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The MISSION: TOMORROW Interviews: James E. Gunn, Michael Capobianco and Angus McIntyre on MISSION: TOMORROW

Hugo-nominated editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s latest anthology, Mission: Tomorrow, a hard science fiction anthology of near future stories about space travel in a post-NASA age, released Tuesday November 4th from Baen and has been getting great reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and more. Here’s the third in a series of SF Signal interviews with some of the contributors about their stories.

Here’s the synopsis for the upcoming anthology Mission: Tomorrow:

NEW STORIES OF THE FUTURE OF SPACE EXPLORATION. Original anthology of stories about near-future space exploration from top authors. Includes stories by Jack McDevitt, Michael F. Flynn, Sarah A. Hoyt, Ben Bova, Mike Resnick, and many more.

In Mission: Tomorrow, science fiction writers imagine the future of space exploration with NASA no longer dominant. Will private companies rule the stars or will new governments take up the call? From Brazilians to Russians to Chinese, the characters in these stories deal with everything from strange encounters, to troubled satellites and space ships, to competition for funding and getting there first. Nineteen stories of what-if spanning the gamut from Mercury to Pluto and beyond, assembled by critically praised editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt.


James E. Gunn

James Gunn has had a career divided between writing and teaching, typified by his service as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and as president of the Science Fiction Research Association, as well as having been presented the Grand Master Award of SFWA and the Pilgrim Award of SFRA. He now is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Kansas and continues to write. He has published more than 100 short stories and has written or edited 42 books, including The Immortals, The Listeners, The Dreamers, Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Ficton, The Road to Science Fiction, and, most recently, Transcendental and its sequel, Transgalactic. “The Rabbit Hole” was originally published in Analog and is the central portion of the novel Gift from the Stars.

What is the name of your Mission: Tomorrow story and what’s it about? 

James Gunn: “The Rabbit Hole” is the third novelette in the series that eventually became the novel Gift from the Stars.  All of them were originally published in Analog, though the last two were combined into a single novella.  “The Rabbit Hole” deals with the period in the characters’ voyage to the stars in response to the discovery of plans for a workable starship in a message that may have come from outside the solar system.  They find themselves inside a white hole where time and space are confused, where they cannot remember the past because part and future have no meaning, and they must find a way to escape and continue their journey without being able to think sequentially.

What gave you the idea for your story? 

JG: The novel itself was inspired by Carl Sagan’s Contact and the movie that was made from it.  Sagan sent me a copy of the novel thanking me “for the inspiration of The Listeners,” and I respected his work, but it occurred to me that the way in which the aliens respond and humans react isn’t the way it would really happen.  Rather, it would come about, in the way that many scientific discoveries have, by accident, like the discovery of penicillin.  I got the concept of the white hole from Kip Thorne, who gave a talk to the physics department that I attended, and I later got a copy of his book about interstellar flight that included a description of white holes.

Tell us a bit about your main character(s) please. 

JG: Adrian is a frustrated astronaut who comes across a copy of a book titled “Gift from the Stars” in a remainder bin in a “Lawrence” book store modeled after a store that once existed in Lawrence, Kansas, and he becomes involved in a search for the truth behind the book with the assistance of the middle-aged owner of the shop.  They are introduced in the original story, “The Giftie,” that won an award for the best novelette published in Analog that year.

How did you come to be a part of Mission: Tomorrow?

JG: The editor asked me for a story, and I thought this one would fit the description.

Obviously the story ties into others.  Besides the two mentioned, are there common themes with others?

JG: One of the issues the novel is about is the way in which sentience is in conflict with matter in the universe; sentience fosters complexity; matter gets simpler until it finally runs down (entropy).   I have shown this working out in various ways in a number of stories and novels, including my most recently published novel Transcendental and its sequels.

What are other projects you’re working on that might interest us?

I’m working on the third volume of the Transcendental trilogy for Tor.

How does your approach to writing short stories differ from your long form process, if it does? 

JG: In short stories every word is important; in novels, story and characters are dominant.  In recent years I’ve outlined chapters, scene by scene, before writing them; short stories are not as complex and I can keep everything in mind.

If you could go into space, what would be your preference: personal or public? Long term or just a quick trip? 

JG: With no space skills, I guess I would need lots of help.  At my age, nothing is long term, though, I’d opt for that if it could be combined with longevity.


