Launching a Dragon, or a wet first attempt

I wrote this Wednesday, mostly while waiting for the aborted launch of Dragon Demo-2:

Text Box: 1Space enthusiasts gather at a Titusville park to watch the 27 May launch attempt of the Dragon Demo-2
Some of my fellow space enthusiasts, watching the storm clouds and hoping to see a Dragon launch

One of the wonderful things about living where I do is the ability to watch launches in person. Sadly, it’s been a slow eleven years since the shuttle program got cancelled, but the private sector is rising to the challenge – quite literally – of filling the gap. And as of today (if the weather permits and everything else works out the way it should), this nine-year drought in crewed missions launching from American soil will FINALLY be over.

I came to my favorite park for viewing launches, the Mercury 7 monument park at Veterans Memorial Park. Driving here this morning, I saw so many vehicles filling every other park and parable space along the Indian River that I worried this was one of the launches when I should have arrived in time to watch the sun rise over the river. As it was, I had to park in one of the spaces that isn’t normally a parking space. Luckily, today isn’t a normal day.

The excitement here is palpable. We’re only about 13 miles from Launch pad 39-A, where the Dragon capsule will launch in about 40 minutes (as I write this). Despite the inclement weather that continues to threaten the launch and has sent us rushing for our cars once today, the park is crowded! Folding chairs and padded seats of various kinds fill the amphitheater and the flat ground between there and the raised area around the flagpole, where professional and amateur videographers are set up about as close as their tripods will allow. At least two news stations have their own broadcasting tents – I can’t tell from where I sit whether the other tents are news stations or regular people. And the area under the trees is almost as full. If we weren’t intentionally leaving narrow aisles so people could get through, it would be impossible to move more than about a meter (three feet). It feels like we’re here for a festival or sporting event, one where you want to wear patriotic colors or a shirt with space logos or slogans on it. Can you say “glorious”? It is!

Space enthusiasts gather in a Titusville park to watch the Dragon Demo-2 launch on 27 May
Me, soaked but excited. The storm will blow over in time for the launch, right?

… and, maybe 15 minutes before the launch, it got scrubbed. It was presumably the weather, but we’ll find out later. The next try is on Saturday, and we’ll be here.

Here’s a tip from the pros: don’t be in a hurry to leave when you come see a launch. The crowds who rush to leave will soon be cooling their jets in a huge traffic jam reminiscent of rush hour in a big city. Stay and enjoy the rest of the event. Hang out with the other true believers. When the sky cleared, we saw Air Force 1 and Air Force 2 jet out of here. We watched the day turn into another beautiful Florida evening on the riverfront. I caught a glimpse of life in Arés Sité (Ares City for you Earthers) and watched a future astronaut interview two of her future crewmates about the launch, an interview that the guy from CNN said they would air as part of their coverage of the launch attempt. It was a great day!

A future astronaut interviews two of her crewmembers about today’s attempted launch of the Dragon crew capsule
Photo credit: Lawrence Cruciana (her dad)

New sites for reading

You’ve read “Return to Bethlehem,” my short story first published in the anthology An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires. But now you can share it with your friends! Both you and they can access it at https://www.shortstoryproject.com/storyf/102267/#.XcNPmtHs1D8.link. Please feel free to like, share, and comment!

Also, we now have a presence on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/pg/SophieGMichaels/. Enjoy!

On BookReads

The Odds Are Against Us: An Anthology of Military Fiction

The Odds Are Against Us: An Anthology of Military Fiction by Joseph F. Benedetto

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This collection of short stories was diverse in setting but not in theme. Warriors from ancient Rome to WWII and today face overwhelming odds as well as they can. I enjoyed it greatly, even though I wouldn’t normally think of military fiction as a favorite genre. And I very much want the last story to be true.



View all my reviews

Space’s Hometown

the VAB, across the Indian River
the VAB, across the Indian River

Titusville has a way to go before it becomes the bustling spaceport of my fiction, where launches take place on an hourly basis, sometimes even more often. These days, it even has a way to go before it gets back to the vivacity of its Apollo days.

