Charlie Jane Anders on “Rager in Space”

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

“Rager in Space” is about peer pressure, and that moment when you realize that maybe you’ve outgrown your best friend. Sion and D-Mei have been inseparable since they were kids, and they’re unrepentant party girls in a world where artificial intelligence failed for some reason that nobody understands. It’s a sad sort of world where nothing quite works, because the computers tend to go on the fritz whenever you need them. But then Sion gets an invite to go into deep space on the first interstellar spaceship, which is basically one big party bus in space. And then she discovers the reason why the Singularity (that moment where computers become smarter than us) never lived up to its promise.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story? 

I had been tinkering with this story for a couple years, actually. I was interested in the idea of a couple of party girls going into space and maybe meeting aliens. For a while the story was called “YOLO,” which was absurdly dated even when I started writing it. It didn’t really click for me until I wrote the flashback to Sion’s childhood, where she’s struggling with the fallout from the failed Singularity and then D-Mei comes to her rescue. That made this into much more of a story about a weird friendship. And then I got obsessed with building out the spaceship and the A.I. politics and everything else.

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

I’m tempted to say “the same thing that makes a good story of any sort.” Characters who go through something and are changed by it; a crux or conflict of some sort, that gets developed over the course of the narrative; a sense that the story is “about” something — some idea, some question, some thought experiment. Writing a science fiction story, I guess, lets you ask bigger and more ambitious questions, and build in a certain amount of complexity because SF readers are very comfortable with crunchy world building. And I love to start off with a crazy idea like “what if time travel was also space travel because of spatial displacement” and then build it into a personal narrative. Starting with the SFnal idea and then backing  into the personal story can be a lot of fun, as can the reverse. But I guess I’m admitting I have no idea what makes a good story, SF or otherwise, since every story is different. I guess a good story is one that lives on in your head after you’re done reading.

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 hard on my next novel for Tor, which is a lot less funny than “Rager in Space,” but hopefully just as weird. In the meantime, I should put in a plug for my novel All the Birds in the Sky, which came out back in January, plus I have stories in the recent anthologies Drowned Worlds and The Starlit Wood. If you can hunt down a copy of the summer 2016 issue of Catamaran Literary Reader, I have an incredibly weird story about a sex cult who creates their own afterlife. Oh, and it’s a ways off, but I have a story in John Joseph Adams’ space opera anthology Cosmic Powers, which might be the funniest thing I’ve ever written (or might just be kind of silly.)

Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty on “Cold Comfort”

Women Up To Good, Pat Murphy
Women Up To Good, Pat Murphy

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity? What was the inspiration behind it?

Pat Murphy:

If you crack the ice on the right Arctic lake and toss in a match, you can set off a methane flare.

That’s not fiction. It’s true. And that’s what inspired the story. (If you doubt me, search “methane lake” on YouTube, and you’ll find videos of Katey Anthony, a University of Alaska professor, demonstrating the technique.)

The Arctic is warming because of global climate change. As it warms, the permafrost is melting. As the permafrost melts, it releases methane, which bubble up in Arctic lakes.

And here’s the nasty bit: methane is a greenhouse gas that’s even more powerful than carbon dioxide. More methane means more warming, and that meant more permafrost melting, which means more methane and more warming…and so on in a positive feedback loop with negative consequences.

When you asked for a story about a super-engineering project, the melting permafrost was on my mind. My friend Paul Doherty and I had recently written about the permafrost and a (real life) project called Pleistocene Park for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So I enlisted Paul in the creation of a project to save the world from the feedback loop of the melting permafrost. Of course, we started with an exploding lake.

Paul Doherty:

I have real life engineering friends who are creating the fundamental science behind what might turn into huge engineering projects to help save us from the arctic methane problem. I used their discussions together with my experience working with the scientists, managers, engineers, and crazed artists  at McMurdo Station Antarctica to inspire our story line and more importantly paint a picture of the personalities of the people in our story.

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

Good science fiction has characters and situations that expand and stretch your perception & understand of the world and your place in it. There is something expansive about good science fiction — it makes you step outside yourself, considering viewpoints alien to your own. And good science fiction makes you wonder: what will happen if…. And what happens is unexpected but at the same time strangely obvious. Good science fiction deals with unexpected consequences.

And Then You're Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty
And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

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?

Pat Murphy:

If you like this story, check out my short story collection — Women Up to No Good. I think two stories in that collection — “A Cartographic Analysis of the Dream State” and “Exploding Like Fireworks” — would appeal to anyone who likes “Cold Comfort”. And look for the science column that Paul and I write for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where we explore science that may become part of the next SF story!

Paul Doherty:

I am co-author of a non-fiction book with Cody Cassidy, And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara, which is due out in April 2017.

Reviews of Bridging Infinity

Social media for Bridging InfinityReviews of Bridging Infinity are starting to appear. Here are some links, if you’d like to see what people are saying about the book:


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.

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