Michael Capobianco

Michael Capobianco has published one solo science fiction novel, Burster (Bantam). He is co-author, with William Barton, of the controversial hardcore sf books Iris (Doubleday, Bantam, reprinted by Avon Eos), Alpha Centauri (Avon), Fellow Traveler (Bantam), and White Light (Avon Eos), as well as several magazine articles on planetology and the exploration of the solar system. He served as President of SFWA from 1996-1998 and again in 2007-2008, and is a member of SFWA’s Writer Beware and Contracts Committees. Capobianco has been SFWA’s Authors Coalition liaison since the coalition’s founding in 1993. His website is http://www.michael-capobianco.com.

What is the name of your Mission: Tomorrow story and what’s it about?

Michael Capobianco: The title of my story is “Airtight” and it’s about a human mission to a near-Earth extinct cometary nucleus for the purpose of diverting it into an orbit where it can be used as a resource.

What gave you the idea for your story?

MC: The primary idea for the story came from thinking about what would be necessary to have humans included on missions of exploration rather than robots. Because robotic missions would be much less expensive than (hu)manned ones, and robotic explorers will be increasingly capable as well as cheaper, you need an extraordinary rationale for sending humans to explore space. The story posits a future in which corporate entities are constrained by law to provide that rationale.

Tell us a bit about your main character(s) please.

MC: Nebulon (“Lon”) Innes is an independent fellow who is, contrary to what one would think about a lone space explorer, a virtual extrovert, smarter than he appears, who has spent much of his adulthood hiring out as a pilot on lunar ferries. He is unattached and prefers it that way.

How did you come to be a part of Mission: Tomorrow?

MC: I met Bryan while helping my late wife, A. C. Crispin, prepare her story “Twilight World” for Bryan’s anthology, Raygun Chronicles. He asked me for a story about space exploration in a NASAless future; I had an idea that I thought would work well, and voilà.

Does your story tie in to other works or worlds you’ve written? How?

MC: The story doesn’t tie in directly to anything else that I’ve written, although much of the thinking and research I’ve done about NEO’s (near-Earth Objects) was done in conjunction for a book I wrote with William Barton back in the nineties, Fellow Traveler.

What are other projects you’re working on that might interest us?

MC: Right now I’m finishing up Purlieu, a Middle Grade science fiction novel that is based on an idea that I’ve been playing around with since I was in my twenties.  I have no idea at this point what the likelihood is of seeing it traditionally published, but I will pursue that route. There’s a little bit of planetology in it, but no space travel per se.

If you write long form, how does your approach to writing short stories differ from your long form process, if it does?

MC: Since I’m a slow writer, I think of short stories as a race in which you can actually see the finish line, whereas long form is more like a cross-country slog that never seems to end. I chose to write “Airtight” in first person, present tense primarily because that’s the way Purlieu is written, but it’s a departure for me in both long and short form.

If you could go into space, what would be your preference: personal or public? Long term or just a quick trip?

MC: I don’t have a preference, although I wouldn’t want to have to participate in a space mission where funding was provided via the reality show method and the tv cameras were always on. The hard part, of course, is getting the money, and there will always be constraints and compromises whichever model is used. A personally funded expedition might be riskier than a governmentally funded one, where multiple redundancies would almost certainly be built in. To some degree I’m content to stay at home and watch the results come in from robotic missions. At the time I’m writing this, Dawn is going into orbit around Ceres and New Horizons is rapidly approaching Pluto/Charon. It’s an exciting time of exploration, and, while being there would be great, just seeing these new worlds close-up for the first time is almost as good.


Angus McIntyre

Angus McIntyre is a computational linguist by training, with degrees in linguistics and intelligent knowledge-based systems from the University of Edinburgh. Born in London, he now lives in New York, where he works as a software developer. Prior to moving to the United States, he was a researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, working on computational models of language evolution. He has also lived and worked in Milan, Brussels and Bangkok. He is a graduate of the 2013 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. He is an enthusiastic if not particularly-gifted amateur photographer, likes to travel, and speaks five languages with varying degrees of fluency. He lives in Manhattan with his girlfriend and the world’s least friendly cat.

What is the name of your Mission: Tomorrow story and what’s it about?

Angus McIntyre: The story is called “Windshear”. It’s about the exploration of Venus, using manned and unmanned aerostats in the cloud layer. Specifically, it’s about an accident involving one such vehicle, and the efforts to rescue a surviving explorer from the damaged craft.

What gave you the idea for your story?

