Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon—Jamie Todd Rubin

There comes a point in your life when you realize that you will never play baseball in the majors. I’m not talking about in high school, or big-al-shepardeven college. I’m talking about when you turn 40 and watch a game on TV with your 4-year old and think, “He still has a shot one day, if he wanted to play, but me, not in this lifetime.” You are resigned to watching the game, wishing you could play, but aware that your decades of baseball knowledge, to say nothing of your curveball, will go untapped by the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or let's face it, even the Royals or Astros.

There comes a point in your life when you realize that chances are pretty good you won’t ever make it to the moon. In my twenties I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. I got as far as earning my private pilot’s license. In the course of educating myself on what it took to be an astronaut, I learned that most of the astronauts NASA selects into its program are over-achievers, even by the standards of mainstream over-achievers. It wouldn’t do to have just a pilot’s license. You also needed 3,000 hours in 20 different types of aircraft. Having a Ph.D in some physical science might improve your chances a little. Two Ph.Ds and a medical degree and now you might be in the running. Throw in competitive rock climbing and HILO parachuting, and you’re probably a shoe-in.

All I had was a pilot’s license.

But the great thing about being a writer, and specifically, a science fiction writer, is that age and decrepitude are inconsequential. My characters can be young. My characters can be experts in their field. They can play baseball, and they can fly to the moon.

It isn’t often that a writer gets to write a pure wish fulfillment story big-al-shepardand see it published. For me, telling a good story is my most important job, and that sometimes means setting aside what I wish would happen, and allowing the narrative to unfold in such a way as to make the best possible story. In the case of “Big Al Shepard” I tried my best to tell a good story, and it turned out to also allow me to play for the Red Sox and fly to the moon.

I spent much of 1998 reading all I could about the Apollo moon missions, and marveling at the fact that men walked on the moon before I was born. (Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt, the last two men to walk on the moon, did so when I was 9 months old.) At the same time, I’m a lifelong baseball fan, and thinking about how Alan Shepard swung a golf club on the moon got me thinking about an alternate history in which he might swing a baseball bat instead. A title popped into my head, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” and I imagined it as a headline on the New York Times or Washington Post. That was all I had. I sat down to write, and the story emerged mostly as you see it.

I’d never written an alternate history before, and I had more fun writing this story than I’ve had on any previous story. It was wonderful creating an alternate timeline where Apollo 1 doesn’t end in disaster. I wanted one of the original Mercury astronauts to be first on the moon--something that Deke Slayton, in his role as director of crew operations, really wanted as well.

The baseball angle was just as much fun to write. Although I’ve made baseball references in my stories before, I’d never written a scene that involved any sort of sports drama. Writing the scene where Big Al Shepard is attempting to break Joe DiMaggio’s record was some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer. It also took me out of my comfort zone. As a lifelong New York Yankees fan, could I write credibly and positively about the Boston Red Sox? Or New York Mets?

This story was different in one other way. Usually, I have an idea, a “what if,” as well a good idea of how the story will end. Then I just write. In “Big Al Shepard” I had the idea, “What if, in an alternate history, Al Shepard was a major league baseball player before he landed on the moon?” But I had no idea of how it would end. Discovering that ending  was a big part of the fun I had with this story.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to my friend, and trusted beta-reader, Ken Liu. Ken read this story in an earlier draft, and identified things that helped make it into a much better story.

-- Jamie Todd Rubin

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Light Crusader’s Dark Dessert, by James Beamon

The idea for "Light Crusader" came to me in Afghanistan.  I was in Helmand Province, where landscapes range from rugged mountain streams to sparse, flat desert.  It was both desolate and beautiful.  Nothing new existed; the entire populace seemed to be experts in the art of gerry-rigging, giving the place a reassembled, post-apocalyptic feel. 
I wanted to bring this feel back to the States, so instead of a light-crusaders-dark-dessertconvergence of cultures on the other end of the world we have a convergence of gods at the end of the world.  All I needed was a spot to stage the story when I ran across the Dismal River on Google maps, with the small town of Tryon sitting twenty some odd miles down.  Yep, all the places in the story exist today in some form; since I've never been to Tryon in person it'd be nice to know how close (or far) I came to depicting it here.
Research and inspiration aside, what I like most about "Light Crusader" is the world as a host for all doomsdays.  We tend to imagine the end of the world as an instantaneous, nuclear flash bang or a two minute infectious bite frenzy.  I like the end of the world on the timetable of the gods, beings unconcerned with age or years or fitting all the action into a single movie scene.  Life still goes on for a humanity forced on an immortal schedule, forced to deal with a multitude of pantheons the world over and their competing notions of what the end is.  Like the province of Demeter, it feels like fertile soil for my imagination.

--James Beamon

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Heading Into Convention Season

Starting 2014 with a flurry of activity, I've got conventions on back to back weekends. This coming weekend I'll be at IllogiCon, along with GOH's Mary Robinette Kowal and Lawrence Schoen, plus other luminaries such as James Maxey, Misty Massey, Ada Brown, Gail Martin, Mark Van name, John Kessel, and Gray Rinehart.

IllogiCon is held Jan. 10 - 12, though I won't be there on Sunday because of another commitment. It's at the Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham/Research Triangle, which is actually in Cary, NC (just a smidge south of Raleigh).

The following weekend I'll be at MarsCon, which is at the Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center in Williamsburg, VA, Jan. 17 - 19. I will be at the whole con, no conflicts. Guests at MarsCon include YA GOH Carrie Ryan, who got me invited in the first place (it's important to know who to blame for these things), as well as Princess Alethea Kontis, Mike Pederson (who helps run RavenCon in Richmond in April), and a whole slew of people whom I've never met before. This is my first time at MarsCon, so I'm looking forward to meeting lots of new people.

Actually, it's also my first time at IllogiCon, but that one is close to where I live and I already know a lot of those folks... which is a whole other reason to look forward to going.

Hope to see you there. Or the other there. Or both. (I'm flexible.)