Thinking Thursday is supposed to be about random thoughts; but after nearly four hours of commuting today, my only thought is: I hate snow!
So instead of searching for a topic, I’m going to share a recipe I just discussed with my friend Tom Lavey of L&M Precision Machine Inc., makers of high-quality LRTs (Little Round Things). Here’s a Mexican-inspired variation on a traditional Irish dish…
1/2 lb. Chorizo (or substitute 1/2 lb. ground beef with taco seasoning if Chorizo is unavailable)
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can refried beans, drained and whipped
1 large can black beans, drained
1 ½ lbs. mashed potatoes, whipped
1/4 cup shredded Mexican style 4 cheese mix
Chili powder to taste
1. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, and then whip them. You don’t want lumps, and you want them smooth enough to spread.
2. Whip the refried beans as well. Again, you want them smooth enough to spread.
3. Drain the corn, black beans, and tomatoes. Dice the tomatoes.
4. Depending on the brand, the Chorizo may be in a tube or a square. Break it into small, loose bits.
5. Brown the Chorizo over medium heat in a skillet.
6. Start the oven preheating to 400 degrees F.
7. Reduce the heat under the chorizo to simmer and mix in the corn, tomatoes, and black beans. Add chili powder to taste. Stir in thoroughly and continue to simmer until the oven is preheated.
8. Pour the Chorizo and vegetable mix into a large glass baking dish and spread evenly in the bottom.
9. Using a fork, scoop the refried beans on top of the chorizo and vegetables and spread out into a layer, being careful not to mix into the layer below.
10. Again using a fork, scoop the mashed potatoess on top of the refried beans and spread out into a layer, being careful not to mix into the layer below.
11. Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with chili powder to taste.
12. Sprinkle the Mexican style 4 cheese mix across the top of the potatoes.
13. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top of the potatoes is lightly browned.
…Millie turns back to the pond. “Oh, please, Carey, take pictures. I want to show Mom and Dad.” Many kids Millie’s age have wrist comps they can use as phones and cameras and music players and games. Millie has shown little interest in those. She has me and I can make calls and I can take videos. I have no immediate need of this video data, so I open a Cloud connection to stream the video directly to storage.
Today I am Brad. I do not know why I am on my knees. That is not a natural position for Brad. So I stand, darken my silicone skin, and square my shoulders to stand tall. As Brad, I have cleaning to do. So I start walking towards the closet…
“Carey!” Millie squeals.
I look down. I am standing in the tadpole pond and wondering who is Brad and why was I him.
“I am sorry Millie,” I say. “I do not know –” I stop. I do not know what happened to me and I worry that I may be a risk to Millie. I stare around at the rushing stream on one side and the deeper main channel on the other side. I see storm clouds upstream, and I worry: can I get Millie home safely if something within me is malfunctioning?
“That’s okay, Carey,” she says. “Did you get the video? Did you get a picture at least?”
I check my Cloud storage.
Today I am Frances. Dr. Zinta is testing my emulation net. As Frances, I have simple tests to perform in the functional testing lab. Picking up the dropped objects, sorting them into their proper locations. I look around. “Now where did I drop those tadpoles?” I say. “All I see are frogs.” Dr. Zinta stares at me oddly. Somehow I know that this is odd for her even though I’m still learning her emulation profile.
“Dr. Zinta,” I say, “I think something is wrong.” She looks at me. “Dr. Zinta?”
Once more I’m standing in the water. I back carefully out. “Millie, I think something is wrong,” I say. “I’m going to call your father.” I open a phone channel.
“G9A27, why did you call me Dr. Zinta?”
“Is that not your name?” I say.
Dr. Zinta plugs a diagnostic scanner into my chassis. “It is, but you always call me Dr. Jansons.”
I puzzle over that. Finally I answer, “I find that in casual conversation humans are more comfortable with given names.”
“G9A27,” Dr. Zinta says. “I’m afraid there’s something wrong.”
“I am afraid there is something wrong,” I say to Millie. “I think we should get home now.”
“But Carey, we just got here.”
“I am sorry, Millie but, this is a matter of safety. I must insist.”
I put my foot down, literally, emphasizing my insistence. “Millie, we can come back when I’m functioning properly. We must get home right away.”