AM: I came across some papers by a NASA scientist (and SF writer) called Geoffrey Landis, about using lighter-than-aircraft in the Venusian cloud layer. To summarize, while the surface of Venus is a baking high-pressure hell, the cloud layer — about 50-60km above the surface — is a much more hospitable place. Moreover, an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere at terrestrial pressures is a lifting gas in Venusian conditions, so Landis proposes that you could wrap a bubble of breathable gas in tough fabric and make a durable habitat that would float above the planet, providing a floating base for scientific study of Venus.

Taking Landis’s papers as a starting point, I set out to imagine the ecosystem of vehicles that could live in the cloud layer, and the challenges that they and their crews might face.

Tell us a bit about your main character(s) please.

AM: There are two main characters: Bruno is a Brazilian explorer-scientist, working aboard a flying greenhouse called a ‘merleta’ (the name is from the Portuguese word for ‘martlet’, a heraldic bird always drawn with no legs because — like Bruno’s craft — it never lands). He’s the one who gets into trouble and has to figure out a way to save himself.

Helping him — and battling the corporate bean-counters who say it can’t be done — is Tania, the commander of a space station in orbit that provides support to other public and private missions working in and around Venus.

Both Tania and Bruno are improvisers, and very determined people. He’s determined not to die, and she’s determined not to let him if she can do anything about it.

How did you come to be a part of Mission: Tomorrow?

AM: My story was written for Baen Books’ Jim Baen Memorial Contest, and was the second runner-up in the 2014 contest. The contest organizer suggested that I should send it to Mission: Tomorrow. (Thanks, Bill!)

Does your story tie in to other works or worlds you’ve written? How?

AM: I wrote another exploration story for the 2015 Baen Memorial Contest, called “Boojum”, which is about manned exploration of the moons of Saturn (specifically, Titan). In my mind, “Boojum” was set in the same future as “Windshear”. An early draft even hinted that one of the characters from “Windshear” had gone on to be the mission commander of the Saturn mission.

For length reasons, I had to cut the reference, but “Boojum” is still looking for a home (it received an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Memorial Contest), and I have high hopes that it’ll see print one day, perhaps with that reference re-inserted. And now that the secret is out, even if I don’t find space to put it back in, at least anyone who reads this will know that the two stories are connected.

What are other projects you’re working on that might interest us?

AM: I am working on a number of stories — short stories, novellas, novels — all set in a future universe. At first, I thought I’d created three different universes, but then I had an epiphany in which I realized that all three could be the same universe at different time-periods. The end result is a grandiose project spanning tens of thousands of years and a dozen possible novels or novellas, with accompanying short stories. So far I’ve finished a couple of short stories set in the mid- and far-future periods of that universe. I’m currently working on a novel from the first ‘slice’ of my universe, and a novella from the third.

This is not the universe of “Windshear” and “Boojum” — I think. They probably belong to a different possible future. Although now that I think about it …

How does your approach to writing short stories differ from your long form process, if it does?

AM: Long form for me is “more of the same, only longer and larger”. My short stories tend to run long anyway, so I often find myself having to pare things down to meet length constraints. Long form gives me the chance to describe things more fully, and to put in more of the back story and more viewpoint or secondary characters than short stories allow.

My short stories typically explore one main idea; longer-form work often involves drawing together multiple ideas. The novel writing process is a slow burn: while I mostly write short stories over the space of a few days or weeks, I can put aside novels in progress for months … or years … or forever. Often, the intervening time gives me new ideas about where the novel should go, sometimes leading me to change my initial plan quite radically.

If you could go into space, what would be your preference: personal or public? Long term or just a quick trip?

AM: The chance to go into space would be such an extraordinary opportunity that I’d be prepared to go with anyone who’d take me: personal or public doesn’t matter. And I’d be fine with a quick trip, but I’d be up for a longer voyage as well. I can be happy pretty much anywhere, and I could probably adapt to living on a space station or a spaceship.

Any particular reason you’re asking? Give me a couple of hours, I can pack a bag …

About Bryan Thomas Schmidt (68 Articles)
<p>Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, THE WORKER PRINCE received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. As book editor he is the main editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press where he has edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller THE MARTIAN. His anthologies as editor include SHATTERED SHIELDS with co-editor Jennifer Brozek and MISSION: TOMORROW, GALACTIC GAMES (forthcoming) and LITTLE GREEN MEN–ATTACK! (forthcoming) all for Baen, SPACE BATTLES: FULL THROTTLE SPACE TALES #6, BEYOND THE SUN and RAYGUN CHRONICLES: SPACE OPERA FOR A NEW AGE. He is also coediting anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter and Joe Ledger universes. From December 2010 to June 2015, he hosted #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.</p>
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