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The MISSION: TOMORROW Interviews: Robin Wayne Bailey, Ben Bova and Jack Skillingstead 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 first 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.

Robin Wayne Bailey

Robin Wayne Bailey is the author of numerous novels, including the bestselling Dragonkin series, the Frost saga, Shadowdance and the Fritz Leiber-inspired Swords Against The Shadowland. He’s written over one hundred short stories, many of which are included in his two collections, Turn Left To Tomorrow and The Fantastikon: Tales Of Wonder. He is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and was a 2008 Nebula Award nominee. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He is currently editing Little Green Men–Attack!, a humorous SF anthology for Baen with Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

SF Signal: What gave you the idea for this story?

Robin Wayne Bailey:  I’ve always had a fascination with Pluto.  I’ve even visited the observatory near Flagstaff, AZ where Percival Lowell first observed the planet.  Yes, I said “planet.”  And with the New Horizons probe approaching Pluto, I wanted to write my story and see how much I could get right before the probe arrived.  Also, Wilson Tucker, a longtime friend, mentor and father-figure had written a story for the old Ace Doubles called “To the Tombaugh Station,” so I also wanted to pay a small homage, although our stories are nothing alike.

SFS: Tell us a bit about your main character.

RWB:  James Dayton is a former military man who has become disillusioned with what Earth governments can achieve or even want to achieve.  He’s “jumped ship,” as it were, to the corporate side of space travel and helped to spearhead a very cutting edge journey to Pluto.  He commands the first of three gigantic vessels that will make the one-way trip to Pluto and then link up on the planet’s surface to form the first working scientific station.  He is the first man to set foot on Pluto and, as commander of the station as well as a founder, keenly aware of the scale and grandeur of the undertaking.

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

RWB:  I had written two stories previously for editor Schmidt, one a fantasy called “Vengeance,” and the other a science fiction story called “King of the Galaxy Knights.”  I think he knows the versatility of my work and my willingness to work with a skilled editor, so he invited me aboard.  I was very happy to accept.

SFS: Does your story tie in to other works or worlds that I’ve written?  How?

RWB:  Originally, “Tombaugh Station” was a complete stand-alone story, unlike anything else I’d written.  However, by the time I finished the piece, I realized I had created a situation, a “world” if you will, that I wanted to visit again, and I have the outline for that tale right beside my computer.  It will be called “Old-timer,” another James Dayton story set at Tombaugh Station with more revelations about their mission and the planet.  I like this setting and the characters well enough that I may continue, from time to time, to revisit them.

SFS: What other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

RWB:  Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I get along so well that we began contemplating projects we might work on together.  I approached him with the idea for a humorous science fiction anthology.  We put a proposal together and sold the idea to Toni Weisskopf at Baen Books.  It’s called Little Green Men–Attack! and it’s been great fun to assemble. It should be out in late 2016 or 2017.

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

RWB:  When I first begin a short story, the process is similar to my novel writing.  I create a “Bible” for the characters, the setting, etc.  That “Bible” will contain a lot of background and information.  Often, in the first drafts of my stories, I’ll crowd too much of that information into the tale, and my job on the second draft then is to go back and pare out anything that isn’t absolutely essential to the current story, itself.  With “Tombaugh Station,” for instance, the first draft opened way out in space with a lot of wordage about orbital velocities, the search for a suitable landing area for Tombaugh One, and a lot of interpersonal stuff among the characters.  All that would be fine for a novel-length work, but not for a short story.  With a short story, the writer has to find that immediate moment at which his or her story actually begins and then cut away everything, no matter how cool, that doesn’t serve the immediate story.

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

RWB:  Ah, the answers I could have given when I was younger.  What kid or science fiction writer didn’t dream of going into space?  I suppose they still do.  But at a certain point in most of our lives we become anchored by the relationships we build and by the responsibilities and obligations we forge with the people we love and care for and who care for us.  If it was possible to go for a short hop and return safely without forsaking those relationships and responsibilities, sure, I might go, but only for a brief time.  For now, though, it’s not really a decision I have to think about.  Real space travel still remains the stuff of dreams.

Ben Bova

For nearly fifty years Dr. Ben Bova has been writing about humankind’s future in space. His first novel, The Star Conquerors, was published in 1959. Since then he has written more than 130 futuristic novels and nonfiction books about science and high technology. His 2006 novel, Titan, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, “for fueling mankind’s imagination regarding the wonders of outer space.”