She looks up at me, and her eyes grow more intent. “Are you all right, Carey?”
I cannot lie to her. “I am functional but I will need maintenance.” Then I look at the rocks across the ford. “But I am still sufficiently in control of myself to carry you across the court. I think we need to hurry.”
“All right.” She lifts her arms and I pick her up and start across the rocks.
We are on the largest rock when lightning flashes far upstream and the roll of thunder hits us. My emergency weather radio kicks in, and –
Today I am Brad. I still have cleaning to do. I do not know what I am carrying but I sent it down so I can go fetch the broom. I turn and head for the closet; and suddenly somehow I’ve fallen through the floor and into rushing water all around me. Somewhere I hear a child screaming, but I see none when I look around. I see no water either, but my tactile senses tell me I am bobbing, tossed about by rushing water. My metal ceramic frame and my silicone sponge body are buoyant enough for the water to carry me along, farther away from the fading screams, the source of which I still cannot see.
“Again,” says the voice in my radio receiver, “possible flood conditions. Residents are urged to stay out of the floodplain.” Somehow I am in the stream, at least 10 meters downstream from Millie as she stands on the large rock, screaming at me. I am bobbing up and down in the water, being carried away; and then I bump into something. I have hit a branch sticking out from a submerged log. I grab it and I hold on to try to keep myself from getting washed even further away.
“Carey,” Millie screams. “What’s wrong?”
I wish I knew what is wrong. There are gaps in my data record. Accessing those gaps, I see that I was asleep during those periods. Just an ordinary, unaware medical care android. Each period of unconsciousness corresponds to a message to or from an external data feed. Somehow external feeds are interfering with my operations.
Yet strangely, I have memories from those sleeping periods. Memories from the MCA test labs. Current memories: the time signature is today, within the last few minutes. I need Dr. Zinta to explain; but first I need to get Millie to safety before the waters rise.
No, the reason why I recommend Digital SF and the whole Digital family is a two-word answer: Michael Wills.
Michael is the publisher, and he has a strong sense of personal and business ethics. His contracts are some of the most author-friendly that I have seen. (In fact, he had three pro authors help draft them.) But most important… When he started Digital, it was a pro-paying original market (a series of anthologies, essentially a magazine). He made his wife a promise: he would give the magazine a fair shot, but it had to be self-supporting. He would pay for it from internet ads and from sales of the anthology, but not a dime would come from the family budget. Before he would let that happen, he would shut it down.
And when the time came that it wasn’t self-supporting, that’s exactly what he did: he shut it down. He paid all creditors. He returned all rights for all stories he had “bought” but not yet published. He closed it down owing nothing to anyone, and keeping his promise to his wife. Digital survived, selling back issues and a few small novel projects, but the magazine was gone. He handled the whole thing honorably, and I never hesitated to tell people: Digital was my first pro sale, and Michael is a good man.
Then a little over a year ago, things changed, and Michael came up with a new business model to revive Digital Science Fiction: reprints only, published as online shorts, then collected into anthologies. It seems to be going better. Digital has been producing a lot of works.
But, oh, reprint only except for one thing: Michael went back to every one of the authors who had sold him stories that he had had to return and said, “If first rights for that story are still available, I would still like to pay you and print it.” He didn’t have to do that, but it was the honorable thing to do. These authors went through a sadly common experience: the thrill of selling a story, then the disappointment of the market closing before the check arrived and the story appeared. It’s a sad thing, but it happens. Only this time, Michael made it up to them.
So that’s three different actions that convinced me that Michael Wills is an honorable publisher: the author-friendly contracts, the promise kept to his wife, and going back to buy the stories he hadn’t been able to buy before. I trust this man, and I recommend this market.
Oh, and if he happens to reopen for originals, I’ll add three more words to my reasons to submit to Digital: Christine Clukey Reece, who edited the original anthologies, and who I hope will edit future original works for Digital. She was my first pro editor, and I didn’t know what to expect. She suggested only five changes: a couple of paragraph breaks added, a break removed, and a couple of word changes. And every single one of her changes made my protagonist’s voice sound more like the voice in my head. She picked up on what I was trying to do, and she found the places where I had failed to do it. Christine kinda spoiled me for future editors, and I will happily work with her in the future if I get the chance.
