Tag Archives: novel

Preface to Black Sky Voyage

 

Rather than burden the book description here with an author’s introduction that readers frequently skip, I’ll make the preface a separate blog post. It introduces Oliver Harwood’s space station architecture, which I think is worthy of consideration in future plans for Mars colonists.

—Preface—

I started this novel a long, long time ago when I was a spacecraft navigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) working on the NASA Voyager mission. Somewhere around the time Voyager II passed Neptune, I finished and tried to publish Rainbow’s End. Fortunately, I failed. It and I were not ready for the big time. Not even the small time. Not even close.

Instead, between and during other NASA missions to Mercury and Pluto, I dedicated what little of my energy remained to writing and publishing two other novels that achieved a modicum of critical success in the winning of awards. The first was about war. The second involved an asteroid, a preacher, a reluctant prophet of doom, and a ballerina—things that just naturally go together. In the process, I learned a little more about writing novels that I hadn’t known on the first attempt.

Since then—at loose ends as a recently retired interplanetary navigator and casting about for something new and exciting to do—I dusted off Rainbow’s End, reread it, and thought modestly, “My my, there’s some damn good writing in here, even if the overall execution sucks!” I decided to recycle, revise, and rename. The new name is the one you see on the cover, and the story is a greatly improved and vastly better constructed version (I assert) of the original. You’ll have to accept my word on this. Or see for yourself.

I had a fascination with Mars in my youth, planning at one stage in my career to become the first person to walk around on it. When that didn’t work out, I decided instead to write about colonizing it, and that’s what you’ll see in this story—a race against time and human stupidity to put some of our eggs in a second basket as insurance against a major wipeout. (I believe the odds are stacked against us in the short term, but that’s another story and maybe another novel.)

For my new Mars colony, I needed a space station to put into orbit around the planet and a habitation to put on the surface. My original concept was crude and poorly thought out, consisting of cubical modules plugging together somehow like LEGO® pieces. This was unacceptable for more than one reason. While I pondered, weak and weary, along came an epiphany like a raven above my chamber door: why not use an architecture I’d recently learned about—something modular with standard parts: expandable, sturdy, simple, cheap, and above all, elegant? That would be Oliver Harwood’s concept.

Oliver Harwood (1922-2003) was a twentieth century spacecraft designer who was a leader in the structural design of the Skylab Space Station. I knew him from a presentation or two that he gave at JPL, and a visit or two to his home to discuss promotion of his revolutionary space station architecture. He’d proposed his plan to NASA for use on the International Space Station then coming into existence on drawing boards.

Alas, the design was too elegant, too simple, and too cheap. NASA wanted lots of miscellaneous parts designed by lots of different companies in lots of different states to spread the constituency around so much that the project would be politically untouchable. Thus, we have what we have orbiting overhead in this second decade of the twenty-first century.

We can do better the next time. When we finally get serious about a Mars colony sometime in the coming decades—money-spending metal-bending serious—maybe we can have a second look at the Harwood architecture. You can get an inkling of what it looks like, in all its tetrahedral potential, on the cover of this book where I’ve used six of the seven standard Harwood components, and you can find more details inside.

However, this is not a sales job. It’s entertainment! Most of the details of the story are accurate mechanically, physically, astronomically, and psychologically (I humbly think), and the philosophical speculations should be universally intriguing, but …

The story’s the thing! Consider Station Ollie and Tharsis Cradle as just two of the characters in a telling of a president and a coup d’état, of colonists desperate for survival, and of a stranger who somehow interacts with all of them—things that just naturally go together.

Tony Taylor

Sedona, 2018/03/05

 

Writer’s Block II &etc

authorThis is an interview, slightly re-edited, that originally ran on Blogher wherein I talked about writer’s block and other things more or less associated with The Darkest Side of Saturn. Embedded within it are a  few tips on how to waste time and avoid writing which new authors, young and old, may find helpful.

I do not like to write. I like to have written.
— Gloria Steinem

Do you have a daily writing routine?

Not a perceptible one. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, but the main rituals that come into play are my excuses to avoid writing: Check the online news, read the online comic strips, make a list of things to do today, check the email, visit twitter, sharpen pencils (metaphorically; I don’t use pencils), go back to the news to see if there’s anything new, brew more coffee, balance the checkbook . . . Oops, time for lunch!

