Colum Paget approached submitting to Rocket Science in an entirely appropriate scientific manner…
Since spotting flyers for Rocket Science at Eastercon I’d been desperately trying to come up with a suitable story. I swotted up on recent ‘space’ discoveries but no stories suggested themselves, and I was aware that others would be reading the same material, and perhaps having the same ideas as me. To get into the anthology I’d have to stand out from the crowd.
My first plan was to write something set in the Kuiper belt or the Oort cloud. I felt these mysterious ‘comet shoals’ were little-known parts of our solar system that my competition would overlook. However, although I had some cool ideas about ‘comet habitats’ or ‘comet ships’, I never came up with a story to fit the location. In desperation I switched to a ‘Brave little rover’ story set on Mars. I hoped my non-human protagonist would stand out, and such people are a political hobby-horse of mine because I feel SF treats them rather unfairly, so this story was a typical place for me to ‘run’ to. But I became worried that it resembled “Wall-E”. I’ve not yet seen “Wall-E”, but Wikipedia seemed to confirm I was working over recently disturbed ground. I lost faith in the story and stopped writing.
As generally happens, the deadline was looming and I’d got nothing. But now Ian started doing something important, he started using the Rocket Science blog to report, complete with pie charts, what kind of submissions he was seeing. As a writer I haunt the blogs of publishers, and I’ve been seeing a phenomenon that I call “The Rise of the New Anthologists”. The New Anthologists use the web to report the progress of the anthology, giving feedback to writers who are thinking of submitting as to what has already been sent in. This allows them to maximise the quality of their slushpile by minimising the amount of ‘duplicated work’ among writers. Ian currently holds the crown as the person that I feel has gone furthest with this approach (other ‘New Anthologists’ are Silvia Moreno Garcia at ‘Innsmouth Free Press’, the “Machine of Death” team and Leonard Richardson and Sumana Harihareswara at “Thoughtcrime Experiments), but I suspect others will push this yet further.
Straight away I could see that Mars was oversubscribed, and I wasn’t the only one doing non-human protagonists. Suddenly I had something I’d been lacking: a plan. I was going to try to put a new ‘slice’ on every one of Ian’s pie charts.
Firstly, gender of the protagonist. I could see that Ian was getting a lot of male protags in his slushpile. I normally write female protagonists for a number of reasons that anyone will tell you are completely wrong-headed. However, my new plan insisted a female protag was too pedestrian, I wanted my own slice of the pie.
In a previously published story “Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings” I had introduced the ‘neuts’, ungendered artificial people built to fly warboats in the Jovian “Warring Moons Period”. So, my protag would be a neut.
Next, story type. Ian’s graphs showed a lot of Rescue, First Contact, and ‘Fix Problem or die’ stories, as you might expect for a “Hard SF in space” anthology. I needed something more out of left-field. My protag was built for battle, but if she’s not at Jupiter she’s probably fled the insanity of the warring moons, a deserter, someone forced onto the wrong side of the law. Thus I decided on ‘Heist’ as my story type.
Now I needed a setting, the Kuiper belt no longer felt right. I had a previously written piece of work that had really not come out well, but I never throw anything away. It involved two people investigating a mysterious object orbiting Uranus. Their colony on a Uranian moon was failing, and one of them is trying to earn money so she can flee back to the more successful Saturnian colonies. Reusing this idea gave me not only a location but also a motive for the heist and an idea of what was being… uh… ‘heisted’. The location was the Uranian moon Titania, the motive was to escape their failing colony, the thing being ‘taken’ had to be some kind of transport. It just shows, don’t throw away, recycle.
Now I was really rolling. I like using titles that are variations on those titles we all know even if we’ve never seen the film or read the book. Titles like “Bring me the blank of blankety blank”, “Portrait of the blank as a young blank”, “The good, the bad, and the blank”. For this one it could only be “The Taking of blankety blank”.
Finally, the target of the heist had to be something iconic, more than just a space-freighter. My original ‘Kuiper belt’ plan provided the missing element, it would be comet, a comet that’s been occupied and restructured into a huge spacecraft.
And that’s how I got in Rocket Science.