Pamela Sargent on “Monuments”

Season of the Cats by Pamela Sargent
Season of the Cats by Pamela Sargent

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

My home town of Albany, capital of the state and a city much changed by the construction of the Empire State Plaza under then – Governor Nelson Rockefeller, an exercise in grandiose architecture and megalomania that cost 2 billion dollars and was the largest government complex ever built in North America. The project began in 1965, disrupted the downtown for years, dislocated thousands of people and destroyed an entire area of the city. “Aggressively modernist” is a polite way to describe this marble and stone plaza, which looks like it could have been designed by Albert Speer. One of my brothers worked on one of the Plaza’s construction crews, and people here are still arguing, fifty years later, about whether the Empire State Plaza vastly improved our city or destroyed much of its old, essential character.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

The ideal SF story has original, striking ideas rooted in science and informed speculation, involving characters, and luminous prose. Most of us fall short of those goals most of the time.

Q: What are you working on now?

A novel and a novella I’d rather be closed-mouthed about. A new novel of mine, Season of the Cats, came out in 2015 and will be available in 2017 in trade paperback from Wildside; that’s a fantasy set in the present, not SF.

Q. And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

Assuming that readers of this book are interested in large-scale engineering projects of all kinds, I’d recommend my Venus trilogy (Venus of Dreams, Venus of Shadows, and Child of Venus), all available through Open Road Media, and a related volume, Dream of Venus and Other Short Novels, out from Wildside Press. Writing novels about the terraforming of Venus, an extremely challenging feat of engineering, took me over a couple of decades and might be the most ambitious SF I’ve ever tried.

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Gregory Benford and Larry Niven on “Mice Among Elephants”

Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Larry Niven and I wrote “Mice Among Elephants” because the recent LIGO discovery of gravitational waves excited our interest. We had set up in our two previous novels together, Bowl of Heaven and Shipstar, a mystery about the target star of an interstellar starship, Glory. Glory seemed to be a normal solar system – so how did radiate such powerful gravitational waves?

As a gravitational wave moves through space, one transverse direction stretches space-time itself, while in the other direction, space-time compresses. But gravitational waves are very weak – so how to make them, short of using masses greater than stars’?

So the humans venture near and find a small system of black holes. The key is that orbiting black holes, carrying the mass of Earth itself, are still only millimeters in size. They can orbit in small spaces. And inside that volume, the black holes don’t have to follow nice, orderly orbits like the planets we know.

Instead, gravitational effects in strong fields (for which you need General Relativity) lead to orbits that can wrap in close, then speed out—whirl and zoom orbits, physicists call them. See the figure—not your mother’s good ol’ ellipse!

This picture is straight from a recently published astrophysics paper. (Do your homework, yes.)

Image of an eliptical orbit

But…why build such a thing? LIGO discovered a natural emitter, waves given off in the collision of black holes with tens of stellar masses. Turns out that the system in our story emits gravitational waves artificially, in a repeating pattern. It’s a signal!

But…why go to such extremes, shoving planetary masses around?

And…who would do such a thing?

Larry and I have largely written sf to explore such what-if puzzles. That’s a way of thinking your way into a drama that stretches the mind. The story brushes against such issues, with more to come in the next novel Larry and I will write together, which concludes the trilogy. Bowl of Heaven and Shipstar, and the final novel, Glory, are ways of asking—What could intelligence do, given time and room, on the scale of our galaxy?

We set out to do the whole idea in one big novel, Bowl of Heaven, back in 2010. . . and found it just grew and grew. This story is a way of inching into the Big Questions we set for ourselves. Plus, it was fun to write—which for us, is the main point, really.

(c) 2016 Gregory Benford & Larry Niven

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Karen Lord and Tobias Buckell’s “The Mighty Slinger”

New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean
New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

We wanted to tell an unapologetically Caribbean story, no explanations, no watering-down. People from small nations often travel far for work and get overlooked by large corporate and political interests. We made them the heroes that saved and mended our broken, used-up Earth when no-one else was willing to give it a chance.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

A little bit of history, a little bit of now. There’s a hint of the building of the Panama Canal in there (many West Indians were part of that), and the tradition of sociopolitical commentary in kaiso goes back for generations and remains strong.

And the in-crowd knows that The Mighty Sparrow’s real name is Slinger Francisco. Our protagonist’s name is a nod to that. The people who travel to labor bring their memories and culture with them, so we wanted to show a future where diaspora continued and how vibrant it was.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

A good science fiction story isn’t so much the extrapolation, but the part where it holds up a mirror to a very important part of us that exists right now.

Q:  What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

Read more Caribbean SF! The anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean (edited by Karen Lord) is already out in the UK and will be released in the US very soon, in mid-November. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, so we’re not being biased when we say it’s brilliant!

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Ken Liu on “Seven Birthdays”

Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

My story starts out as a “climate change” geo-engineering story based on ideas circulating in the scientific community but soon veers in an unexpected direction. It explores themes of family, our post-human essence, and the weight of history, which are close to my heart. But best of all, it features multiple “kites” at astronomical scales. Who doesn’t like kites?

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

I wanted to take the idea of mega-engineering and scale it up to be as grand as I can imagine and still be (theoretically) possible. To tell a story at an epic scale within the compact space of a short story is a challenge I enjoy.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?
If the reader exclaims, “why didn’t I think of that?” then it’s a good SF story.

Q: What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

I’m working on the next book in my silkpunk epic fantasy engineer-as-hero series (The Dandelion Dynasty, which includes The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms). I’m also trying to sketch out my next project, a near-future hard scifi novel.

If readers enjoy “Seven Birthdays,” they may also enjoy my story, “The Waves,” which was published by Asimov’s and collected in Humanity 2.0, edited by Alex Shvartsman. They may also like the stories in my collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.

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Stephen Baxter on “The Venus Generations”

Xeelee: Endurance by Stephen Baxter
Xeelee: Endurance by Stephen Baxter

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

Venus ought to be a twin of Earth. Instead, a little too close to the sun, a runaway greenhouse effect long ago removed all the water and covered it in an atmosphere as thick as an ocean. Even compared to Mars it’s a massive challenge to terraform – but a few thousand years from now a dynasty of engineers attempts it anyway, with disastrous personal results.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

It’s set in my ‘Xeelee Sequence’ future history, in which I’m working on new novels. That sort of project generates its own ideas. I have a useful Venus in the far future; how did it get that way?

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

Like all stories, sympathetic characters facing a strong dilemma. And ideally all aspects of the story deriving from a plausible bit of scientific speculation.

Q: What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

I’m just finishing The Massacre of Mankind, a sequel to HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Out in January 2017. As for other work – look for Xeelee: Endurance, more recent short fiction in the Xeelee universe. And the first of the new novels, Xeelee: Vengeance, out in September 2017.

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