlike molecular
structure to five times the strength of steel should increase tread life by
BRAKES - New, high-temperature composite space materials provide for better
brake linings. Applications include trucks, industrial equipment and passenger
PURIFICATION - A laminar airflow technique used in NASA clean rooms for
contamination-free assembly of space equipment is used at tollbooths on bridges
and turnpikes to decrease the toll collector's inhalation of exhaust
SAVING TECHNOLOGY - NASA research on composite materials is used to achieve
a 30-percent weight reduction in a twin-turbine helicopter, resulting in a
substantial increase in aircraft performance.
AIRCRAFT ENGINE - Multiple NASA developed technological advancements
resulted in a cleaner, quieter, more economical commercial aircraft engine known
as the high bypass turbofan, featuring a 10-percent reduction in fuel
consumption, lower noise levels, and emission reductions of oxides of nitrogen,
carbon monoxide, and unburned hydrocarbons.
LUBRICANTS - An environmental-friendly lubricant designed to support the
Space Shuttle Mobile Launcher Platform led to the development of three
commercial lubricants for railroad track maintenance, for electric power company
corrosion prevention, and as a hydraulic fluid with an oxidation life of 10,000
STORAGE SYSTEM - The Flywheel Energy Storage system, derived from two
NASA-sponsored energy storage studies, is a chemical-free, mechanical battery
that harnesses the energy of a rapidly spinning wheel and stores it as
electricity with 50 times the capacity of a lead-acid battery, very useful for
WING DESIGN FOR CORPORATE JETS - NASA-developed computer programs resulted
in an advanced, lighter, more aerodynamically-efficient new wing for Gulfstream
TO SCHOOL BUS DESIGN - Manufacturer uses three separate NASA-developed
technologies originally developed for aviation and space use in their design and
testing of a new school bus chassis. These technologies are a structural
analysis computer program infrared stress measurement system, and a ride quality
spinoffs in this area include: Safer bridges, emission testing, airline
wheelchairs, electric car, auto
Why I do that voodoo that I do do, yabba dabba
do. No, I haven’t gone entirely looney, just a contemplative state while thinking about the process of writing.
I was talking with one of friends, Laura when the subject turned to how we write. She’s starting a Southern gothic influenced genre mystery, The Hushpuppy Murders and I am looking at the third novel in my series on Maauro, a 50,000 year old android and her friend Wrik, the disgraced military pilot.
As we teter on the precipice of launching into our newest projects I said, “Well I don’t have a plot but I’ll just start writing the pieces of the story that Maauro and Wrik tell me.” She kinda cocked her head at me and stared. “How do you do that? I just can’t write that way. I have to
know where we are going and what I want my characters to say.”
Ah, therein lies the rub. Laura’s style of linear writing is the preferred, logical and sensible method. No less an authority than Orson Scott Card, in the Boot Camp I attended, said that linear writing is the only method. You have to have each chapter near perfect before going on because your first draft is your only “live draft” he feels.
What a pity I cannot take such advice. My method for writing if method it is, is quite different as is my relationship with my characters.
For me the stories I write are movies that play out in my head. I “see” my stories. The truth be told I feel like my characters live in an alternate universe that I have occasional access to. When I have that access, I learn from them the truth of their lives. There are times when I am writing and the keys are smoking under my fingers, that I am getting the story as it hits the page, it bypasses my conscious self, comes out through my fingertips and I am reading it, learning it
at the very same instant of writing it. I feel like I am taking dictation from Maauro, Wrik, Shasti Rainhell and Robert Fenaday. The creativity is so spontaneous that there is no thinking, no planning or questioning, I am sitting there before a firehouse trying to catch up.
When in communication with my characters, it may not be linear in nature. I don’t tune in
at page 15,16,17. I may be talking to Maauro on page 1 of her adventure then tune back in at a full scene closer to the middle of the book. That’s how it comes to me, in a series of visions, not always in sequence. That never worries me because I have faith that there is a complete story
there behind the mist. I will see enough of it to start lining up the fragments that I have.
Once I see those, I will see the ones in between and more of the movie will come through. Imagine putting together a puzzle. Gradually as you work, more and more of the total picture comes into focus.
