Category Archives: Fiction Writing

Falling in Love With Mars: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury

“Falling in Love With Mars: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury,” by Joi Weaver

I remember when I fell in love with the Red Planet. It wasn’t seeing pictures from Sojourner or the MER rovers. It wasn’t from any scientific data at all.

I fell in love with Mars when Spender quoted Byron in a dead Martian city at at night, in the first chapters of The Martian Chronicles.

“So we’ll go no more a-roving,
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright. 

For the sword outwears the sheath,
And the heart outwears the breast,
And the soul must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest. 

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
We’ll go no more a-roving,
By the light of the moon.”

At that moment, it didn’t matter to me whether or not Mars had ever known life. It didn’t matter if Mars was a dead world. Mars was cold, dry, open, and I loved it.

I devoured the rest of The Martian Chronicles, watching the sudden growth of trees planted by an early colonist, cheering as Mars became a home for the homeless and disenfranchised of Earth. Ray Bradbury wove an intricate narrative, bringing Mars to life through the stories of people of every conceivable background. As I read, Mars became more than a red dot in the night sky, more than a cold dead world. Mars became home.

At the end of The Martian Chronicles, Earth becomes embroiled in yet another war, one that threatens to wipe out all life on the planet. Most of the Mars dwellers return, even though they know it means leaving Mars behind forever. But a few stay. In the final scene of the book, a single family sets out on an adventure to “find the Martians.” At the end of their trip, they look down into a pool of water and see their own faces looking back. “The Martians were there–in the canal– reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad. The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…”

Bradbury often stated that he did not write science fiction stories; instead, he insisted, he wrote people stories. The people in his stories might live on Earth in the future, or on a spaceship, or on Mars, but they were still people: fallible, but always familiar. A reader might not identify with a robotic explorer or a technological genius; but a young woman, boarding a ship to travel to Mars and begin life on the new frontier with her husband, is a character any reader can connect with.

Bradbury didn’t just feed the imagination or paint a picture of a world to be explored. He flung wide the doors to the universe, and filled it with little bits of Earth: people, places, books, art, music. He showed us the cosmos and made it feel like home. He reminded us that it is not enough to survive on a new world through technological prowess, we must bring all of the best of humanity with us, or our new worlds will remain nothing but outposts.

Farewell, Ray Bradbury. And thank you.

Sci-Fi Panel Discussion to be Held at Mars Society Convention

“The Mars Society is pleased to announce that a unique panel discussion on the role of science fiction in promoting humanity’s space ventures will be held at the 15th Annual International Mars Society Convention in Pasadena, California, on August 3, 2012.  Participating in the special forum are three leading sci-fi writing personalities: futurist and writer David Brin, novelist and television consultant Michael Cassutt and author and script writer David Gerrold.”

Apple’s All New iTunes U App and iBook Author eBook Publishing

Apple announced the availability of “iBooks Author” which allows users to create interactive digital books using powerful but intuitive templates.
Now anyone can create stunning iBook textbooks, history books, picture books, and more for iPad. Use Multi-Touch widgets to include interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations, 3D objects, and more. Then submit your finished work to the iBookstore with a few simple steps — before you know it, you (or your space advocacy organization) are published.
iBooks Author is available for free in the Mac App Store.  
Streaming video of Apple’s education event: 

io9 Article on Space Themed Storytelling

io9, a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future has published a fun thought provoking article on space themed storytelling. 
(Please click through to read the article in full.)

Why Adding “In Space” Makes It Better

Everybody always says that every story idea has been done before – which is totally not true, because nobody’s done a “nuns raise an ostrich to be the perfect killer” story before. But even if a story idea has been done to death, you can always make it fresh and brilliant all over again, by adding just two little words: “in space.”
Science fiction fans have known this forever, but it’s time that everybody was told. There is no genre, no type of story, no set of story beats, that cannot be improved by adding “in space.” It bears the same relation to storytelling that “in bed” does to fortune cookies. And we’ve got the proof, right here.

Creating A Better Narrative: Sacrificing the Science?

Image by Framestore CFC, used in “Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets” (BBC, 2004)
(thanks to Max Champion for identifying the source of this image)

Second in a series of posts from guest writer Joi Weaver 
in preparation for NaNoWriMo.

The common wisdom in creating stories about real science is: don’t. You either lose your audience or deal with scientists who ridicule your story as unrealistic or dumbed-down. For example, see every movie about Mars for the past 50 years. Is there anything in there that is both dramatically compelling and acceptably scientifically accurate?

Is this divide necessary, or have we just not told the right stories in the right way yet? Imagine if realistic science fiction about space colonization started outselling vampire romances? It’s completely possible, but only if we start creating narratives that can capture the imagination and flood the market. We don’t have to sacrifice the science, but the narrative must be compelling. When the general public is more interesting in supernatural romances and pirate stories, we don’t have the luxury of being science snobs.