I need to do more blogging. I really do. It’s good mental exercise, and it’s also a good way to connect with people.
But blogging for me is hit and miss (and miss, and miss, and miss…). I’ll have nothing to blog about, so I’ll skip a day. And then another. And then…
So I’m going to try something different. I’ll post general news and such when it comes up, but I’m also going to try for The Daily Blog, a rotating set of blog topics. These will be writing prompts to give me something to write about even if nothing else comes up.
So here’s the schedule for The Daily Blog:
Science Sunday. Science news and how it might be useful in a story.
Market Monday. A look at different markets for fiction and non-fiction.
Talking Tuesday. I do a lot of story dictation. I get a lot of questions about it. Here’s my chance to answer some of them.
Work-in-Progress Wednesday. A discussion about whatever I’m currently writing.
Thinking Thursday. Random thoughts.
Friend Friday. A chance to talk about the work of my friends.
Story Saturday. A discussion about whatever I’m currently reading, watching, listening to, or playing.
Can I keep to this schedule? Probably not. But it gives me a goal to shoot for.
HUTCHINSON—08/12/2016—A group of Science Fiction authors will take a break from the World Science Fiction Convention meeting in Kansas City next week to travel to the Cosmosphere for a book signing and tour on Tuesday, August 16th.
Trip organizer and author Martin L. Shoemaker said he has been eager to get the group to the Cosmosphere.
“I have visited the Cosmosphere three times before,” Shoemaker said, “That’s why I’ve been so eager to organize this trip: it is my favorite space museum, period. The collection is good, and the thematic presentation is absolutely superb! I always feel like I’m taking a walking tour of the Space Race.”
Several of the authors will hold a book signing at 1 p.m. The authors and their works are as follows:
Rosemary Claire Smith. Smith’s latest story is in the April 2016 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact: “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs”. Coming up will be a guest editorial in the November Analog: On the Money.
C Stuart Hardwick. Hardwick is a past winner of Writers of the Future. His latest story is “Dreams of the Rocket Men”, a tribute to the pioneers of rocketry in the current issue of Analog.
Daniel J. Davis, Steve Pantazis, and Martin L. Shoemaker were all 2014 winners of Writers of the Future. Daniel’s latest story is “The God Emperor of Lassie Point”, appearing in the anthology Alien Artifacts from Zombies Need Brains Publishing. Steve’s latest story, “The Devil Walks into a Bar”, appears in the current issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Martin’s story “Today I Am Paul” (from Clarkesworld magazine) was nominated for a Nebula award and has appeared in Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-third Annual Edition, The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and eight international translations.
For more information about the book signing, contact Janet Fisher, group sales manager, at 620.665.9340.
The Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum is located at 1100 North Plum in Hutchinson, KS. Its collection includes U.S. space artifacts second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. This unique collection allows the Cosmosphere to tell the story of the Space Race better than any museum in the world while offering fully immersive education experiences that meet the Next Generation Science Standards and introduce students to the power of wondering—asking the critical questions that lead to discovery. The Cosmosphere also features the Carey Digital Dome Theater offering documentary showings daily and recently-released feature films on weekends and a newly renovated Planetarium.
Note: This book is a sequel to Ancient Shores, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. You don’t have to read that book to understand this one, but I highly recommend that you do. This review will necessarily include spoilers for that book.
I have sometimes said of Jack McDevitt that he likes to write archaeological science fiction: stories where an artifact from the distant past reveals a mystery in the story’s “present” (which might be our distant future). The Alex Benedict books are about a famous treasure hunter in this mold. Many of the Priscilla Hutchins books involve an ancient force that systematically wipes out civilizations, leaving us little to study but ruins.
But while reading Thunderbird, I realized that I wasn’t giving McDevitt broad enough credit: he likes cultural science fiction, exploring the impact of discoveries on a culture. That was true from his very first novel, The Hercules Text, the story of how a message from a distant civilization affects our own.
McDevitt also delights in not answering all the questions. He has said that not answering makes a story more realistic. In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day.