This drives several of my writing friends mad. How do you know where you are going? I don’t but I have faith there is a story and that I will see all of it the longer I spend in my charaters company.
In one scene I wrote, Maauro who is a genderless combat android with the appearance of a female Japanese anime character is in hotel room with Wrik. She has kept watch over her injured companion all night long. When Wrik awakens he teases Maauro about spending the night and indeed wearing one of his shirts to support the pretense that she is his girlfriend. Maauro
stands and lets the shirt fall off her body. That body appears to be that of slender female but with no sex, or nipples, just the female shape.
A second later she retextures her outer chassis to look like a jumpsuit. Wrik is left to wonder
if by showing him her“naked” self, she was making some point. wing him that she was so like a human female that he should consider her more of one. Or is it the opposite? Is she is showing
him that for all the depth of friendship and feeling between them, that she is too different, not a biological life form in any sense? Or was it simply the act of being who attached no importance to the momentary nakedness?
My wife, Schelly read the scene, realized the questions and asked them of me. I turned to
her and said in complete honesty, “I don’t know, Maauro won’t tell me.” I have no doubt that Maauro knows. I have no doubt that if I need to know that she will tell me. But like
any other female she has her secrets and will reveal them in her own good time.
For many of my writer friends this is anathema, their characters are their creations, they act out their directions, they reveal what they want revealed and they carry forth the plot they ae told to.
My characters practice no such obedience. In fact what developed as the primary theme of the Maauro stories, her deepening relationship with Wrik was a theme that I did not plan to explore. I
didn’t want to do a Pinocchio story, with Maauro wanting to be a ”real girl.” While it did not in fact
turn out that way, Maauro only wanted to be a more complete and developed Maauro, it ended up closer to the Pinocchio story then I ever planned. It didn’t matter what I wanted or what I intended, Maauro and Wrik had their truths and they would not be denied. I am after all telling their story, not mine.
So here is the anarchic, chaotic universe of Ed’s writing. One part skill, two parts faith. My characters are my friends and like my real friends I try to spend more time listening to them then
telling them anything.
The Intersection of Man and
Machine (reprinted from an SFWA Bulletin Article)
By Edward McKeown
The intersection of Man and Machine has yielded countless stories in the field of science fiction and fantasy. From the early days of golems and other
inanimate base matter suddenly imbued with life, to the modern tales of self-sacrificing terminators, we the living, have sought companions from
unlife. We have created in fiction and reality simulacrums of ourselves, beings of steel, silicon and synthetic flesh.
Why do we do it? Why do we explore this heartless place? Why did Mary Shelly write Frankenstein? Why did Lang’s alluring robot Maria haunt the Metropolis of the future?
Why did Asimov devote a lifetime to the tales of the man-machine interface, even coming up with laws for a science that did not then exist?
Clearly we are seeking the “other” to hold up a mirror in which we can examine ourselves and our humanity, in the hope that we can better understand our existence and our place in the
universe. We project onto our steel brothers many human traits, including the sin of Cain, from Frankenstein to HAL, to see how they struggle with these moral, ethical and existential
dilemmas. Is Gort (from the original Day the Earth Stood still, not the mindless remake) an ethical being responsible for a killing two soldiers, or is he like the assassin Oswald’s gun, a mere device and guiltless? The robots of our dreams take these situations to new heights, sometimes
showing us the better side of ourselves as they face their fates without the frailty and fear that “man most mortal and doomed to die” may show in extremis. Who can forget the Iron
Giant offering himself to destruction in an effort to save the humans of the town and thereby defining, who he was…Superman.
In the late 20th century the intersection of man and machine developed a new address at the home of the cyborg, that being born of woman who non-the-less is part machine. The cyborg is not a protagonist using technology, he is the technology.
With this breakthrough come a host of emotional, moral and social themes for the writer to play with. This seems very timely with the XXX Olympiad coming, where for the first time a discussion has been raised about whether a Para Olympian, with his prosthetic replacements is in any sense disabled. His artificial limbs do not fatigue, nor stress like mere flesh and bone. His heart, relieved of the need to pump blood to such a distance, operates more effectively. We still think of prosthetics as emergency replacements for body parts lost to disease or mischance, but for how much longer? What if our crackberry, I-pod addicted, spinnerhead children begin to look at these mechanical replacements as improvements on their healthy limbs? Maybe there should be a red-light at this part of the intersection?
