Tag Archives: science fiction

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

 

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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About The Darkest Side of Saturn

DSOS Front Cover

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.

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And lastly, it has a two-mile wide asteroid that might hit Earth. Start the countdown.

 Begin.

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