And both of those ideas were found in Ancient Shores, a book that starts with a North Dakota farmer making a strange discovery: a yacht buried in his fields, fields which were beneath a vast inland sea… ten-thousand years ago. The sailboat has mysterious properties: it isn’t quite the right size and its fittings aren’t quite the right shape for humans; and it is impervious to wear and tear, almost impossible to damage, and hence impossible for anyone to estimate its age. The yacht leads eventually to the discovery of the Roundhouse, a dock on the Sioux-owned cliffs that once overlooked the sea; and in the Roundhouse they find a working gateway to other stars.
That book is classic McDevitt. We see how these discoveries affect both individuals and the culture at large. Some want to explore. Some want to run and hide. Some see danger in how these alien technologies can disrupt the economy and render the world more dangerous. Some see their own fears and must decide to stand up to them or cower in shame. And the Mni Wakan Oyate tribe of the Sioux see the return of an ancient conflict as the U.S. government decides to “solve” the problem by destroying the Roundhouse. Only through the timely intercession of scientists and celebrities is the destruction halted. For now.
It’s a victory, and the book ends on a high note; but… In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Where did the Roundhouse come from? How does it work? Can the Sioux keep control, or will the government take over? And what is that strange sentient whirlwind that aids travelers in distress? Some mysteries must wait for another day.
Thunderbird is another day. (Literally. Ancient Shores took place in 1996 or so, the time that book was published. Thunderbird takes place today; but at the same time, Thunderbird takes place immediately after Ancient Shores. There was a brief bit in chapter 1 or 2 where McDevitt sneakily brought the prior book into the present. You would have to really look to notice, but I was watching for it. This book is in the present, with ubiquitous cell phones and Internet and cable news and modern politics.) And answers are forthcoming – as are surprises.
Many of the same characters are involved: U.S. President Matthew Taylor, Sioux Chairman James Walker, scientist April Cannon, and security guard Andrea Hawk. Others have been reduced to cameos, such as Matt Collingwood, the pilot who helped to find the Roundhouse. Tom Lasker, the farmer who found the yacht, is mentioned but never appears.
And there are plenty of new characters, chief among them being Brad Hollister, a radio host and reporter who gets slowly drawn into the missions. The Sioux unexpectedly find themselves with a space program, one more advanced than anyone else on Earth can imagine; and Brad is there to observe it. While other characters are caught up in the diplomacy and politics, Brad is there as a witness, the reader’s eyes and ears to the excitement. He understandably struggles with fear (Would you trust your life to 10,000-year-old technology?) and then shame over that fear. This struggle made it very easy to identify with him. We all want to believe we’ll be brave in the face of danger, but what happens when we’re really tested?
And there are aliens. Yes, in this book, the Sioux and their allies meet aliens: the ape-like Arkons, the not-quite-human Riverwalkers, and the aforementioned sentient windstorm. McDevitt explores each culture (though some deeper than others), and each adds to the mystery of the Roundhouse.
In the end, McDevitt answers many questions, but subtly. The reader, like the characters, has to decide what to believe from the evidence they find. I think that Brad learned who the gate builders were and part of why the gates were built; but there’s enough room to argue about it, and not everyone accepts their answers.
If Brad is right about the gate builders, then the Sioux people have a fascinating future ahead if they can use what they have learned; and yet the ending puts that future out of reach. For now. It’s a more definitive ending than the end of Ancient Shores, but did it answer all the questions? Maybe you missed the part where I said this is a Jack McDevitt book. We have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day – and (I hope) another sequel.
My verdict? I was intrigued in many places. I was surprised in all the right parts. I laughed out loud at several scenes. I was frustrated by some of the stupid decisions while still understanding why the characters made them. I enjoyed the characters (particularly Brad and April). The ending satisfied me while still leaving me wanting more. And the epilogue made me smile. I recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction.
Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Before that, I preordered the Kindle version on the first day it was available, and I have preordered the hardcover so that I can get it autographed.
Five years ago today, I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.
No, that’s a lie. As Dean Wesley Smith says, never trust a writer. We lie for a living. Some of us get good at it.
My first submission was 38 years ago, give or take. I don’t recall the precise date. It was a bad pun story, embarrassingly bad, and George Scithers from Asimov’s Science Fiction sent me a nice personal rejection.
