Something has always bothered me about mainstream science fiction involving interstellar travel. This has been true not only in best-selling literature but even in popular television series such as Star Trek.
What happens if you take a few hundred healthy prime-of-life people with an even mix of male and female, put them into a sealed environment with limited living space and even more limited recreational space, and send them off for months or even years at a time on a mission where they can’t even communicate with family back home. You make them work together every day under a rigid command structure. You expect them to have meals together. You house them in common quarters where they have little or no privacy.
And then… you impose a rule on them that says “no sex between crew members for the duration of the mission…” – in a society where consenting adult civilians can do just about anything they please.
Does anyone (other than the current crop of generals and admirals at the Pentagon in Washington) believe that’s actually going to work?
People will be people, attractions will develop into relationships, deprivation will become too much to handle, and sooner or later someone will get caught doing forbidden things in the access spaces behind the environmental processing plant.
Many SF writers seem to ignore this problem and present the reader with a shipboard environment in which crew members just go about their jobs with no romantic involvements (or at least none that the reader knows about). They assume that any society of the future would provide true equality between the sexes, so crews will have as many women as men; but most all of these people are such dedicated members of the XYZ Space Navy that they would never dream of breaking the rules. Or, at least that’s the way it seems to me as a reader. I absolutely love David Weber’s Honor Harrington series; but it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
OK… let’s be honest, John. You did exactly the same thing in the first three Lunar Free State novels. You may not have assumed that the problem didn’t exist; but you didn’t address it, either. Right, so let’s address it now. How would the people in charge of the LFS handle this problem? They pride themselves in providing individual freedom for their citizens, but they also have a need to maintain a strong, well-disciplined military.
To begin with, that “no sex” rule has to be modified. Issuing an order that won’t be obeyed is a sure way to damage military discipline. So… the LFS rule begins with a tiny little qualifier that basically says “no intimate relationships between individuals in the same chain of command.” Every ship (or other military unit) has a command structure. Crew members report to a non-commissioned officer, who reports to an officer, who reports to a senior officer and so on up the chain to the Captain. So the rule basically says you can’t have an intimate relationship with anyone who is directly above you or directly below you on the same reporting chain.
OK, so that means the Captain is out of luck, since everyone on the ship is in his/her chain of command; but hey, that goes with the job. Sorry about that, but it also means that everyone else on the ship (except maybe the Executive Officer) has at least some acceptable choices… and the lower you are in rank, the more choices you have.
There is one more little qualifier that the LFS had to include, one that says you can’t have an intimate relationship with anyone who is in a position to influence you in the performance of your duties or the advancement of your career, even if that person is not in your direct chain of command. You might think of this as a “conflict of interest” provision.
But of course, people will be people… so what happens if Technician First Class Jimmy Jones decides that Petty Officer Suzy Smith (who just happens to be his immediate supervisor) is his soul mate and he just can’t live without her. What then?
Well, (assuming P.O. Smith feels the same way about it) there is a possible solution. They can go up the chain of command and ask that one or the other of them be transferred into a different chain. Again, this is an option that is more likely to be available to the lower ranks and it might not be possible in all cases; but at least the regulations do offer a “way out” for people in that situation.
So that’s how the LFS deals with normal human tendencies in an otherwise stressful environment; but it still doesn’t explain where people can go (in that tiny sealed environment) to relieve those stresses. After all, we can’t have crew members just having sex on a table in the Crew’s Mess. People want privacy for such things. Besides, such public displays would not be conducive to military discipline.
Well, I’ve got an answer for that as well… but it will have to wait for the next installment. It will also be covered in more detail (and will be part of the story) in the fourth Lunar Free State novel, hopefully to be published in the next few months.
When the founders of the Lunar Free State left Earth they weren’t just looking for adventure in space. They were leaving behind a dystopian society and making a fresh start. They wanted to build Utopia and they had a clean slate to work with, so they decided to question some of the taken-for-granted social concepts that existed on Earth for centuries. Some of the new customs and practices they adopted made little difference in day to day life, and most of them were not written down or required by Lunar law – they were simply cultural practices that eventually became customs and traditions, little “quirks” by which the “Moonies” set themselves apart from “Earthworms” (as they came to refer to the people back on the home planet).
Most Earth nations still follow the practice of a woman taking her husband’s surname at marriage, and that was one of the first “Earthworm” customs the Moonies tossed into the trash heap. LFS women retained their own surnames at marriage and scorned the prefix “Mrs.” as well. They still used gender-specific prefixes, but “Mr.” and “Ms.” were the common norm.
