Families in Science Fiction

At Powered by Robots, James Pyles asks “Where Are the Families in Science Fiction?”

I’m curious. Of the science fiction and fantasy you read, have you seen any family life shows in a positive way, especially in more recent publications?

I haven’t seen much in recent science fiction, because I haven’t been reading much science fiction recently. My reading priorities lately trend to the Classics and other nonfiction.

However, when we started out writing what became “In the Shadow of Ares”, this was one of the elements that we noticed was missing from a lot of SF at the time. We wanted to write a young adult novel that avoided the cliches of that genre and SF itself. So, we created a main character who was human, who made mistakes, and who wasn’t some sort of infallibly smart and precociously wise Secret Chosen One destined for greatness, and we set her in a family with parents who made some pretty risky sacrifices to make a go of it. We explicitly avoided making her an orphan, or situating her on her own in some manner like many of Heinlein’s juveniles’ protagonists (stowaways, runaways, castaways, and kidnappees). Too, families fit with the overall nature of the fictional universe, in which Mars is just starting to be settled – one character observes (perhaps only in draft) that if you’re not having babies, it’s a base and not a settlement…you’re not really committed to stay and build a new world.

In “ItSoA”, Amber’s positive relationship with her parents (especially her father) is a key element, while in the sequel, “Ghosts of Tharsis”, her close relationship with her mother is explored. In both books, the issue of children and families on Mars is an important theme, and this theme reappears in “Redlands” and (indirectly) in “He Has Walled Me In”. In “Pipeline” (unpublished), Thoreson’s children are entrusted with his business empire on Earth when he emigrates to Mars with his grandchildren to run the project. Also in “Ghosts of Tharsis”, every protagonist is shown in the context of family: Amber, Marek’s children, Ethan and his parents, Ezekiel and his brothers, even some tag characters. The only story we’ve published so far without a positive family element in it is “Anatomy of a Disaster”, which is appropriate given the story is a farce inspired by the Piper Alpha disaster. Even our non-Ares Project story, “Silent Stalker”, involved the positive portrayal of two families.

The funny thing about it, though, is that while we chose consciously at the beginning to include positive portrayals of family, it’s played out naturally in the creation of characters and situations. For example the “Baby Taboo”, once conceived (no pun intended), took on a life of its own in the fictional universe and suggested different but always opposed reactions from different characters – everyone hates the taboo, and you never see anyone but the villains truly supporting it. At the beginning of “Ghosts of Tharsis”, when the MDA relents and allows a small number of children 13 and older to emigrate, that not only brings Amber some kids her own age to associate with but necessitates exploring the family backgrounds of those new arrivals to explain how and why they ended up on Mars.

Apart from that initial decision, though, it’s not something that we’ve shoehorned in, and is not presented in a treacly or sentimental way. It just followed naturally as we drew on our own experiences and those of families around us.

Perhaps that’s the real problem: those authors who cannot or will not write positively about something as commonplace and essential as families are themselves broken children from broken homes. Like the majority of modern culture creators, their creative priority is the non-stop masturbatory airing of their childhood resentments – they hate their fathers so much that they write them out of the future.

Safe but Boring: SpaceX Landing Sites

SpaceX appears to have narrowed its potential Mars landing sites to four. Unfortunately for purposes of scenic interest, they’re all pretty smooth and safe.

Which is perfectly understandable, but nonetheless a little disappointing. I guess the landings near Valles Marineris and Olympus will have to wait a bit.

SpaceX narrows Mars landing site for Starship to four prime locations

“Redlands” On Sale

For a short time, we’ve reduced the price on “Redlands” to only $0.99.

It’s hard to believe that this story takes place only 26 years from now. That would make Silas Hudson around ten years old today, and Susannah Caillouet around three.

When worlds-famous science popularizer Silas Hudson and his partner are brutally killed while visiting an isolated settlement on Mars, settlers take justice into their own hands. The justice they seek carries a greater danger than murder, however, and their actions threaten to conceal another crime with far-reaching consequences.

In this Dispatch, freelance journalist Calvin Lake investigates the truth behind the events of March 2047, and their long-term consequences for Mars.

Helluva Ride

I had the same reaction to this that I had when LM started putting cameras on the Shuttle External Tanks: “Why haven’t they been doing this cool thing all along?”

The departure of the heatshield was especially fun, as it’s exactly how I imagined the corresponding event in the prologue to “In the Shadow of Ares” (minus the unfortunate burn-through, obviously).

The rover’s first 360 pano is also out:

Note the similarity…
Day 14
Day 14
Mars on Earth

2020 Reading List

A probably-incomplete list of books and short stories I read in 2020. I’d have expected a longer list, given COVID lockdowns, but then I’ve also been working a lot more than usual over the past several months. Most of the fiction was re-reads, as I haven’t seen much lately that appeals to me. There are also several books not listed that I grew bored with and gave up on – something I normally don’t do, but in each case the reading was a slog and was keeping me from reading something more interesting and useful.

