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The MISSION: TOMORROW Interviews: Chris McKitterick, Lezli Robyn and Bryan Thomas Schmidt 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 sixth and final 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.

Chris McKitterick

Chris McKitterick’s work has appeared in Analog, Artemis, Captain Proton, E-Scape, Extrapolation, Foundation, Aftermaths,  Ad Astra, Locus, Mythic Circle, NOTA, Ruins: Extraterrestrial, Sentinels, Synergy: New Science Fiction, Tomorrow, various TSR publications, Visual Journeys, Westward Weird, a bowling poem anthology, and elsewhere.

His debut novel, published by Hadley Rille Books, is Transcendence, and he recently finished another, Empire Ship. Current projects include The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella and a memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. Chris teaches writing and Science Fiction at the University of Kansas and succeeded James Gunn as Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He also serves as juror for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel. He can be found online at Twitter, Facebook, and his website:

SFSignal: What is the name of your MISSION: TOMORROW story and what’s it about?

Chris McKitterick: “Orpheus’ Engines” is about how we’ll only reach the stars by cooperating – and the challenges of trying to communicate with alien intelligence.

SFS: What gave you the idea for your story?

CMcK: The first story set in this world! It’s called “Jupiter Whispers,” and was published in Visual Journeys: A Tribute to Space Art (Hadley Rille Books). Both of them arose from the question of how can we build the infrastructure to build big, long-term projects necessary for permanent human habitation in space, and the failings of how the US (and most of the world) conducts capitalism. They’re also, of course, about different forms of intelligence, and a way to express my love for Jupiter.

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

CMcK: In this story, Nina is the main character. She’s come from Earth with life-saving medical equipment to help her comatose husband (the main character of the first story), and to help crack the high-encryption message from the native Jupiter intelligence.

SFS: How did you come to be a part of MISSION: TOMORROW?

CMcK: The editor asked me to submit something! I love supporting people I know in the SF community.

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

CMcK: Not only is it the follow-up to the previous story, but I intend to write another couple of stories set in this world. Ultimately, I plan to shape them all into a novel.

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

CMcK: I just finished my novel, Ad Astra Road Trip, the first (two?) books in the Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Details here:

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

CMcK: Besides taking way longer? Not really! I’m constantly writing notes and ideas. Eventually, I start collecting related items into groups that feel like they go together. Eventually, they’re either ready to write as stories or continue to accumulate into novels.

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

CMcK: Let me just say that, when I was 13, I responded to an ad in the back of some magazine – a company seeking teen-aged boys to sign over their futures in order to be part of colonizing Ganymede. Nothing ever came of it, but I would have been willing to do pretty much whatever to be part of such a thing. So there you go.

Lezli Robyn

Lezli Robyn is an Australian multi-genre author, currently living in Ohio, who frequently collaborates with Mike Resnick. Since breaking into the field, she has sold to prestigious markets such as Asimov’s and Analog, and has been nominated for several awards around the world, including the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her short story collection, Bittersuite, is due to be published by Ticonderoga in 2015. She has just been nominated again for the Ictineu Award, a Catalan award she had won previously in 2011, for a novelette written with Mike Resnick.

SFS: What is the name of your MISSION: TOMORROW story and what’s it about?

Lezli Robyn: My story is called “A Walkabout Amongst The Stars”, and it is about the first Australian astronaut – and the first human, period – to travel into interstellar space, when it is discovered that Voyager 1 has been “contacted” from an outside source.

SFS: What gave you the idea for your story?

LR: When I knew I was going to write a story involving NASA, I looked up their current missions to help me spark ideas for an alien encounter story. I have always loved the idea of the Golden Disc (which was placed on Voyager 1 to introduce our race to any extraterrestrial that might come across the space probe), and reading up on that got my writerly cogs turning. It didn’t take long for the story to form with that research as its foundation.

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

LR: One of the main characters is astronaut, Tyrille Smith, who is very connected to her Aboriginal Australian heritage, and what it means for her to be the first of her family – of her people – to travel out amongst the stars she first learnt about in Dreamtime Stories. The other main character is I.R.I.S, an Interstellar Robotic Information Support drone, whose inquisitive nature belies a burgeoning sentience.

SFS: How did you come to be a part of MISSION: TOMORROW?

LR: I was very lucky to receive an invite from Bryan.

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

LR: Yes, the mysterious alien race I created in this story, appears again in a story I wrote for Galactic Games, another Baen anthology that Bryan has edited. Both stories stand alone, but can considered part of the same fictional universe.

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

LR: I have four books coming out in 2016. My Bittersuite collection will be published through Ticonderoga Press. On The Mechanical Wings Of Dreams and another yet-to-be-named book, will both be launched by Hadley Rille Books at Worldcon. I will also be writing a Stellar Guild book with Mike Resnick, which also to be launched by Arc Manor at MidAmeriCon.

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

LR: I would be willing to go on a long term trip, to be honest. For example, to Mars. I actually think public travel would be safer in the next 50 years, presumably because there would be more support and stricter guidelines, from governments on Earth, etc., to ensure the safety of the mission. I believe that private or personal trips wouldn’t have enough backing/experience to start off with, if I were to realistically travel within my lifetime. if several of our world’s Governments work together to start a public expedition, however… I’m onboard!

