I have many “milestone” stories. “Today I Am Paul” (originally in Clarkesworld) brought me to the attention of many new readers. “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was my first story in Year’s Best Science Fiction. “Not Close Enough” was my first story in Analog. “Il Gran Cavallo” was my first Galaxy’s Edge story. “Unrefined” was my Writers of the Future winner. “The Mother Anthony” was my first Writers of the Future entry, and my first Finalist. “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” (Digital Science Fiction) was my first pro sale anywhere.
But “Scramble”… “Scramble” was my first. My first story since I resumed writing after giving up for far too many years. My first where I DIDN’T give up after a rejection. (And oh, did it get rejections!) My first Blue Collar Space story.
And my SECOND place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Ah, well…
But wait! The FIRST place winner, Richard Johnson, couldn’t make the trip from Australia to the International Space Development Conference to accept his prize. So he asked if I could attend in his place and read his speech.
I’ve lost track, but at this point I figure I owe Rich at least a keg of beer for that. And the tab keeps going up.
Because at that year’s ISDC, waiting to give Rich’s speech, I had lunch with Buzz Aldrin. BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!! I didn’t get much chance to speak to him (other than when he corrected Rich’s math in the speech), but… BUZZ FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!
And oh, yeah, William Ledbetter, the contest administrator and coordinating judge. I’d known Bill casually from Writers of the Future circles, but this was my first chance to get to know a man whom I know consider a friend and a brother, a kindred writing spirit. And I also got to meet Baen editor and judge Tony Daniel, another new friend, along with his wife and children. AND we dined with and had drinks with one of my childhood inspirations, Ben Bova, along with his then fiancée/now wife. That was a wonderful, whirlwind weekend.
But there’s more! The ISDC is more than a lunch, of course, it’s a conference. I sat in on many sessions, taking lots of notes. And knowing that Buzz (FREAKIN’ ALDRIN!!!!!) was there, I had to sit in on one of his talks. He was talking about his plan for exploring Mars. Much of the plan revolves around Cycler ships that travel back and forth between Earth and Mars using primarily orbital mechanics, with very little fuel required. The idea fascinated me, and I wrote exactly one story note during that talk: “Something aboard a Mars cycler.”
That’s all. Five little words. Hardly a story.
But a couple months later, in the shower, I started planning that story – which became “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. Which sold to Analog on the first try. And then Gardner Dozois selected it for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty First Annual Edition.
And then my Brainmate Tina Smith convinced me that these characters were good, and they needed more stories. And so I wrote more. And Analog bought more. And Analog readers liked them. They selected “Racing to Mars” as the best Analog novelette for 2015.
All tracing back, through one path or another, to “Scramble”… the story that STILL hadn’t sold.
Until late 2015. Michael Wills contacted me to inform me that he was relaunching Digital Science Fiction, and he wondered if I had something original with which he could reintroduce the line. Since Digital had already printed “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” and “Father-Daughter Outing”, I thought “Scramble” was a natural choice. Michael agreed, and I was very proud when this story was published at last.
And now… Bill had been hinting for a couple of years now that Baen Books was considering a ten-year anniversary book for the Jim Baen Memorial Contest. The plans bounced back and forth. Of course they wanted the first place winners (where possible), but they might have room for some second and third place stories as well. They wouldn’t know for a while. There were a lot of decisions to make.
Well, they’ve decided. This is the cover. (by Bob Eggleton, no less!) The book will come out this fall. Looking at that cover, I’m so thrilled at how many friends are in there (plus those not on the cover but whom I know are in there), all with stories about the inspiring, visionary future of humanity in space. And I’m proud beyond words that “Scramble” will be one of those stories.
Welcome home, “Scramble”.