Why not go even further and dispose of the whole ad-hoc, fragile and doomed human body?
Evolution is a terrible manufacturer. It just gets you to breeding age. Period. Then it's done and cares not a jot if and when you die. But we care; we want to be immortal.
How many of us would opt for life “in a can?” This theme was explored by Neil R Jones in his Professor Jameson adventures in which the brain of a dead human is resurrected by aliens, who add him to their crew of sexless, robotic adventurers as they wander the universe in search of scientific discoveries.
In a more sophisticated treatment, Shirow's anime/manga “Ghost in the Shell” introduces us to Major Motoko Kusangi, a cyborg anti-terrorist warrior. Born a human, she was “decanted” at an early age into a cyborg body after an airplane crash. Who wouldn’t want to be her? Beautiful forever, linked into every net and database either directly, through ports in her body,
or by radio frequency. What she needs to learn, she downloads. She is strong enough to bend steel and leap from building to building, no red cape though. But she is troubled. There is nothing left of her original human body but some gray matter and she is not sure she believes even that. As she says to fellow cyborg, Batou, “Have you ever seen your own brain? How do you know it is there?” She does not know if she is the original human or a copy. In that question is the critical definition of who she is: a human and a free being, or a machine and property of the
We do not believe a human becomes less human for the loss of a limb or an eye, but what of when the whole body goes. How much can you lose before you escape humanity? If “you”--
your uniqueness, your “soul” or your “ghost” or however you define it--is not resident in your body, where then does it reside? For Kusanagi the answer is found when she loses her corporeal cyborg body and exists only as conception of herself in the Internet, the sea of data in
which the modern civilization floats.
The intersection of man and machine has thus become fraught with a new level of terror. Can the mind survive the mutilation of the body and if so to what degree? There are cautionary tales
in science fiction that lead us on several forays into this heartless part of the intersection. Where some, given the life of a Kusanagi or Professor Jameson, reject it in favor of the peace of true death or are forced through grim necessity into battle again and again to save the truly living from the crucible of war. I remember one SF short, probably lost in the mists of an Ace Double, of
a soldier activated only for combat, who has so forgotten his biological origins and his past, that he does not realize that he is attacking his own homeworld. Beware the yellow light in this intersection.
At the other side of the intersection, coming our way, are the artificial intelligences. Neither sons of Adams or Daughters of Eve but most often made to look such. Is R Daneel Oliva of the
Asimov’s “Caves of Steel” a person or a device? What of Data from Star Trek or the
Cylons of Battlestar Galactica? Is consciousness something that can be made just by adding layers of complexity? At what point in the mechanical process of laying down layers of silicon does God’s finger finally transmit the divine spark that makes the Terminator noble, Robbie the Robot of the Forbidden Planet lovable, or any of the robots of our dreams into friends
and lovers? Is it even possible that we can create something out of steel and synthetic that deserves the dignity of human rights?
Perhaps we won’t even control or intend this transition. Artificial Intelligence may generate not from our intention, but spontaneously from the sheer complexity of computer nets in the future, such as the Puppeteer in Ghost in the Shell, Skynet in Terminator or in the countless other examples where we design a tool and end up with unexpected company. Our own history is pretty bloody. Even while we struggled for a recognition of the concept of universal human rights, something our Roman, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian etc, ancestors would have regarded as absurd or even immoral, we have had the greatest blood-lettings in the history of our species in our World Wars. It might be a bit much to expect that this new intelligence would be gentle,
beneficent or even aware of other “life” so unlike it.
Today these are speculation in the works of hundred of writers, including me. Tomorrow, these may be questions that demand answers.
Edward McKeown Author of the Fenaday Chronicles, the adventures of Shasti Rainhell, and of Maauro my own contribution to this question of ethical existence. You can see my conception of this ancient android who patterned herself on a game simulation (image by Michael Church) below
I also edited Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse and the upcoming Sha’Daa: Last Call and have contributed to many anthologies.
EFM Ahem over the age of consent in a youth-obsessed culture
Where are you from-
EFM originally from NYC the Big Apple.