The Mercury 7 monument and park
The Mercury 7 monument and park

But its small-town ambiance and spacetown uniqueness are to be appreciated, even if my colonists will someday turn it into Orlando’s big sister. Where else can you stand in a quiet park and look across a silver-blue mirror at a one-story building tall enough to dominate the landscape? Where else can you put your hands in the handprints of a space pioneer? (Ironically, only the Mercury ones are safe to touch after about 10 am in the summer, though I’ll burn my hands for the privilege. Neil Armstrong’s hands were a little broader than mine and his pinkies and thumbs a little longer, but otherwise his hands were the same size as mine.)

The Gemini monument and park
The Gemini monument and park

Where else can you see stretched out before you a misty Avalon, sanctified by the best striving of humanity and the fiery breath of newborn stars? Where else are you so closely linked to that hallowed isle, that even we mere mortals can visit it? And where else can you experience the magic of seeing a full moon rise above the VAB on the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, a date that should be a national holiday (along with the 20th and a few other significant space dates)?

Today’s Titusville may be a quiet, underrated place, but I will always love its comfortable blend of old and new Florida, liberally sprinkled with 60s-era kitschy space-named businesses and a mall that time forgot back in the early 80s. I hope we can maintain that charm as we prepare for our next fifty years in space and deal with the annual onslaught of hurricanes.

Luna shines brightly over Titusville on the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.
Luna shines brightly over Titusville on the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

My Serial Novel

If you’ve read my blog before, you’re probably aware that I do reenactment. I kind of grew up in it; the local historical society in the part of Pennsylvania my family’s from holds most of its events in the house and property where my father grew up. They’ve found his toys on archaeological digs.

I didn’t realize they had tractors back in the 1700s.

But now I play in the middle ages, when we have kings. And last November, Florida’s then-Crown Prince asked me to write the saga of his reign, which started at the end of March. We’d publish weekly installments during his reign, then publish it as a book after he and his queen died of a terminal case of theater.

It’s been a ride, one that still has over a month to go. And I must say, I have a new appreciation for the authors of serial novels published back in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Writing this way is harder than writing separate short stories, or even a novel that you can completely finish writing before getting it edited and gussied up for publication a year or two later.

I’m writing a story where many of the events that are supposed to inspire events in the story hadn’t happened when they were given their (approximate) place in the plot, and some still haven’t happened. And I’m the only editor my work sees before it gets posted, usually sometime after midnight.

Have you ever had the muse come calling, only to have to tell her that the scene she wants to give you is great but you really, really have to focus on a different project or a different part of the story right now? Do you generally write in something other than chronological order, then straighten things out later?

Not an option. Not unless you’re at least a week ahead of schedule.

But I love it. Enough that I’m already thinking about Volume II of A Trimarian Reign. And making it an anthology, to get more authors involved.

You can read all the weekly installments as they’re published at facebook.com/SagaBnB, but I’m also adding them here under “Free Fiction.”

Their reign takes place in the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, during the twelfth century. If you’re not familiar with that culture, they could give George R. R. Martin lessons on convoluted politics, conspiracies, assassination plots… maybe that’s where he got some of his ideas. And some aspects of Byzantine life read more like a fantasy novel, at least to those of us more familiar with western European history. Fitting that kind of a background into my work has been an adventure!

I hope you’ll make the journey with us.

Meanwhile, Back on Earth

Sometimes the ideas come to you faster than you can write them down. I’m not sure if my Muse does that because she loves me or because she hates me, but I suppose that’s inconsequential. I love trying to catch those ideas as fast as she can lob them, and then trying to write them so they live up to their full potential.

That’s helped make this a VERY busy couple months. I’ve been editing an anthology, which I’ve found I really enjoy… except when Word or Adobe flake out under pressure (Do I have enough memory on this computer to edit a whole book while I have other things open?). But helping other authors tweak their work before I finalize everything feels almost as good as getting my own works to that point, and I get to make a new friend. Or several.