I gave up. I figured I didn’t have what it takes. (And that’s how new I was: I didn’t realize that a personal rejection was supposed to be encouraging.)
My second submission was a few years later, a maudlin little story about an astronaut who wakes up in a world so obsessed with safety that they never do anything. That one got a form rejection.
I gave up.
My third submission was a couple years after that. TSR (the D&D company) had bought Amazing Stories, and I had a humorous adventure story steeped in D&D lore, so I figured it was a good fit. The editor (coincidentally, George Scithers again) sent me a very nice note that said it was a fun story, but he just couldn’t use it.
In 2010, my brother-in-law read what I thought was the first chapter of a novel. He said, “That’s not a chapter, that’s a story. Send it in.” So I did. And it got a form rejection.
I sent it to another market. I wrote more stories. I sent those out. I got more rejections.
I gave up. I sent out one last story, and then I gave up.
Then in March of 2011, that last submission became a Finalist in Writers of the Future. It didn’t win, but it did something more important: it got me to stop giving up. Rejection wasn’t stopping me, I was stopping me.
In March of 2012, I had an acceptance – but not a sale, this was for charity – in The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity, Vol. 1. It might not have been a sale, but my story “Gruff Riders” appeared alongside stories from Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees plus dozens of other great writers. I was proud to have a story there, and I would be proud to do it again.
Then in September 2012, Analog bought my novelette “Not Close Enough”. In February 2013, they bought “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. In 2014, they bought “Brigas Nunca Mais” and “Racing to Mars”. This year they bought “Early Warning”. Meanwhile, in 2013, Galaxy’s Edge bought “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”.
So an anniversary is a time to reflect. What have I learned?
The most important thing is simple, and at the same time the hardest lesson of all: Stop giving up. Or as Galaxy Quest taught us, “Never give up, never surrender!” My number one advice to new writers, especially young writers, is “Don’t be like me. Don’t give up.”
Does not giving up guarantee sales? Of course not! That’s why this advice is so hard to follow: not giving up means facing rejection after rejection, never knowing if you’ll ever see a sale. Or a second after your first. Or…
So the other thing I learned is to keep learning, keep getting better. And this advice scares me. See, I don’t do a lot of conscious learning. Oh, I read writer blogs and books, I attend workshops, and I talk with other writers. Those are all good things to do, and I recommend them. But I’m not good at thinking about the lessons I learn. I read, I listen, and I try to absorb, but I don’t consciously apply the lessons. I just write, and I hope. I worry that if I don’t work harder at this, I may hit a plateau and not know how to climb off it.
So I’m working on this; but at the same time I worry about the story of the centipede. He walked all around, just fine, until somebody asked him how he kept all those feet coordinated. He started thinking about it, he couldn’t figure out, and he could never walk again without tripping over his own feet. I worry that if I try to consciously change, I may lose whatever it is that I’m doing right. And I don’t know what that is.
I don’t know what that is! And that, my friends, is scary! I’m flying blind.
And that, again, brings us full circle. I can tell you a hundred little things that I’ve learned along the way; but I still know nothing, not really. I can tell you what worked for me in particular cases, but I can’t tell you what will work for you. I can’t tell me what will work for me next time.
And anyone who says they can tell you: they’re a writer, they lie for a living. Don’t trust them. Even when they believe their lies, they’re really just telling you what worked for them in some cases. As long-time Writers of the Future judge Algis Budrys said, there is seldom only one right way of doing anything. If someone tries to tell you The Way, remember that it’s only A Way. One among countless. Learn what they’re teaching, but think of it as a tool in your toolbox, not a rule you must follow. Try it out, see how it works for you. It’s not The Way, but it might be useful.
But this is no lie: there is a way, a way that significantly improves your chances. I’ve already laid it out above, but let me put it together here. Don’t stop learning, and don’t stop trying.
WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!
(Speaking of which, there’s a novel calling to me… Get back to work!)
In the earliest stories of Blue Collar Space, I had only a vague and often inconsistent rank structure. Eventually I wrote down one consistent structure so that I could refer to it; and since readers have asked how to compare the ranks, I’m documenting it here.