A little about your self `ie your education Family
EFM A fascinating subject indeed ;-) I’m a writer living in Charlotte, NC
USA. I have a wide varierty of interests: I’m a black belt/sash with the Lai Tai Pung Style, a ballroom dancer (ok I am better at the kicking and punching) I’ve had a life-long love of SF and
Fantasy. I have been married to the talented artist, Schelly Keefer for the best (in every sense) part of my life.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
EFM The big news for me is the publication of my first novel Was Once A
Hero through Hellfire Publishing.
http://www.amazon.com/Was-Once-A-Hero-ebook/dp/B006UMTBY8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1326144528&sr=1-1 Kindle and Trade Paperback
Fiona: When and why did you begin
EFM I took it up seriously about ten years ago when I was inspired by
my good friend Tim McLoughlin, who wrote a book called “Heart of the Old
Country” which was made into the movie the “The Narrows.”
Knowing someone who had “made the grade” inspired me to
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a
EFM I would say when I got into the hardcover anthology Lowport by
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller for my campy SF noir story, “Lair of the Lesbian
Love Goddess,” which later grew into my most popular series.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first
EFM I love what I call the “Planet” story where a crew of diverse
people of wildly different talents and motivations are cast into the crucible of
a totally new environment. I want starships, alien cultures and worlds, and adventure but I always leaven it with a strong romantic element. It seemed that sort of book was growing uncommon. So while in my short fiction I tended toward urban fantasy or humorous SF shorts (doesn’t that sound like a form of kinky underwear?) at novel length I wanted to deal seriously with questions of
love and courage.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
EFM No, not that I am aware of. The Robert Fenaday/Shasti Rainhell books (Was Once A Hero being the first in a trilogy) are in third person past tense. The current books I am working on with
an ancient alien android named Maauro and her newfound friend, the disgraced military pilot Wrik Trigardt, are in first person past tense for Wrik and first person present for Maauro to highlight the fact that she as an essentially deathless AI does not experience time the same way.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
EFM I wanted to touch on the fact that a man or being can be a Hero in one instance
and something very different in another. Courage is a mutable quality
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
EFM Too many characters in science-fiction are too heroic, too unafraid, and too matter-of-fact about danger. Those of us who have faced danger and triumphed over it usually did it either with our hearts in our mouths, fighting to overcome fear, or it was over so fast that we didn’t have time for panic. There are surely people of steely nerves and endless reserves of courage (check your local Seal Team) but they are not common. Most of us struggle to find courage and apply it.
So I decided that my character would be a man, drawn from a more ordinary life, no Captain Kirk, no Captain Sheridan, but someone more like one of us.
Another them was the potential for violence in the best of men. This came out of knowing some World War II vets, genial men, all heroes in my eyes, many who seemed like they would not harm a fly. Yet these were the amtrac gunners at Tarawa, the crew in the B-17 from the mighty Eighth, the marine crouching in the darkness at the edge of Henderson Field when the banzai charges came in. That geniality masked the fact that we ordinary men are capable of deeds that scar the soul. However gentle and kind we are to friends and family, in the right situation we can be the
instruments of immense destruction. So this would be a theme that I would explore in my book.
There times in the trilogy that you will feel very ambivalent about Robert and or Shasti. You should, they themselves do.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
EFM I try to have an underlying verity in all that I do. Obviously not being a combat veteran or an astronaut, there is a limit to that. But as a martial artist, I worked out most of the fights that in my books by having my class attack me in the same manner.
Fear on the other hand is as well known to me as to any man. I have had a gun pulled on me and been shot at in that disinterested fashion people are shot at in NYC (i.e crazy person shooting at something else in the area.) I captured a mugger, ok it was a small one, and the police threw it back a few days later but heck I pinned him in a doorway until the cops came. I’ve lost friends and acquaintances to violence.
In the second Fenaday book he is parajumping. I used my own parajumps for the sensations; the watery feeling in the gut before, the snapping of the chute and the sudden jerk of the harness. How it felt to jump into the dark. Ditto for flying belted onto the floor of a helicopter at treetop height or in a hang-glider.
In the love story, well I have both won and lost in love, been elated and uncertain and all that is used.
