It had never occurred to me that some of the submissions I’d be sent for Rocket Science would be based on wildly creative interpretations of the anthology’s guidelines. Admittedly, I did say repeatedly that I wasn’t necessarily looking for stories with rockets in them, or stories set in space. In hindsight, that actually leaves the field pretty much wide open. Nonetheless, some of the stories that appeared in my inbox had taken approaches to Rocket Science‘s remit I hadn’t expected. Helen Jackson’s was one such story. But as soon as I read, I knew I wanted it.
The call for submissions to Rocket Science* got me thinking.
Not about rockets (my story doesn’t contain any of those). No, it got me thinking about what people exploring space would have to deal with, and what they’d have to give up. Unlike the Starship Enterprise, real-world space ships are cramped, don’t have a decent bar on board, and take a long while to get anywhere.
A few months before the call I’d been fascinated by the suggestion of a one-way mission to Mars (see the paper by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies in the Journal of Cosmology, “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars”) – or, rather, fascinated by the reaction. People volunteered! A lot of people – more than 400 according to Fox News here.
My first response was “me too!”
But, I couldn’t leave it there. A small part of my brain said “what, really?” and “you’d go mad with cabin fever” and “wouldn’t it be dull a lot of the time and hard work the rest?” and other similar things.
Rocket Science gave me a chance to explore some of those objections. I put a character who would love to go into space through an Earth-bound version of some of the hardships involved: long-haul travel, being away from friends and family, coping with unfamiliar tasks and surviving in a difficult climate. Investigating her responses made it a fascinating story to write. She’s not me, but – as with all my characters – she contains some elements of me.
It also let me explore a utopian vision of animation (when I’m not writing I’m an animator). There’s a lovely section in Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life describing how the animators at Disney studied real deer when working on Bambi. They had live fawns in the garden and a fawn cadaver, found by a forest ranger, to dissect and draw. Oh, the luxury.
In ‘Going, Boldly’ my main character, Frankie, is in the enviable position of working for a near-future games studio that takes a similar approach to research. Yet, it’s that research which makes her life difficult: it brings boredom, loneliness and fear as well as excitement and satisfaction.
It may not be rocket science, but there are parallels.
There’s more from me over at www.helen-jackson.com.
* Which – full disclosure – I received from the anthology’s publisher Mark Harding, a fellow member of Edinburgh spoken word group Writers’ Bloc.