I believe the problem is simply that we haven’t yet told enough of the right stories in the right way. The movie Apollo 13 demonstrated that people do care about science-heavy stories, as long as the drama is compelling. (Lest you doubt that Apollo 13 is science-based, think of the time spent in the movie explaining to the audience about the equipment inside the command module and re-entry angles.) This isn’t limited to historical accounts, either. Give an average sci-fi fan a copy of Red Mars and see what happens.

But for now, let me take as an example the book Roving Mars by Steve Squyres, the Principal Investigator for the MER mission. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. After you’ve read it, give it to someone who thinks the human presence in space ended with the shuttle program.

Squyres brilliantly dramatizes the science in Roving Mars. Enough detail is given about the construction and function of the major components of the Mars Exploration Rovers to enable the reader to feel anxiety when a part breaks or refuses to function as intended, or a deadline creeps closer during testing. The difficulties in getting funding and approval from NASA play out more like office dramas than anything on NASA TV: and who hasn’t had trouble getting their boss to understand their pet project?

The majority of the book discusses the time prior to the launch of the rovers: the first third is simply getting approval for the mission! A sense of frustration as the mission meets delays, obstacles, and budget issues is palpable, but it never slows the narrative. There’s plenty of science to be found in Roving Mars: basic descriptions of the equipment on board, explanations of the conditions the spacecraft have to endure, and information about technological problems that occurred during testing. It’s far from “dumbed-down.”

What Squyres does brilliantly in this story is use science to create a narrative to which readers can relate. His description of PANCAM isn’t there to show how cool the tech is, it’s there so the audience will understand why it’s an important piece of equipment and what the stakes would be if it were lost. The same goes for the solar panels, the Mossbauer, and most of the payload.

As good as Roving Mars is, however, it’s not enough. Space geeks often fall prey to the temptation of looking for a “silver bullet,” a cultural artifact strong enough to improve the public’s view of space exploration with a single blow. The silver bullet doesn’t exist. Changing public perception is more like Chinese Water Torture: one little drop at a time. We don’t need a better Roving Mars, we need hundreds more like it.

How do we get those hundreds of stories? When we start creating them. See part 3 of this series next month for more ideas on how to do that.


The Importance of the Narrative: Tell Them a Story

(First in a series of contributions from our guest author Joi Weaver)

I’m sure we’ve all had the same experience. Caught up in the excitement of a new Mars mission, or a new photo from the surface, or even a new bit of tech that could help in the colonization of the Red Planet, you look up to find the person you’ve been talking to staring at you with glazed eyes. Your heart sinks as you realize, they just don’t get it.

How do we help people see what is exciting about space exploration in general, and Mars exploration in particular? I believe it boils down to one simple thing: it’s all about the narrative.

The early space missions had a story that anyone could grasp: we were sending men to the moon! It was dangerous! It was exciting! It was putting our country in the forefront of science! This narrative kept public attention and support for the space program high through the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo missions.

But it fell short, ultimately resulting in an early cancellation of Apollo and hamstringing all future NASA spaceflight. Why? No-one ever developed a new narrative. “We’ve beaten the Russians to the moon,” most people thought, “isn’t that the end of the story?”

Of course it’s not the end. But you wouldn’t know that to talk to the average person-on-the-streets. Many people believe the shuttle was capable of lunar landings and had no idea the whole shuttle program was coming to an end until a few months ago. NASA, for all its media presence, failed to provide a new narrative. In the post-Challenger era, NASA decided to stress the safety of spaceflight, despite the fact that it is the riskiest human endeavor possible. NASA TV became little more than clean-cut men and women floating in a sterile environment, smiling as they talked in acronyms that meant nothing to the public: it was very safe, but it was terrible story-telling.

What does this mean for Mars?

Mars is still a blank slate in the public mind. Some of the more well-informed people may know about the rovers, but that’s about it. This is an opportunity. We can still set the narrative for Mars, and more importantly, learn from NASA’s mistake: the story can’t just be about getting there, or we may never go back after the first trip.

A narrative is almost never set by a single person; rather, it’s a hundred little stories that slowly take root in the heart and mind of the people, gradually changing the way we see the world. No-one can say that the MER program happened because Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles. But would it have happened, or happened in the same way, if he hadn’t written it? Where would the space program be without Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, and a hundred others who fanned our desire to explore?

It’s time to start creating the narrative for Mars, to show the Red Planet as we know it: a place of danger, beauty, and adventure. A place that could, eventually, become home.