Regarding the science: I am not a scientist though I know several. I take the minimum liberties with science that I must. My starships have hyperdrive and AG, but once they get from star to star, they drive around a solar system by throwing reaction mass out the rear of their atomic engines in Einsteinien space. Weapons similarly are extrapolations of current ones but with less emphasis on energy weapons. It will always be cheaper to accelerate a piece of something whether by expanding gas or or electromagnetism, through an enemy than to disintergate
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
EFM Only in as much as loneliness, loss, love, fear and triumph are part of all of our lives.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
EFM Wow hard one. The works of Andre Norton started me on this path and I retain my love of these tales of otherworld. The characters are usually the loner, the uncertain young person facing a hostile world, these spoke to me clearly in my childhood.
I would cite Star Gate, The Stars our Ours and the Zero Stone as big influences. C J Cherryh with her Morgaine series introduced me to a serious minded and strong heroine who did not
have to outmuscle the boys to outplay them. No one does aliens better than Niven in
his Known Space Work. In Fantasy the Lord of the Rings vied with the Robert Howard Conan works for supremacy. I have a copy of Jack Sutton’s the Beyond that was one of the first books I felt a powerful connection to.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
EFM I have been helped a great deal by a number of people:
Orson Scott Card with his bootcamp class, Mike Resnick as generous a
grandmaster as lives, Catherine Asaro who is proof brains and beauty can travel
together and C J Cherryh an occasional correspondent who has offered
encouragement at opportune times and Janet Morris who wrote an introduction for
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
EFM Actually for a break I am reading one of Kathy Reichs, “Bones”
series I try to very my reading out of the genre but rarely read other
fiction. I am a history buff because the weird stuff that real people do is more interesting. Ins’t that true, General Custer?
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
EFM This is something I am kind of grappling with, most of the authors I know or read are older and I am looking for some new ones to follow, yet
Steampunk does not appeal to me and it seems like there are about 300
leather-clad, bare-midriffed hot girls boffing vampires while dating werewolves
or vice-versa. I even satirized that trend in the second Sha’daa anthology Last Call that I wrote in the piece “I Kill Zombies” with the character of Raven Blackstone. http://www.amazon.com/Shadaa-Last-Call-Michael-Hanson/dp/1936021307/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_10
I would love some recommendations to keep me in touch with the current
New Wave. I am finding a lot of
the game tie in SF and Fantasy just… without flavor.
So who do YOU like?
Fiona: What are your current
EFM I am writing the second Maauro novel, looking at a Shasti Rainhell
novel (she’s the gorgeous girl with the muscles on the cover of Was Once a Hero)
and some more short stories based on my recent trip to Europe.
The first one of these“Death in Venice” is being offered for sale
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
EFM The Brinkers Writing Group: Laura Jean Stroupe, Kim
Wright (Love in Mid- Air) Paul Barrett (my own discovery who I have put in two
anthologies) Leigh Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Mark Kust, Shontelle MaQueen all fine
writers in their own rights who make me a hell of a lot better than I would ever
have been on my own
Otherise it has to be
Hellfire Publishing, Keira Kroft aka Dawn Binkley who is running with the
Fenaday Trilogy, a wonderful and encouraging lady with a boundless source of
energy and enthusiasm.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I do but as a means of making a living it is like acting, for every one
person making a living at it, 100 have day jobs and write on the weekend or
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
EFM Like every writer you always want to improve something but as with cooking, you have to stop before you ruin the dish by destroying its spontanaeity or you never get to the next
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
EFM I think like many it was a moment of ego reading a book, putting it down and saying, “Heck , I can write better than that!” You mercifully don’t find out right away that you were wrong by then you may have developed some skills.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
EFM How about an excerpt from Was Once A Hero to whet your appetite?
“There’s Gigor,” Fenaday said. The sun cleared the horizon and its rays lit the tops of trees and buildings, leaving the field still cloaked in purple shadow. He heard Shasti’s seat creak as she leaned forward to look beyond the backrest of his seat. Fenaday put the Wildcat in a slow circle at a height of four hundred meters.
Shasti and he looked out at the devastated base. Gigor base extended for tens of kilometers.
The beige and yellow Enshari buildings in the distance had the squat and unlovely utilitarian look favored by governments. Beyond them, toward the city proper lay the domes and half-domes
preferred by the Enshari. Shattered glass in those buildings splintered and threw back the
“Looks worse than it did from orbit,” she said.