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt discusses Mission: Tomorrow and how it came about.

SF Signal: With so many different subjects and themes available, why did you want to create an anthology of space travel in a post-NASA age?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Because NASA being defunded and not being the only way into space is a huge change and opens lots of possibilities that can make for interesting stories, and because I love NASA, value what they do, and want to see them refunded and continue their great and very important work. For science alone, it is invaluable, but for science fiction, it has been foundational to inspiring so many of us as well.

SFS: Do you believe NASA has a significant role to play in the future of space exploration? Will it return to the days of its former glory or remain only a minor actor on the global stage?

BTS: In this day and age, it is hard to say if it will return to its former glory. Circumstances have changed. No longer do we have a space race with the Soviets. Some might say we have a space race with China and India, etc. Certainly those countries would say that. But I think the most publicized motive for space travel back in the 60s was to beat Russia and protect ourselves, which is not so much a concern. There are many other great motives though. I just spent an hour discussing this on the Baen podcast with several of the Mission; Tomorrow authors. It was a fascinating discussion. We came to the conclusion that government and NASA will forge the way to opening new horizons in space, while corporations and private funding are more likely to focus on exploiting where we’ve already gone and what we’ve already done because their concern is ROI, whereas NASA’s is more than that—to do what hasn’t been done and see how far and how much we can do. So I think yes, NASA still has an important role to play but parameters likely have changed for good surrounding and defining their work.

SFS: What surprised you the most about the stories you received for this anthology? Were there any unexpected sub-themes that naturally developed within your selections?

BTS: Well, I got more murder plotlines than I had expected. I got less NASA stories than I expected, and I got some tangents I didn’t expect like a noir mystery, a satirical reality show, and a myth about purgatory. All of which relate to the theme in interesting ways and take place in our solar system but were not dead on the concept I had in my head. As for sub-themes, I think the biggest sub-theme was hope. I didn’t ask for positive stories, but inevitably, that’s what I mostly got. Although some are dark and contain difficult situations for the characters, overall, they are hopeful in spirit. As Jack Skillingstead puts it, you have to be to be the kind of people who would go to space and take the risks involved. And as a result, authors like Jack, who often write the opposite of hopeful stories, were challenged to write something different. That’s always a good thing, I think.

SFS: You were first editor on Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN¸ which, of course, has become a global bestseller and box office hit both. Did that influence the decision to make MISSION: TOMORROW?

BTS: I actually invited Andy to write a story but he was too busy at the time with prepping The Martian for Crown and passed. But no. I actually was working on this shortly after editing that book and had had the idea prior to that. I may have refined it a bit because of The Martian, don’t specifically remember that influence but it could have subconsciously been there, but it was not the impetus per se. Just a subject that has always fascinated me.

SFS: Who are some of the authors writing the best near-future SF today? What novels or short stories you’d recommend to readers who enjoyed MISSION: TOMORROW and crave more?

BTS: Well, obviously The Martian by Andy Weir. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and David D. Levine have had some really interesting stories recently on NASA missions. I know Angus McIntyre and Curtis C. Chen, two of my contributors, have written several as well, though not sure if they are all published. Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis, The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick, Powersat by Ben Bova and Rescue Mode by Ben Bova and Les Johnson are other great examples as well. And I am sure there are many more I should read, so I hope SFS readers will recommend some in comments.

SFS: If you could have any author in the history of the genre write a story for MISSION: TOMORROW, who would it be?

BTS: Well, I tried to get Gregory Benford, Larry Niven, and Kim Stanley Robinson for obvious reasons but none were available two years ago when I was recruiting authors. But I’d love to have seen what Isaac Asimov would do with this concept or if Robert Silverberg had written a new story for it. Those would likely be quite fascinating reads. If I do another one, which will depend on sales but I so hope I get to do, I’d like Paul DiFilippo and some of the above, if I can get them…not holding my breath on Asimov though.

SFS: You’re a writer as well as an anthologist. How has each of these two skills helped you improve the other?

BTS: Well, for one, I can read like an editor, not just a writer now. Switching sides of my brain is easier. I also can step outside my subjective author view easier and objectively examine my text, but I still need and insist on editors helping with my work. It’s essential. I still get too close to the material, but I have lots more internalization of craft methods, what works and why, what doesn’t and why, etc. which I can employ in my work. And I also have learned to take rejection  better, knowing that it is not personal and that it happens all the time, because I pitch anthologies to publishers and face rejection regularly and I would not have sold any of them if I didn’t keep trying. Mission: Tomorrow came to be because I kept on pitching, and so will my stories and novels. That is helpful, for sure.

SFS: What are some of your current and upcoming projects?

BTS:  We did a revised, expanded version of my novel, The Worker Prince, which is out now from WordFire Press, published by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. And the sequels, The Returning and The Exodus will both be out next year. Shattered Shields, my military epic fantasy anthology co-edited by Jennifer Brozek is out late January in mass market paperback, and I have a science fiction sports anthology called Galactic Games, headlined by George R.R. Martin, Silverberg, Mercedes Lackey, Gene Wolfe and more coming out June 7th from Baen. My first YA anthology, Decision Points, and my world con Kansas City retrospective anthology, SpeculationK.C., will be out later in the year as well. And then I have more cooking in 2017 and am pitching already for 2018. So I am keeping busy, for sure.

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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