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BSFA Award Shortlist

Excellent news! Karen Burnham’s ‘The Complexity of the Humble Spacesuit’ has been shortlisted for the BSFA Non-fiction Award.  The shortlists were announced today, and the winners will be announced at EightSquared, the 2013 Eastercon, Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford on 30 March 2013.

Congratulations to Karen. And fingers crossed for the night.

Source: Mirriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online

Source: Mirriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online

Novels, short stories, artwork and non-fiction are nominated by the members of the British Science Fiction Association. The shortlists will also be voted on by BSFA members, and by attendees at EightSquared.



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Eric in space

Well, Eric in The Space Review, not actually in Low Earth Orbit or anything. Eric Choi provided one of the non-fiction essays in Rocket Science. It was titled ‘Making Mars A Nicer Place, in Fiction… and Fact’. A shortened version of Eric’s essay has just been published on The Space Review website. You can find it here. You can also find Eric’s ‘Introducing the author’ piece on this blog here.

Source: NASA

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Countdown, part 2

Here are the first lines of the remaining eleven contributions in Rocket Science:

“‘WELCOME TO THE Holodeck’,” quotes Frankie. (‘Going, Boldly’, Helen Jackson)

THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY of spaceflight, every aspect turns out to be a bit harder than it would appears at first blush. (‘The Complexity of the Humble Spacesuit’, Karen Burnham)

BARNABY SHAUGHNESSY KNEW it had to be The Call. (‘Why Barnaby isn’t Aboard the ISS Today, Gary Cuba)

The first manned lunar mission, created by Soviet engineers and workers, is headed towards Earth’s only satellite. Zond 7 lifted off on schedule on 22 February, and the spacecraft performed flawlessly. (‘Not Because They Are Easy, Sam S Kepfield)

“AH, HERE HE is. In this corner,” says Xilou. (‘The Taking of IOSA 2083’, CJ Paget)

IT STILL SOUNDS wonderful, sixty years later. (‘A Ray of Sunshine’, Bill Patterson)

“HOUSTON, WE’VE GOT a problem.” (‘The Brave Little cockroach Goes to Mars’, Simon McCaffery)

I HAVE TWO real-time images on my bedroom walls. (‘Sea of Maternity’, Deborah Walker)

SHE FLOATED ABOVE Amazon Rain Forest Zone 23, snapping pictures, then comparing them to the ones she’d shot last month. (‘The New Tenant’, Dr Philip Edward Kaldon)

IN MAY 2010, the US Air Force successfully tested the X-51 prototype of an air-launched, scramjet Mach 6 cruise missile. (‘Waverider Entry Spacecraft: A History’, Duncan Lunan)

THE TREES ALONG Konyushkovskaya Street were heavy with scent. (‘Dreaming at Baikonur’, Sean Martin)

Copies of Rocket Science will be available at the Eastercon this coming weekend (6 – 9 April) and alt.fiction the weekend following (14 – 15 April). You can also pre-order a copy from Amazon here, and they should be available next week directly from the Mutation Press website here.


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Introducing the authors: Sean Martin

Source: NASA

The word “rocket” often conjures up the personalities involved in the Space Race, but I have to confess it didn’t occur to me someone would tell the story of one of them and submit it to Rocket Science. I don’t believe that writers should not use real people in fiction – I’ve used real astronauts in my own stories – so I had no problems with the subject of Sean Martin’s ‘Dreaming at Baikonur’. I especially liked that Sean had made his story about Sergei Korolev the man and not the rockets he had built.

I grew up near an observatory, and I think it would be true to say that space travel and the mysteries of the universe were near-permanent fixtures in my childhood. My father, who taught physics and had a lifelong passion for astronomy, often launched into brilliant monologues over Sunday lunch about the nature of space-time, Einstein or Black Holes, and how he was going to send his latest theories to Stephen Hawking for approval. They remain some of the most awe-inspiring and mind-bending verbal performances I have ever heard, and induced a state of profound reverence for anything or anyone connected with fathoming these, the greatest of all mysteries; a feeling that has stayed with me to this day. (I’m a regular visitor to the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, where I now live.)

My story ‘Dreaming at Baikonur’ was inspired by hearing an item on the radio about Sergei Korolev last April, when the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s epochal flight was being celebrated. At the same time, Robin McKie’s piece on Korolev ran in The Observer. Korolev’s story was something you just couldn’t make up: the boy obsessed with space flight; enduring years in the Gulag during Stalin’s purges; the relentless work and discipline; the astonishing successes: the first satellite, the first living creature in space (the dog Laika, space travel’s first martyr), the first living creatures to return from space (the dogs Belka and Strelka, who survived their 1960 flight), the first man in space, the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova, who was also the first civilian in space), the first (unmanned) Moon landing, the first photographs of the Moon’s dark side, and the first space walk (by Alexei Leonov, in 1965). That Korolev managed to do all this is remarkable. That he had to do it with fewer resources than Wernher von Braun, less money than von Braun and often had to compete against rivals to maintain his position is little short of a miracle. And, in keeping with Soviet paranoia, he was completely unknown in his own lifetime; he was referred to, if at all, simply as The Chief Designer.