“Yeah,” Fenaday said.
“No question that the base was attacked. By what I can’t imagine, the pattern of destruction doesn’t resemble that from an airburst nuclear weapon. Nothing else I know of—not even a mass driver—creates destruction like this.”
“Only a few military spaceships were based at Gigor,” Shasti said. “Most Navy traffic used the port at the capital city of Barjan.”
Fenaday pointed. “There’s the Navy area. It’s completely destroyed.” They had seen all this from orbit, but it lacked the effect of viewing it with their own eyes.
“Notice something?” asked Shasti.
“Yeah,” Fenaday replied. “Those shuttles on the apron look like they were cut down by a laser fired from ground level. See that neat slice on the metal of that green and white hospital
shuttle? It’s cut almost in half. Whatever it was started striking the ground at a low angle, bubbling the apron.”
“Energy weapons don’t work that way,” Shasti said. “Why use massive quantities of power to cut metal when a kinetic weapon does it cheaper and faster? Lasers are for burning flesh, starting fires and damaging sensitive
“These are a few of your favorite things,” Fenaday murmured.
Shasti ignored the comment, “Well, this isn’t Conchirri work. If they had energy weapons like this, we would all be dinner.”
Fenaday brought the Wildcat to a hover near the edge of the apron close to the barracks. The sun had risen enough to light the field. A brilliant, dark-blue ground cover, reminiscent of pansies, dotted some of the nearby tarmac.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said tightly. “Are you ready, Shasti?”
“Locked and loaded,” she said, putting her tri-auto in her lap.
“Telisan, this is Fenaday. I’m going in. Keep circling. If anything happens, run for it. That is an
“Of course,” replied Telisan. The Denlenn’s easy answer made Fenaday suspect Telisan was simply humoring him.
Sidhe, we are landing.”
The fighter landed smoothly, blowing dust and debris away from the Wildcat. Fenaday throttled back the engines, but didn’t cut them off. He kept the HOTAS stick, which controlled thrust and weapons, in his right hand. Fenaday looked to starboard, Shasti to port. The fighter’s swivel-mounted guns followed the motion of his eyes. The Confed shuttles from the first expedition landed only sixty-three seconds before being overwhelmed by whatever killed their crews.
Fenaday didn’t look at the clock. He scanned every shadow, dreading the sight of a dust cloud similar to the one that enveloped the Confederate shuttles three years ago.
Telisan circled above, equally vigilant.
From Perez’ station aboard Sidhe, the engineer announced, “Thirty seconds.”
Fenaday kept his eyes on the ground. His heart pounded and his mouth felt dry. “Nothing in
sight,” he reported. To his own surprise, his voice sounded calm.
“All clear here,” Shasti said. She didn’t even have the grace to sound concerned.
“Same,” Telisan reported. “Nothing on motion sensors.”
For an instant, Fenaday thought about saying something to Shasti, something about the night before. He snapped a quick glance into the one of the mirrors. She stared out the canopy, catlike, intent, totally focused on here and now.
He returned his attention to the field.
Fenaday held his breath, his finger on
“Seventy seconds, Captain. Congratulations on a new world record.”
The breath left his body in a whoosh.
“Okay,” he said, voice shaking slightly. “I’m heading into overheat, initiating engine shutdown.
“Telisan, keep circling. Perez, start the shuttles down. Tell Karass he is to abort if at any
time we lose contact before landing.”
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
EFM Plot. I can find characters to fill an auditorium and can write reams of dialogue.
