A Crash on the Moon

buddy

I’m thrilled to share the news that my short story “Buddy” – about a mysterious spaceship crash on the moon and a nearby miner’s attempt to save the ship’s sole survivor – is now live on Perihelion’s website. Read it for free here.

There’s a funny story about that story, too. I had spent the whole year submitting stories to publications and had been met with universal rejection. That’s not a surprise for a newer writer like myself, but it does wear on you eventually. When I’d finished “Buddy,” I had planned to just publish it straight to Amazon and be done with it. I even had a cover made, which is pictured above. But I had just stumbled upon Perihelion (which is awesome, by the way) and figured, “What the hell? What’s one more try?” And it ended up being my first sale. So to my fellow struggling writers, in a nutshell, keep going.

The Conversation You Need to Have Regularly

stargaze

Courtesy of Anthony Goto, flickr

You’ve had this conversation before.

You’re lying on your back in the grass or in a lounge chair, staring up at the night sky. Maybe you’ve had a few drinks or enjoyed some of our planet’s botanical pleasures. You’re feeling good, with your mind and soul flung wide open.

“Isn’t it crazy to think that the light we’re seeing left those stars 65 million years ago,” you say to a friend lying next to you.

“Right?” they reply. “They could have exploded long ago, before the dinosaurs existed, and we wouldn’t know.”

“And how wild is it that there’s a storm on Jupiter that’s three times the size of Earth?”

“And we’ve put a robot on Mars. A robot from Earth is rolling around scooping up Martian sand right this minute.”

“Whoa.”

I hung out with my four best friends last weekend, and not long after the sky went dark, we had a version of this conversation. It’s a talk we’ve had dozens of times before, starting back when we’d hang out in each others’ backyards in high school, back before college, before marriage, before having kids.

Between our jobs and our families, it’s hard for us all to get together more than once or twice a year, but every time we are able to assemble, the conversation at some point always veers into expressions of wonder. It’s not always so cosmic. Sometimes we marvel at how rapidly technology has progressed or how strange our current lives would have seemed to the younger versions of ourselves.

At some point during last weekend’s conversation, right about the time we veered into amazement at how time slows near black holes, one of my friends remarked, “Oh man, how many times have we had this conversation?”

To which another friend replied, “It’s a good conversation to have from time to time.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. How we need to cultivate fascination, stoke our wonderment, and try to stuff big ideas into our little human minds.

For me as a writer, this exercise is especially critical. My love for these massive ideas is part of what drew me to sci-fi. Without the challenge of tackling concepts that shake my foundational perceptions of reality, I couldn’t sustain the interest necessary to show up at the keyboard consistently. And my success as a writer depends in no small part on my ability to provide my readers with flashes of this awe.

Even for non-writers, this generating amazement is important. You’ll find peace in shrinking yourself, shrinking your problems. You’ll use new parts of your brain and give the worn-out practical parts a much-needed rest. You’ll feel better.

The sky is clear in the Midwest tonight, and Jupiter is looming large in the western sky. Go outside and track it down and think about that big-ass storm and try to get your mind around the idea of a planet made of gas.

Even if you’re alone, have that conversation with yourself. And think about how crazy it is that your brain lets you talk to yourself. Whoa.

Scott Kelly Reminds Me How Weak Humans Are

Expedition 46 Landing

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With all the well-deserved attention that NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s safe return to Earth is receiving this week, I can’t help but think about how fragile humans are.

Sure, he appears to have emerged from 340 days in zero gravity in good health. And he always seemed remarkably upbeat despite spending nearly a year enclosed within the same curving walls, far from his loved ones, breathing recycled air. At first glance, it’s hard to look at this unfailingly resilient man, probably one of the best members of our species, and feel anything but admiration and optimism for our future.

Then I remember that it may take humans two years – double the length of Kelly’s trip – to get to Mars and back. They’ll face double the isolation, double the physical challenges, spend twice as long eating vacuum-sealed food. They’ll also lose sight of Earth, its blue oceans and swirling clouds. Also, none of them will likely be Scott Kelly.

And yet we’ve already dropped two robots onto the Red Planet to take a look around and tidy up before we arrive. No sweat.

It’s not getting to Mars that’s hard, it’s getting humans to Mars that’s a pain.

Mary Roach probably said it best in Packing for Mars:

“To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You’re inconstant. You take weeks to fix.”

As a science fan and science-fiction writer, it’s easy to get caught up in pondering all the technological advances that will be required for humans to push out into the stars. But even when we’ve got the propulsion, communications, and landing problems solved, we’re still going to be sending fallible, fragile humans on excruciatingly long journeys. Other than Scott Kelly, how many of us are equipped for that challenge?