  • “Endurance”
  • “Alone on the Ice”
  • “Persuasion”
  • Giants Series: “Inherit the Stars”
  • Giants Series: “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede”
  • Giants Series: “Giants’ Star”
  • Frank Herbert, “Dune”
  • Walter Tevis, “Mockingbird”
  • Isaac Asimov, “Foundation”
  • Niven and Pournelle, “The Mote in God’s Eye”
  • H.P. Lovecraft, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”
  • H.G. Wells, “Anticipations”
  • Herodotus, “The Histories”
  • Lawrence A. Rubin, “Bridging the Straits”
  • “There Will Be War”, vol. 5
  • “There Will Be War”, vol. 7
  • “20 Master Plots and How to Build Them”
  • Nassim Taleb, “Antifragile”
  • “How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk”
  • “Miss Manners Minds Your Business”
  • Harvard Classics: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”
  • Harvard Classics: “Journal of John Woolman”
  • Harvard Classics: “William Penn: Fruits of Solitude”
  • Harvard Classics: Plato’s “The Apology,” “Crito,”  “Phaedo”
  • Dumitru Bacu, “The Anti-Humans”
  • Clark Ashton Smith, “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros”
  • “Collected Works of Robert E. Howard”, vol. 4:21
  • Balmer and Wylie, “When Worlds Collide”/”After Worlds Collide”

Redlands

Lockdown has enabled us to put the finishing touches on the next Calvin Lake Dispatch: RedlandsI’m currently finishing preparations for publishing, so you can expect to see it available by Wednesday.

 

Redlands is a murder mystery in the form of a journalistic investigation into the deaths of beloved science popularizer Silas Hudson and his producer Carrie Altenham on March 5, 2047.  

 

When famed science presenter Silas Hudson and his companion are brutally murdered while visiting Redlands, an isolated settlement on Mars, settlers take the law into their own hands. The justice they seek carries greater danger than the crime, however, and their actions threaten to conceal another crime with far-reaching consequences.

Cover Art: "Redlands"
A double murder threatens the social cohesion of a remote Martian settlement, and in the process exposes a troubling secret.

It’s a pity about Hudson, though. The more we wrote about him, the more unfortunate it was that we had to kill him.

Silas Hudson on Utopias

From New Harmony to Ariadaeus Dome, utopias have been built on philosophical foundations by rational minds brandishing simple solutions to the eternal problems of human societies. The problem each has faced is that those eternal problems are the result of real people living in the real world and dealing with real circumstances.

Utopias fail not only because their philosophies are unrealistic or the rationality is unreasonable, but because they invariably deny the nature of the human material they have to work with. But we are human. Wherever we go, for good or ill, we take our humanity with us. How could it be otherwise?

Silas Hudson, Mars Ep. 1, “The Romance of New Horizons”

(Sometimes, I think Silas Hudson should set up a Twitter or Gab feed.)

Life Imitates Art: The Mars Rovers of Iceland

On my next to last day in Iceland, I drove the Kaldidalur route from Reykholt to Thingvellir, passing en route the Langjokull ice cap. Much to my surprise, there was a modestly-marked turnoff that led not merely close to the ice but out onto it (just left of the prominent hill in the center of the image): 

Between Iceland and Norway, I’ve been up close to a dozen or so glaciers but have only ever seen ice caps from a distance. I always pictured them as being bounded by ridges or mountains where they didn’t squeeze out through passes as outlet glaciers, and didn’t anticipate that the margin of the ice would simply taper off to nothing. Just look at this – is this what you would have expected? That such a huge mass of ice would just kinda…end?

I took some pictures and made some notes and filed it all away for when we eventually send characters to the North Cap. Expect to encounter this scene with a red tint at some point.

Another surprise, and the point of this post, was the tour vehicles used by Into the Glacier to ferry people to a man-made ice cave further out on the ice cap.

A little research turned up that they were custom made from MAN 8×8 military chassis by a British company, Army-UK. The things were huge – the pictures don’t convey just how large they seemed up close (but note the Ford Explorer for some sense of scale). I couldn’t see how many seats there were in the front cab, but it looked wide enough to seat four abreast. Army-UK gives a maximum cabin capacity of 38 passengers, which would work out to ten two-by-two rows (minus two seats for the entrance door and steps).

This one was even larger than the one above:

While these aren’t exactly how we pictured the rovers in the Ares Project universe (at least not the rovers sent to Mars as part of the titular Ares Project, which we describe as having cylindrical bodies with a single large front transparency akin to the submersibles from The Abyss), they are great analogues against which one can imagine what other sorts of rovers might look like. In particular, the rovers used by the ill-fated British Trans-Marineris Expedition of 2050…oh, wait, we haven’t talked about that story yet, have we…

 

 

 

 

Accidental Hiatus

Yes, we need to get back to blogging here. But you know how it is, sometimes other priorities intervene.

Anyway, getting back to writing, we’re (still) finishing up the crime story Dispatch we’ve been working on for a while. We’ve spent the past two weekends restructuring a portion of it to address a draggy sequence that was proving impossible to edit into shape. It’s turning out nicely, with a much more consistently-paced escalation of events following the titular crime.

Meanwhile, Act I of the second Amber Jacobsen book, Ghosts of Tharsis, is complete but for some fact checking on orbital mechanics, Act II is written but for a few additional thematic elements and some additional action, and Act III is written but (frankly) the denouement is still a dog’s breakfast.

I spent most of July in Iceland, which half-expectedly turned into a “location scouting” trip for writing purposes. Drove Kaldidalur, Kjolur, and about half of Sprengisandur, each of which crosses a number of Mars-like landscapes. Also drove the segment of the Ring Road between Egilstadir and Jokulsargljufur that I bypassed in 2010, an area that looked like the Moon and Mordor had a landscape love-child. Once I finish processing the photos, I may do a photo essay on the especially Martian landscapes I encountered.