Finding a strong and viable plot for them to inhabit is where the heavy lifting comes in.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your
EFM Not so far but it is early days yet. I plan to do Concarolinas
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
EFM I have a friend who is a glamor photographer, Michael Church, occasionally I tear him away from photographing beautiful women and he does a cover for me. I will include a
couple below. Michael can find a good angle on anyone and is interested in doing more covers and I cannot recommend him highly enough. http://www.michaelchurch.com
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
None of writing the book was hard, critiquing is slightly more difficult, marketing it is where suffering comes in.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
EFM I learned that when you really love doing something, it’s not work. I actually do not feel well
if I go for too long without writing. I hope it always stays that way.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
The difference between the pro and the amateur is that amateur gave up. You have
to have the hide of a rhino to do this and you have to write. Don’t try to
produce perfect work or you will never produce anything. Line up words and get
moving. But the best advice I got was from Orson Scott Card and it’s a mistake a
lot of us make early on. We go for the action, the big bang. It’s more important
to make us CARE about people and what is happening. Otherwise the big bang means
little if all it is doing is taking out faceless stormtroopers or other “red
shirts” (Star Trek geek reference). If I care what is going on and to whom it is
happening, a paper cut can have the significance of an atom bomb
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
EFM Yes, thanks. It is an astonishing experience to become part of other people’s lives in this
way. If anything I write ever encourages you, eases a heartache, or makes you feel less alone, well then it was all worth it.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done ?
EFM A full time martial arts instructor, I discovered the art as an adult.
Had I found it as a child I think it would have made a huge difference to
my life not that I am unhappy at all about how it has gone.
Roads not travelled always beckon but who knows where they
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
See you around
On Characters- Authors take very different approaches to writing characters. I have friends who are excellent authors, but who control their characters like puppetmasters. The characters perform the plot as they are directed to do. My writing is full of surprises and I love it that way.
Writing is an intensely visual experience for me. My stories play in my head with a nearly cinematic quality. I see the people places and events. They do not always come in sequence but I have faith that there is a complete story and if I continue to pay attention I’ll eventually see all of their story, write it down and it will make sense.
The big surprise for me was how much of collaboration it is between my characters and me.
In writing Was Once a Hero I had Shasti Rainhell, who was originally only a device, a way of keeping my everyman, Robert Fenaday, alive as he descended into the world of privateering to search for his missing wife. Shasti, genetically engineered, and more than humanly powerful, was not content with her role. She started telling me about her abusive past, about why she was
fascinated with Robert’s love for Lisa and his unreasonable search. I learned that as Robert was searching for Lisa, that Shasti was searching for her humanity. What started out as an adventure story developed a complex romantic underpinning.
This new character arc became almost as strong as the original main arc as Robert and Shasti followed their paths and eventually intertwined in their own affair. I preplanned none of this but it lead to the Fenaday trilogy and a standalone Shasti Rainhell book.
I found this to be even more the case in the present series I’m writing. Maauro is a 50,000 year old android made by a vanished species for a genocidal war. She is found on an asteroid base by Wrik Trigardt, a disgraced military pilot, on an expedition that turns out to be the cover for the both the government and the Thieves Guild.
This was originally a very gritty monster story without Maauro, and with an Alien-style creature. My writing group hated the story. I reached into my fascination with anime and came up with a character of the deadly but oddly gentle, Maauro. Originally she had a corpse-like look then repatterned herself on a game simulation to an anime appearance after capturing Wrik.
Maauro spoke to me in first person present tense, while Wrik spoke in first person past. I wondered why this was. Eventually l I realized Maauro, who had perfect recall of her past, and
did not look forward (being essentially immune to time) to the future, “lived” entirely in the now. Note however that I did not determine her voice. She did. I just had faith there was a reason.
I had no intention of doing what I call a Pinocchio story, where in the robot character, ala Data from Star Trek and so many others, wanted to become a “real boy.” But Maauro had other ideas. She did not want to become a “real girl” but as a machine made for a war that ended ages ago, she wanted to become more herself. Even her gender was an assumption, a choice.
Maauro preferred the more complicated existence of a female consciousness. She decided that
she wanted to explore emotionality and relationships; for all that hers are cooler than ours as they are not rooted in sex and death.
So I ended up with a girl robot, who acts more like a girl the longer she functions and frankly the trip has been richer for my listening to her
Who says you can't combine your hobbies? Ballroom dance and martial arts. Anyway here I am testing out the new blog on my new webpage. It doesn't list everything that I have ever done like the SFWA and SF readers ones but I can update it myself and I have the more relevant stuff on it. I have tried to max out the freebies so people can have some fun and get to know me a bit. More to come as I figure it all out. Look for me on Amazon with The Robert Fenaday trilogy (Was Once a Hero) the little prequel Regrets and Requiems, The Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess Detective Series and a whole bunch of other things coming down the pike.
Author Edward McKeown is a writer and editor