He was editor of Analog Science Fiction and Omni magazines and won six Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor. Ben is also a past president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and president emeritus of the National Space Society (NSS). His latest novel is New Earth.

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

Ben Bova: The story’s title is “Rare (Off ) Earth Elements.” It’s about China’s attempt to monopolize the supply of rare earth elements – which are vital for electronics manufacturing – and Sam Gunn’s attempt to break their monopoly.

What gave you the idea for your story?

BB: Current events…and projecting them into the not-so-distant future.

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

BB: Sam Gunn in a sawed-off, loud-mouthed, skirt-chasing entrepreneur who has made – and lost – several fortunes in space ventures. In this tale he meets a female Chinese astronaut. And the rest is history.

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

BB: Bryan asked me.

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

BB: It’s another episode in Sam Gunn’s colorful life.

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

BB: At the moment I’m working on a contemporary novel set In Washington DC, about the sparks that fly when science and politics butt heads. It’s a third novel in a series, following my earlier Power Play and Power Surge.

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

BB: For me, writing short stories in more difficult than writing novels. Novels take longer, of course, but you have the room to allow your characters to develop. Short fiction has to be plotted in detail from the start. You don’t have room to allow your characters to develop; you have to know what they’re going to do when you start writing the story.

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

BB: I think private space companies will be the way to go. Let NASA and the other government agencies handle the scientific and developmental missions. Private firms will be better at dealing with passengers. At my age, quick trips will probably be better.

Jack Skillingstead

In 2001 Jack Skillingstead won Stephen King’s ON WRITING contest. Not long afterward Jack began selling regularly to major science fiction and fantasy markets. To date he has published more than thirty stories in various magazines, Year’s Best volumes and original anthologies. Much of his short work has been collected in Are You There And Other Stories (Golden Gryphon Press, 2009 and reprinted 2014 by Fairwood Press). Jack’s novel, Life On The Preservation (Solaris 2013), was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has also been a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Award. Jack lives in Seattle with his wife, writer Nancy Kress.

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

Jack Skillingstead: “Tribute” is about a former NASA astronaut who is recruited by private interests to crew on a mission to Mars. Her brother died on the last Mars mission, and that disaster contributed to the end of NASA’s manned spaceflight program and the dream of colonizing the red planet.

What gave you the idea for your story?

JS: I was struck by how our manned space program has been devoted to near-Earth orbit in the post-Apollo age. And though there is talk of private missions to Mars, it seems obvious that the private commercialization of space will be more about exploitation rather than exploration. I wanted to write about a character frustrated with this state of affairs and willing to take the bold risks involved in pushing bounderies no one seems to care about.

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

JS: Karie Chen is driven by her core belief that exploration is at the heart of human achievement. Without a sense of pushing bounderies, stagnation takes over, and stagnation leads inevitably to the decay of civilization. That’s her Big Idea. On a smaller, human scale, she simply wants to complete the mission her brother died trying to carry out. And on a purely selfish level, Karie wants to fly in space again — an impossibility without the sponsorship of the corporate world she loaths. In this sense, Karie is the first of a new breed of astronaut.

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

JS: Bryan Schmidt invited me to contribute a story, so I gave it a shot. I’m pleased he decided to buy it.

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

JS: It does not. In fact, “Tribute” is something of a departure for me.

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

JS: I’ve been writing a science fiction novel with the working title of Unbound. By the time this interview appears, I hope to have a final draft. Beyond that, I have a few short stories appearing in the coming year.

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

JS: Completely different animals, though I maintain you can learn a lot about the elements of novel writing by doing a lot of short stories. Both forms function best in scenes, both employee characters who want something, etc. But a short story can be drafted in a comparatively short span of time, and once finished in rough form can be held as a whole event in the writer’s mind. Novels are simply too long for that to work. If you aren’t an accompished outliner, you must find other strategies to nurture the many details involved in long form fiction. By the way, in my experience, good short story writers tend NOT to be outliners.

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

JS: If I ever go into space, it will certainly be on a commercial suborbital flight, such as those being offered by Virgin Galactic. And, if I had the resources, I would go in a minute! Of course, the cost is currently prohibitive. But that could change in the next ten or fifteen years, a time frame in which I could probably still manage the physical rigors — barely.

About Bryan Thomas Schmidt (68 Articles)
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.
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