I knew I had to write about Korolev as soon as I heard about him, a giant from an era when heroes really were heroic, when people seemed capable of the impossible long before computers. Indeed, much of the work that put Gagarin into orbit was carried out by teams of mathematicians, working with pencils, slide rules and endless reams of paper, often in conditions that most modern scientists would balk at. (The conditions at the Baikonur – Russia’s Cape Canaveral – were notorious.) I like the fact that such humble instruments, together with Korolev’s drive and vision, led to such incredible achievements.

Sean Martin was born in Somerset but now lives in Edinburgh. He is the author of a number of books, including the bestselling The Knights Templar: The History & Myths of the Legendary Military Order and Andrei Tarkovsky, an acclaimed study of the great Russian filmmaker, and is also an award-winning poet. Also active as a filmmaker, he co-directed Lanterna Magicka, a documentary about the Scottish director Bill Douglas.

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Countdown, part 1

To whet your appetite for this Sunday’s launch, here are the first lines of each of Rocket Science‘s contents:

“TIME FOR BED, Reggie.” (‘Tell Me A Story’, Leigh Kimmel)

FISHER CAN’T HELP himself. (‘Fisher’s Gambit’, Stephen Gaskell)

THE STRONG ODOUR of burning spread quickly through the air, pumped around the International Space Station by rackety fans. (‘Final Orbit’, Nigel Brown)

IT’S LAUNCH DAY. In just a few hours I’ll find out if my scientific career is about to move into high gear, or if my future will end up in pieces on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. (‘Launch Day’, David L Clements)

NO PARENT EVER wants to lose a child, especially not the same child twice. (‘Incarnate’, Craig Pay)

“WE WANT TO dance when we go out the airlock,” the Belgian said. (‘Dancing on the Red Planet’, Berit Ellingsen)

IN SOME WAYS, Mars is like a celebrity that one finally meets and discovers is shorter and less attractive in person than on screen. (‘Making Mars A Nicer Place, in Fiction… and Fact’, Eric Choi)

CHEN WAS OUTSIDE, blowing the dust from the mirrors of the solar collector. (‘Pathfinders’, Martin McGrath)

“OUR AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM must produce all our food,” said David James. (‘A Biosphere Ends’, Stephen Palmer)

WE BURIED RACHEL in the spring. (‘Slipping Sideways’, Carmelo Rafala)

CARMEN VASQUEZ ROLLED the silver coin between her thumb and forefinger, and set it spinning in the stale air. (‘Conquistadors’, Iain Cairns)

The first lines of the other eleven contributions will be posted tomorrow morning.

Copies of Rocket Science will be available at the Eastercon this coming weekend (6 – 9 April) and alt.fiction the weekend following (14 – 15 April). You can also pre-order a copy from Amazon here, and they should be available next week directly from the Mutation Press website here.

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Introducing the authors: Gary Cuba

Source: NASA

The three most popular settings for stories submitted to Rocket Science were Earth, another (not always named) star system, and Mars. The International Space Station came sixth. Yet in the anthology itself, it is – with Mars and the Moon – second only to Earth as the most common setting. Which probably tells you more about the sort of fiction I wanted to publish in Rocket Science than it does the popularity of the ISS as a setting. But of the three set in LEO in the anthology, Gary Cuba’s is the only one that directly references the ISS in its title:

Ian very kindly asked me to provide a few words about myself and my story appearing in Rocket Science, ‘Why Barnaby Isn’t Aboard The ISS Today’. Keeping in line with my traditional spirit of literary perversity, I’ll instead relate a distant memory, dredged from the glory days of the U.S. Space Program.
It is 20 July 1969. Yes, I know that many of you were not even a gleam in your father’s eye back then, but I was a 22-year old college graduate who’d managed to score a decent entry-level engineering position at a major U.S. Aerospace/Defense company. Single, carefree, with a brand new fastback Plymouth Barracuda that sported a V8 318 cubic inch engine under the hood, and fifty dollars in my wallet. In short, the world was mine!

My close friend Neal had suggested we throw a moon-landing party. Now, at that age there are no bad reasons to throw a party, but this one seemed particularly good. A bunch of us guys and gals descended on his apartment, flipped on the TV to the continuous network feed covering this singularly historic event, and started doing what we all did best in those days: drinking beer and having a good old raucous time.