Then, back in November, a friend won a tournament called “Crown Lyst” in a medieval living history group I’m in called the Society for Creative Anachronism (sca.org). In a little over a month, he’ll become “king” of the region called “Trimaris,” which is most of Florida. And he asked me to write a series of stories about Trimaris and Trimarians, set during his reign. He and his queen will be doing a Byzantine/Rus reign, which has opened up a whole different world to research and write in. I might have a substantial book written by the time I’m done. Publication info will follow, of course!

I just posted an exciting update on “The Battle of Anderida Forest,” which was accepted for publication last year in the anthology The Odds Were Against Us. Keep your eyes open for updates on that front, and make sure you get your copy when it comes out!

With all that going on, I haven’t stopped writing in my LaGrange Systems series. I couldn’t even if I wanted to! But today an odd little seed of a story idea sprouted, and I realized that while I’ve been focused on what’s going on among my colonists, I haven’t paid much attention to what’s happening back on Earth, where the Crash of 2066 hit most people really hard. Judging by the story opening that I’ve got so far, life on Earth has gotten rather dystopian since then. I don’t even know yet what gender my protagonist is or where this young person lives, but it’ll be a tragedy if he/she doesn’t fight back or find a way to get out to the colonies.

I’ll leave you with a draft of the first page:

 

Dear Number 45774874958,

You misunderstand. What matters is not what you want to do with your life. What matters is what WE, your government, want to do with your life. We don’t care that you have the test scores to excel at engineering or one of the ‘hard’ sciences, even though we constantly say we need more people in those fields. We want you to be a cog in the system processing biological wastes FOR THE REST OF YOUR NATURAL LIFE. Maybe longer. And you will.

Have a nice day!

Your Government Controllers

 

That might not be what the letter I got said, but it’s definitely what I read as I stood there outside my family’s three-bedroom unit in Development 107-G23.

Nobody uses physical mail for anything but government communications and such, so when the green light flashed above the techboard, I’d dashed outside to get the welcome letter I knew would be coming from our local university.

It was way too beautiful a day for the news to be anything but good, and everyone in my entire school knew I was a shoe-in for one of the elite engineering spots. It didn’t hurt that I was willing to go into any advanced-track career field they wanted to put me in. My friends were all envious, even before they found out where they’d been placed. Complete strangers and that kid who had picked on me constantly in the fourth grade did little things for me out of the blue and dropped hints that they hoped I’d remember how good of friends we were when I graduated and became a big shot somewhere spectacular.

That didn’t really matter to me. No, really. In fact, it had been kind of odd. But this letter made me wish I could go back to thinking I had a future.

Great news!

This popped up in my email tonight. I think Julian might have heard my squeal from the other side of the house!
Yes, that’s me, the fifth name listed. One of the anthologies my work was accepted for last year has been picked up by a bigger publisher than it was originally going to have. It should be coming out next fall; I’ll tell you when as soon as I know. Watch for it!Screenshot (124)

Noblebright and the Hero’s Journey

I was talking last night with a friend who had to evacuate for Irma and still hasn’t been able to go home because of the flooding in her area. Since we’re both authors, our conversation got around to some of the books that first inspired us. Despite our differences and despite the differences in what we write, we had many of the same favorites.

Those stories had a lot in common. At their core, they were all noblebright.

“Noblebright” is a recent term, which I understand was created as an equal opposite to the Warhammer term “grimdark.” But this type of works go way back, to some of the earliest written works (Homer’s Odyssey). These works include some of the most influential works of literature (Beowulf and the Chanson de Roland). They include popular works that have been turned into movies (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter), as well as movies and TV shows that inspired huge fandoms (Star Trek and Star Wars). They include works based on real-life events, like most WW2 movies (Dunkirk).