But before I can discuss ranks, I should first explain the different multinational space services. These have different jurisdictions and responsibilities in space, but currently they all use the same rank structure.
Security Service (a.k.a. “The Admiralty”). This service is staffed by military personnel from the different member nations of the System Initiative. They are not technically a military in that they cannot (in theory) be used in war. There are too many national interests involved, and the decision-making process is too carefully balanced, for military operations. Instead, they are intended to enforce security and international regulations. They are technically within Space Corps (see below), but they see themselves as a separate elite service.
Space Corps. This service is the home of multinational exploration missions, as well as space stations and other common facilities.
Transport Corps. This is an umbrella service for passenger and cargo transport operations, and is largely made up of private vessels and crews. The Transport Corps certifies and evaluates these efforts so as to ensure the highest standards of operation; and most nations and corporations prefer to contractTransport Corps personnel as the easiest way to staff their missions. It is not illegal to operate a vessel without Transport Corps certification, but it’s difficult to get insurance or passengers if you do.
This category has only a single rank, the lowest possible. It’s technically not a service rank, because Trainees have not yet been enlisted (or commissioned) into a service. The purpose of Trainee rank is to determine whether personnel are qualified for the space services,
T-1 T Trainee
This category also has only a single rank: Recruit, the lowest possible enlisted rank. Recruits are not yet certified for space duty, and hence can only be assigned to ground stations (except in extraordinary circumstances).
E-0 R Recruit
Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty, but only in stations and other facilities that do not travel (i.e., nothing with a drive).
E-1 SR Spacer Recruit
E-2 SA Spacer Apprentice
E-3 SP Spacer
Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty in both stations and vessels.
E-4 AS3 Astronaut 3rd Class – Certified for Earth orbit operations
E-5 AS2 Astronaut 2nd Class – Certified for Earth-Luna operations
E-6 AS1 Astronaut 1st Class – Certified for all Solar System travel
E-7 CAS Chief Astronaut – A specialist in some vital area such as engineering, environment, etc.
E-8 SCAS Senior Chief Astronaut – An advanced specialist
E-9 MCAS Master Chief Astronaut – The highest enlisted rank, with multiple specialty certifications
Non-Commissioned Officer Ranks
As in modern militaries, non-comms run day-to-day operations under the command of officers.
B-1 BN1 Bosun 1
B-2 CBN2 Chief Bosun 2
B-3 CBN3 Chief Bosun 3
B-4 CBN4 Chief Bosun 4
B-5 CBN5 Chief Bosun 5
Commissioned Officer Ranks
The personnel who plan and direct vessels and missions.
Full disclosure: one of the authors of this book, Brad R. Torgersen, is one of my very best writing friends, and also one of my writing inspirations and mentors. I am not exactly neutral when it comes to his work. He’s a rising star, and I’m eagerly following his examples as I try to keep up with his success.
More full disclosure: someday, when he least expects it, I shall kick Brad in the shins for being the luckiest author on the planet.
When Mike Resnick (yet more full disclosure: also a friend, mentor, and all-around great guy — with an occasionally biting sense of humor) and the good folks at Arc Manor (and one final bit of full disclosure: they also publish Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which has published two of my stories) announced the Stellar Guild series, I loved the idea. They approach an established pro SF/fantasy author about writing half of a book, and then having an aspiring new pro (chosen by the established pro) write the other half of the book. The veteran and the new writer might write two stories in the same universe, or they might write two halves of a single story. It’s a great way to get some new fiction from the veteran and to discover a new writer. Win-win! And I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Brad had been selected for the program. He’s that good. (Don’t believe me? Check out Lights in the Deep, his first short story collection. If these stories don’t move you, you are stone.) And I even wasn’t surprised when I learned Brad would be paired with Larry Niven, one of his idols.
But when I figured out that they would be working in the Jerryberry Jansen universe, I assumed my best angry Kirk face, and I shouted “BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!” (Later I added “MATTHEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!” when I learned that Niven is so awesome, they had to pair him with two new authors just to maintain the balance.)