To cut to the chase, we watched and listened as the Lunar Module touched down on the moon, and heard those goosebump-inducing words, “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed”. We all whooped and hollered and chug-a-lugged our beers. Then more beers, as we awaited the first human step on the moon’s surface. Then more beers, as the hours wended on. When will Armstrong finally get out there and walk on the moon, damn it! Then, catastrophe struck.

We ran out of beer.

Neal jumped up and yelled “Beer run!” I accompanied him in his yellow ’62 Chevrolet Impala convertible and we set out to do our procurement duty. It took a little longer than we anticipated, being as it was a Sunday and the closest liquor stores were closed. When we returned, the other guests proclaimed: “You missed it! You missed it!”

Ah, well. There is probably some deeper meaning to this tale, but I’d be hard-pressed to identify it. Maybe it’s something about the fact that basic, lower-level human needs override all else? Or that we had better provide plenty of beer on our manned spacecraft in future? I dunno.

By the way, Neal still has that old yellow ’62 Chevy. It’s sitting in his barn as we speak.

And I’ll relate one other digressive item as a follow-up to this. The television camera used by the moon astronauts had been designed and built by my company (Westinghouse). Following the mission, it was delivered back to the Plant to undergo postmortem analysis. Since I knew the Tech who was charged with the disassembly, I got a piece of it from him – a tiny chunk of RTV silicone from a seal.

To be honest, I don’t know where that precious item is today. I probably threw it out during one of my occasional cleanup campaigns. Figures. Maybe I’ll run into it again someday, stuck away inside some dusty drawer or box.

Okay, all this has nothing to do with my Rocket Science story, which is about a gung-ho but not-very-bright ISS Mission Specialist. From its title, many will recognize the allusion to the old Irish folksong, ‘Why Paddy’s Not At Work Today’. I’d always wanted to translate that humorous (but sadly pathetic) vignette into a more modern setting. And so I did. I thank Ian for making me get all my “mushy” science and setting details correct, and for providing me with links to supplemental NASA online information to help do that. Rarely have I received such a helpful, sagacious, thoughtful edit. Here’s to you, sir! I’d wave off the flies, but there are none on you.

Since this post is threatening to get longer than the story itself, I’ll cap it off with the obligatory third-person puffin-stuff:

Gary Cuba lives with his wife and a teeming horde of freeloading domestic critters in South Carolina, USA. Now retired, he spent most of his career working in the commercial nuclear power industry, and holds several U.S. patents in that field. His short fiction has appeared in more than forty magazines and anthologies to date, including Jim Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Universe Annex (Grantville Gazette), Abyss & Apex, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. See to learn more about him and to find links to some of his other stories.

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Introducing the authors: Martin McGrath

In the submission guidelines to Rocket Science, I pointed out that the stories I was looking for could even be set on Earth. I was sort of hoping someone would send in a story about building or testing rockets. Martin McGrath went one better. His ‘Pathfinders’ is about a mission to Mars… but is set entirely on the surface of the Earth.

I started my working life setting crosswords and editing puzzle magazines but have spent most of what I laughingly call my “career” twisting the facts as a journalist and public relations manager. Since leaving the crosswords [“Act like female deer (6)”][i] I have worked in the National Health Service and local government in the UK and then served a number of different trade unions, fighting the good fight on behalf of Britain’s working men and women and actors. Currently I’m a freelance writer, editor and designer of paper things and web things.

I have a Masters and PhD in a field of political science that became obsolete eighteen months before I sat down for my viva.

My fiction has been published in various magazines and collections. My most recently published short story, ‘Eskragh’, appeared in Albedo One and was long-listed by Ellen Datlow for the year’s best horror anthology and appeared in Tangent Online’s list of the best short stories of 2011. A selection of my flash fiction was published in Illuminations: The Friday Flash Fiction Anthology.

‘Pathfinders’ was inspired by a couple of lectures that were put on by the BFI as part of their Kosmos retrospective on Russian science fiction films. The seeds were a comment by Simon Ings about the fundamental differences in Russian and American psychology being linked to their different geographies and spending an hour or so listening to the Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Kirkalev, talk about his experiences aboard the Mir space station as the Soviet Union fell apart below and his later career training Russia’s cosmonaut cadre. Kirkalev has an extraordinary grace and calmness, he was very impressive and I tried to capture some of that in ‘Pathfinders’.

When I read Ian’s pitch for Rocket Science, it set my mind thinking about the reality of the modern space programmes in economically straitened times and those other threads came together to form the shape of the story. I’m delighted Ian accepted the story for his anthology, even if there aren’t any actual rockets in the piece.

In my spare time I edit Focus, the British Science Fiction Association magazine for writers, and work on their other publications. I am the administrator of the James White Award, an annual short story competition. I blog, incontinently, at and tweet, inanely, as @martinmcgrath.

[i] “Behind” – sorry, old habits die hard.

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