Life isn’t perfect in a noblebright world. We’re not talking about utopias here (though More’s Utopia isn’t exactly my idea of a utopia either). Bad things happen, and there are bad people in the world. Some are truly evil and powerful, like Darth Vader. But there’s at least one person ethical enough to do what’s right. And one person might just be enough to make a difference. In a noblebright work, there’s a good chance that the protagonist is an ethical hero and will–eventually, with help–be able to do what must be done.

Whether it’s a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story) or not, the hero usually goes through something resembling Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” where an otherwise-normal person is called to do great things because great things are necessary. Through his or her experiences during the journey, the hero grows into someone capable of accomplishing the necessary actions. Frodo destroys the One Ring, and Kip Russell not only gets to the Moon, he and two female characters stop a group of invading aliens from attacking Earth.

Don’t remember that one? Kip is the hero of Heinlein’s Have Space Suit–Will Travel. It was one of the books I mentioned while chatting with my friend. It’s definitely a bildungsroman.

Noblebright stories seem to be less popular right now than grimmer or smuttier works, possibly because they’re seen by many as less realistic or more naïve than those other works. But if we’re being realistic, we have to realize that any world that isn’t extremely utopian or dystopian will have a mixture of good and bad people in it.

The world doesn’t need more Vader-types. But we need heroes, especially ones who start out as everyday people. We need to recognize that there are good people in the world, that even ordinary people can make a difference if we try. We certainly need that more than we need to read about some erotomaniac who’s allowed to do what he does because he’s handsome and rich. There’s enough of that in the tabloids. That’s why noblebright works figure so prominently in every aspect of the world’s literature.

And that’s why my favorite works are noblebright, whatever genre they’re in. It’s why virtually all my own works are noblebright.

For more on noblebright fiction, visit:

http://www.noblebright.org/noblebright-fantasy-an-overview/

Writing Science Fiction by Candlelight

Less than two days ago, we re-entered the 21st century after going through the biggest and second-most powerful hurricane ever recorded. The lights came back on, and with them, my computer. It had been starved for electrons since Saturday night.

Like so many hurricanes, Irma hit us at night. We lost power just before 8 Saturday evening, and the worst of the storm came through between midnight and 4 in the morning.

Did I mention Irma was a REALLY big hurricane?

It’s dangerous to sleep during a powerful hurricane, even if you can. Until 2 or 3 am, we were going through the part of the storm that can spin off tornadoes, and some of them hit near us. But if you don’t have something to do for a few hours while you sit in the dark waiting for the storm to rip your house apart, you will go mad.

 Now that I think of it, that might explain some 19th century literature.

So what did I do? I wrote.

I went back to my Mennonite roots and pulled out a handful of loose-leaf lined paper. My only source of light was the candle on my desk in our safe room, but it was enough. I just needed to be able to see what I was writing, which is a lot easier when you use a pen.

It was certainly a dark and stormy night, perfect for writing a gothic masterpiece. But that’s not a genre I’ve ever written in, and nothing gothic came to mind. As the hurricane beat the bougainvillea branches against the house so hard they sounded substantial enough to demolish cinder-block construction, all I could see was the news program’s simulation of Irma’s storm surge washing over the Keys like they weren’t even there.

Not exactly what you want to be thinking about as the same hurricane pounds your house.

But I always have at least two or three stories that I’m working on at any one time. One of them, “Last Ship Out,” was at a stage where I could focus on a dramatic part of the story. As the storm beat bougainvillea and who knows what else against our house and Julian kept me plied with more wine than I’d planned to drink, I got deeper and deeper into the drama of the Mims Airlift of 2066. By 4am my time, those of our heroes who were going to make it back up to the colonies had finally reached orbit, and I was ready to find my bed.

The still heat in the days that followed may have had some impact on my next story, about the refugees who were left behind after the airlift. Their story’s going well, but I haven’t decided on a title yet.

Now to finish off our hurricane cleanup so I can get back to my writing!