The Jansen series — maybe better referred to as the teleportation series, since Jansen is only one of many protagonists — is to my mind the quintessential Larry Niven series. Niven’s signature technique is to take one speculative idea and then ruthlessly, logically follow wherever that idea leads, finding stories as he follows. This to me is science fiction perfection, an ideal that I aspire to in my own stories; and Larry Niven is a perfect master, and this series is where I first saw him in action. Where some stories just assume teleportation exists, Niven asks, “What would it do to society if teleportation existed? What would change? What social stresses might disappear? What new stresses might appear? What new crimes might arise?”
Niven started answering those questions in “Flash Crowd”, wherein a young “newstaper” (journalist), Barry Jerome “Jerryberry” Jansen, unintentionally incites a riot — simply by reporting a riot. (The rest is simply a logical consequence of teleportation.) He followed up with a number of other short stories in the same universe. It’s not as well-known as his Known Space universe, but I think it’s more accessible because it’s smaller and more focused.
This book begins with “Red Tide”, a longer, updated version of “Flash Crowd”. It is still very much the same story (I’ve read the original enough times to tell), but it’s… fresher. The technology and world have been updated in subtle ways to reflect how the world has changed in the 41 years since the story first appeared. Cell phones are now familiar to the modern reader, so of course the characters all have them. The internet and blogs are all old hat, so the story reflects these as part of its background. (I thought the discussion of what distinguished a newstaper from any random blogger with a cell phone camera was brilliant.) In so many subtle ways, this is now a story for the 2010’s, not the 1970’s.
But even more than that: the story is now better as an introduction to Jerryberry. There is now more depth to his background. Some casual references to teleportation’s impact on his father have been expanded into a complex relationship between Barry and his father. That helps explain what drives Barry as a newstaper, and it also explains Barry’s relationship with Robin Whyte, the inventor of teleportation and the other chief protagonist in the book. Over the course of these stories, Whyte becomes something of a surrogate father to Barry, and it makes sense given Barry’s background. (Still, if I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I wanted to see a resolution to Barry’s relation with his dad. Larry Niven, if you’re listening, maybe another story…)
Following “Red Tide” is another Niven short story: “Dial at Random”. This story steps back in time, where Robin Whyte and his team prepare to test their new, experimental long-distance teleport systems. Something goes wrong, and a teenage girl goes on a very unexpected tour. There’s humor and danger and a lot of logical extrapolation on how a teleport system works, and what that means. The only problem is it’s short, so I wanted more!
And Brad provided more! The third story in the book is Brad’s “Sparky the Dog”. (Forgive me, Brad, I keep wanting to say “Sparky the Wonder Dog”.) The story starts with a frame where Jansen visits near the end of Whyte’s life, and we get a nice picture of their surrogate father-son relationship. Then Whyte tells a story from the very earliest teleportation experiments, where Whyte and the aforementioned Sparky go on the ride of their life, facing dangerous gunmen and the perils of the desert. The story answers several questions on how the technology works, and it also shows us a younger, more vital and yet less confident Whyte. And it gives us Sparky the Wonder Dog! (OK, OK, I’ll stop now, but I’m a sucker for dog stories.) But most of all, it lets Jansen (and us) say goodbye to Robin Whyte.
The final story in the book is Matthew Harrington’s “Displacement Activity”. This story has a brief connection to Jansen at the start; but then the chief protagonist, Sam Watt, gets unexpectedly teleported into the distant future and far across the galaxy. There he must learn to survive in a strange society where humans are not quite slaves, but they’re not their own masters. Harrington’s style is notably different from Niven’s, and his humor is different as well. Not bad (of all the pieces, I laughed at his the most), just different. But despite those differences, Sam Watt is a perfect Niven protagonist, right up there with Jerryberry Jansen, Beowulf Schaffer, Gil Hamilton, and the rest. I knew I was reading a different author, but I also immediately felt at home in the universe he described.
If you’re a Niven fan, I can’t recommend this book highly enough: a fresh new spin on “Flash Crowd”, a brand new Niven short story, and two new authors invited to play with Larry’s toys. If you’ve never read Niven, I still recommend this to anyone who likes ruthlessly consistent science fiction.
5 stars (out of 5 — I would give 6 if I could read a story of Jerryberry and his dad)