It’s hard to get started! But once the delaying rituals play themselves out and the butt hits the rolling chair at my desk and I start focusing on the writing, I usually get into the groove and go at it for a few hours at a time. Sometimes it helps to start writing in a scratch file or a junk file until the imagination gets in gear. I have a file on my computer named “The Daily Drivel.” Sometimes I start there and just write nonsense—the first things that come into my head—and that sometimes lights the fire.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do all of it in my office. I have an unfettered view of the red rocks and green Junipers of Sedona, Arizona from my second story office window (not to mention the vortices!). Unfortunately, when I finally begin to write, that landscape just disappears and becomes invisible since I can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. For the same reason, I never play music while I’m writing because I can’t handle distractions. It’s basically blinders on and bore straight ahead—all background either gets turned off or fades away.

Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about it?

I grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but my fondest memories were at my grandmother’s house in a village in a forest in the flatlands of North Carolina not far from the coast. The name of the village is Como, after Lake Como in Italy, and it’s just a fly speck on the highway maps if it can be found at all. I devoted a good part of a long chapter to it, renamed Roma, North Carolina in a back story of the protagonist where the young boy lives with his parents and falls into dreams every night listening to tires sing along the asphalt of a lonely rural highway, trucks and cars passing, eeeooo, in the dark, coming from unknown pasts and humming into deep and distant futures. One night he has an epiphany there, in the starshine of his back yard, and it affects the rest of his life. I think this is some of my best writing in the book, and maybe ever. Maybe because I wrote it out of love.

What is your motto in life/writing?

In life: Answering the Navigator’s question: Where are we and where are we going? By that I mean curiosity about science, nature, and humanity. Never mind that it’s an unanswerable question, Where are we going on this incredible life-trip that we’re all on? What’s the end goal, if life (or evolution, same thing) can be said to have a goal at all. I’d love to live forever to see how this all works out. But in true Navigator form, the destination is less important that the journey.

In writing: There’s no discernible difference that I can see. Where are we and where are we going?, that’s what I like to write about.

What inspired you to write your book?

I was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the early 80s watching the first pictures come down from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it flew by Saturn. The planet had grabbed Voyager with its gravity and flung it northward out of the plane of the solar system, and now we were looking back and down at the night side nested inside the crescent of the day side, and from that higher perspective came a view that had never been seen before. Saturn had always, in all of history, never been more than a 2 dimensional disk painted onto the celestial sphere from where we saw it on Earth. But now for the first time, from that new exalted perspective, 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, and 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 over a decade later and by then I’d figured out what that meant: the yin and yang aspect of the world. How opposites taken together from a larger perspective 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 one by itself. That’s one of the deeper reaches I intended for the story, successful or not.

Added 2016/04/10: By the way, I’m still figuring out what the hell the story’s about. New meanings and connections continue to pop into my fevered brain.

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Press Release – Arizona Book of the Year

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2015/11/10

SEDONA AUTHOR WINS ARIZONA BOOK OF YEAR AWARD


DSOS Front CoverTony Taylor of Sedona, Arizona added another paragraph to his resumé last weekend: his novel, The Darkest Side of Saturn, won the Arizona Book of the Year Grand Prize for 2015 in a banquet and ceremony for authors who entered the Arizona Literary Contest. The novel also won
First Prize in the Published Fiction category. The yearly contest, sponsored by the Arizona Authors Association in partnership with Green Pieces Press, is open to authors around the world without restriction on location. This year saw about 1,500 entries.

The book has been described by professional reviewers and writers as “A courageous and visionary work … an instant classic”, “A fusion of fanaticism and hard science, the visionary and the profane”, “Extraordinarily well-crafted and deeply thought-provoking … nothing short of a science fiction tour de force”, “Taylor presents a world teetering on the brink of the blackness of nothing and the lightness of life.” More than one reviewer has compared it to Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Taylor, whose careers encompassed air combat and spacecraft navigation, quips: “After this award I may have to come out of retirement a third time and start a full-time career writing novels.” His first novel, Counters, included his experiences flying fighters in the Vietnam war. This July he participated in the Pluto flyby as a member of the navigation team for the New Horizons mission. He has navigated spacecraft to every planet in the solar system, the first in history to do so.

Tony Taylor worked at JPL (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) for almost 25 years, navigating to planets Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. He continued his quest at KinetX Aerospace in Tempe, AZ, adding Mercury and the Honorary Planet Pluto to his list. He writes, and plays a decent game of tennis. He lives with his wife Jan in Sedona and has two daughters and two grandsons.

Links:
The Darkest Side of Saturn
Arizona Literary Contest
Arizona Authors Association

 

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Ten Must-Read Self-Published Science Fiction Novels

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Check Paul Goat Allen’s list of unsung gems dotting the jam-packed landscape of millions of unwashed and underappreciated self-published novels, and note (ahem) the diamond holding down the number two spot:

Full article

You should add ALL these novels to your reading list! But especially read this stunning review:

BlueInk Review

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