The Darkest Side of Saturn is, among other things, an asteroid story—a female astronomer and a male engineer co-discover a two-mile wide asteroid that might or might not hit the Earth in 16 years. Their conundrum, besides a potential illicit affair between them (they’re both married to other people), is how to announce it without making jackasses of themselves.
How did the title come about?
I was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the early 80s watching the first pictures come in from the Voyager I spacecraft after it flew by Saturn. The planet’s gravity had grabbed Voyager and flung it northward out of the plane of the solar system, and now we looked back and down at Saturn’s night side nested inside the crescent of the day side.
From that higher perspective came a view that had never before been seen. Saturn had always, in all of history, never been more than a tiny two-dimensional disk painted onto the celestial sphere. Now for the first time, seen from a new direction, the shadow cutting across the rings and that darkness nested into light made the planet real. It had finally become a three-dimensional sphere floating in space. The title popped into my head: The Dark Side of Saturn. (Darkest came later.) The dark side contrasted against the light made it real.
I didn’t start writing the story until a decade later, and by then I’d figured out what the title meant: the yin and yang aspect of the world. How opposites taken together from a wider viewpoint make a whole. Good and evil, science and religion, faith versus understanding, male versus female, each provides context for the other, and out of that you get something more complete than either by itself.
What’s the meaning of the book?
Normally this is where an author should be coy and say, “That’s for readers and critics to decide; I am but the humble author of a modest story; what would I know about its deeper meaning?” But no! Fools rush in . . . A chapter named “Bridge to Nowhere” lays out a good chunk of what I intended:
There’s a beautiful, pristine bridge deep in the middle of the mountains northeast of Los Angeles made of white concrete—pure and unabused by tire marks. Right after it was built in the 1930s, a flood washed out the road leading onto it, and the bridge was never used. It arches gracefully over a deep canyon and runs smack into the side of a mountain. Nowhere!
That bridge is a monument to man’s folly, thinking he can compete with nature. But it’s also a tribute to man’s striving for the future and the beauty that it occasionally brings about. The story of man has always been struggle and despair, and yet despite that, despite the manifest hopelessness of our journey, man keeps striving toward some unknown destiny, always hoping, always seeing something worthy ahead. The book names that destiny, but now I’m skirting a spoiler, so I’ll stop here while I’m still ahead.
Question: Why did I write the book?
Answer: To satisfy myself. And that includes not writing in a genre.
If you’re looking for genre, don’t bother reading The Darkest Side of Saturn. It’s not one. I wrote it to please myself, not follow a deeply rutted road. It’s not science fiction, mystery, romance, literary, thriller, or any of those categories that have rules, conventions, and expectations. It has science, but it’s not science fiction. It has romance, but it’s not a romance. There’s sex, some of it extreme—not in the usual generic mold. It’s about science, romance, sex, world view, and metaphysical speculation all rolled into one.
Cabbages and kings! It’s for people who like to ponder imponderables with their entertainment. But it ain’t vanilla science fiction (whatever that is), so if you’re looking for quirky, unpronounceable alien names or a space opera that violates all the rules of physics, this book is not for you—it won’t meet your expectations.
Then why did I call it science fiction? Because I had a weak moment. Because the established publishing and marketing industries require that every work of fiction be labeled, marked, pigeon-holed, screwed, blued, and tattooed as a genre.
I like to think of it as a Greek drama, devoid of sound and fury, signifying something. Like some Greek dramas, it has an odyssey, and there’s even a Greek chorus of girl and boy scientists and engineers. It has sermons preached by a spacecraft navigator turned Prophet of Doom and his antagonist, a fanatical preacher. It has voices in their heads, and rants ranted by an obnoxious radio talk show host.
And lastly, it has a two-mile wide asteroid that might hit Earth. Start the countdown.