In May, I began a work of fiction, a blog purportedly written by the first private colonists on Mars. Though the characters I’ve developed may write about the weather conditions, the  environment, and the technical difficulties of living on the planet, they also write about what it is like to make Mars home, how it feels to live on the new frontier, and what this colony means for humanity. These characters are creating a narrative for Mars that goes far beyond the race to land on the surface. They are finding a way for people to think of Mars as “home.”

The frontier is open. Let’s start telling the stories.


Mars in Science Fiction (Author’s Panel, International Mars Society Annual Conference 2010)

Authors discuss the treatment of Mars in Science Fiction, their work processes, expectations for the field, and more. Panelists: Geoffrey Landis, Mars Crossing, Impact Parameter and Other Quantum Realities; Mary Turzillo, Mars is No Place for Children, An Old Fashioned Martian Girl; Robert Zubrin, First Landing, How to Live on Mars; David D. Levine, Space Magic.

Curiosity and Cameron

“I think any kind of exploration should always try to acquire the highest level of imaging. That’s how you engage people — you can put them there, give them the sense they’re standing there on the surface of Mars.”

For obvious reasons the pro-active visionary heroics of Oscar-winning director James Cameron have become a running theme on this blog. The director of “Avatar” and many other sci-fi flicks, “Titanic,” and technologically demanding undersea documentaries, is now helping NASA develop a high-resolution 3D camera for the next Mars rover, SUV-sized Curiosity, due to launch in 2011.

Remember the beautiful Mars imagery NASA’s Mars rover, Spirit, captured during its journey to the Red Planet? Now imagine high-definition color 3D video from the surface of Mars at eye-level, in motion, at walking pace: sunrises and sunsets, stars after midnight, vistas stretching for miles.


Zoom lenses will allow for “cinematic video sequences in 3-D on the surface.”
“The fixed focal length [cameras] we just delivered will do almost all of the science we originally proposed. But they cannot provide a wide field of view with comparable eye stereo. With the zoom [cameras], we’ll be able to take cinematic video sequences in 3D on the surface of Mars. This will give our public engagement co-investigator, James Cameron, tools similar to those he used on his recent 3D motion picture projects,” said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, Inc, the company which developed the Mastcams.

“[NASA Administrator Bolden] actually was really open to the idea.  Our first meeting went very well. It’s a very ambitious mission. It’s a very exciting mission. (The scientists are) going to answer a lot of really important questions about the previous and potential future habitability of Mars.”
“We so desperately need not to blow it,” Cameron said of the first opportunity in decades to consider moving human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Cameron has lamented that space exploration stalled — because of political compromises — after the Apollo moon landings. Rather than being a jumping off point to future great adventures, the space shuttle and International Space Station ultimately “formed a closed-loop ecosystem for self-justification.”
Now, the agency has a chance to move beyond that and chase mankind’s “greatest adventure” — landing humans on Mars.
“Where does the money come from? From working people, with mortgages and kids who need braces. Why do they give the money? Because they share the dream.” They need reasons to stay engaged: from telling them the ways space exploration has provided them with tools that improve their daily lives to helping them to be more interactively involved in the missions.
NASA’s focus has been on hardware instead of people, partly because the agency shields its people from the public. Instead, in an era when American kids and adults need inspiration, NASA needs to do a better job of selling its astronauts and scientists as heroic people.
“Our children live in a world without heroes,” he said. “Your kids need something to dream about. We need this challenge to bring us together.” I think that any kind of exploration should always try to acquire the highest level of imaging. That’s how you engage people — you can put them there, give them the sense that they’re standing there on the surface of Mars.”
“The [1997] Sojourner Rover became a character to millions of people, a protagonist in a story. How long is it going to survive, could it perform its mission? It wasn’t anthropomorphic in any way, there was absolutely no emotion in a little solar powered machine that was being commanded from eighty million miles away, and yet people thought of it as a character. The reason we thought of it as a character is that it represented us in a way. It was our consciousness moving that vehicle around on the surface of Mars. It’s our collective consciousness — focused down to that little machine – that put it there. So it was a celebration of who and what we are. It takes our entire collective consciousness and projects it there – to that point in time and space. That’s what the Sojourner Rover did.”
“I was involved in a private company that was going to try to land two rovers on the Moon. That collapsed in the dot com crash – they ran out of money. I’m loosely involved with people who are going to be doing future robotic missions to Mars. I’m involved in terms of imaging, and of how imaging might be improved in terms of story telling. I’ve been very interested in the Humans to Mars movement –the ‘Mars Underground’ — and I’ve donea tremendous amount of personal research for a novel, a miniseries, and a 3-D film.”
Mars is real, non-threatening, a living character with which humanity must become familiar and comfortable. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post explicitly about Cameron’s Mars film work, yet again.