So… how do you know whether a Moonie woman is married? Well, the Moonie answer is “why do you need to know?” Typical (Earthworm) male response: “So I know whether she’s ‘available.’”
Of course, the one thing has nothing to do with the other – and never has, even on Earth. The Moonies don’t confuse marriage (the social institution) with fidelity (the moral / ethical concept). Marriage doesn’t guarantee fidelity, nor does a couple have to be married in order to be ‘faithful’ to each other. In most religious marriage ceremonies couples promise to be faithful but on Earth a large number of divorces result from the failure to keep that promise.
Which brings us to another little “quirk” – the Moonie view of marriage in general, namely that it is a personal matter between individuals and is of no concern to anyone else. People of the Lunar Free State still get married in religious ceremonies according to their own religious preferences, or choose to exchange vows by way of a civil contract; but there is no such thing as an “official” government-sanctioned “civil” marriage, no requirement for any kind of marriage “license” and no official registration or recognition of marital status. In fact, as far as the Moonies are concerned, marriage in general is none of the government’s business. This also means that things like gay marriage and even polygamy or polyandry are non-issues on Luna, since the government isn’t making any ‘rules’ on the subject.
Divorce? Well, that’s also pretty much a personal matter, though there can be legal issues involving breach of contract – if the people in question entered into a binding contract in the first place. Community property? Well… Moonies don’t own real estate to begin with, and everything else they acquire is considered personal property. If a couple chooses to separate and can’t agree on who owns what, the Moonie solution is binding arbitration – which is a far cry from divorce court. There are no “lawyers” (as Earth defines them) on Luna, but that’s a topic for a whole different discussion.
So… OK, but what about the family unit? If Moonies can be married (or not) according to their own wishes, who is responsible for any children they may have? Answer: the biological parents – both of them. And that does have the force of Lunar Law behind it. There are no “deadbeat dads” or “single mothers” (in the Earthworm sense) on Luna, and Lunar birth certificates are required by law to have two names on them – with the biological father being determined by mandatory DNA testing if necessary. Issues involving the welfare of children will result in both parents being held accountable, whether married or not, even if they are not living together.
Which brings us to one other quirky little custom of the Lunar Free State: If marriage isn’t a legal matter, and women don’t take their husband’s surname anyway, how do Moonie kids get their surnames? Well, that’s simple enough, since the biological father of every child is determined at birth. Moonie kids get the surname of their biological parent of the same sex. In other words, if Ms. Smith has two kids with Mr. Jones, their son will be Adam Jones and their daughter will be Eve Smith.
And that, of course, is how Lorna Greenwood II, daughter of Carla Greenwood and Bjorn Hansen (and granddaughter of the original Lorna Greenwood) got her name. But you’ll have to wait until the fourth novel is published to find out more about her.
If you’ve read the books, you’ve probably figured out that I’m mostly conservative in my social / political views, with maybe a touch of Libertarian thrown in. I believe in individual freedom, self-determination, and small government.
So… how is it that I’ve created the Lunar Free State, admittedly portrayed as something of a Utopian society, in which every citizen has a rank and position in the LFS government’s table of organization. Per Book I, this is a nation in which the government supplies housing, clothing (uniforms, no less), and even food to its citizens. In the beginning, they even have to eat that food in community dining halls. Well, darn, John… that’s socialism (gasp!).
Well, perhaps it is; but for the “Moonies” it’s also simple pragmatism, a “necessary evil” that they recognize as less than ideal and will ultimately strive to overcome.
Consider this: the citizens of the LFS are living on the surface of the Moon (actually, under the surface – in a city that had to be built (by the “government”) underground to shield them from radiation, meteor strikes, and other hazards on the surface above). Conditions outside their artificially-constructed environment are far more hostile than any found on Earth, with no air to breath, no water in any form, and temperatures that range from near-absolute zero to well above the melting point of some metals. They survive only by virtue of a complicated infrastructure that must be serviced and maintained very carefully (again, the responsibility for that falls on the “government”). They have little in the way of excess space, limited supplies, and few opportunities for recreation. Every one of the few hundred “original citizens” has a job to do, a job that must be performed with due diligence and skill or the survival of the entire community will be at risk.
Effectively, they are all on a “space mission” much like a NASA shuttle flight of today, and while the mission may involve scientific research or some other activity, it must be conducted within a disciplined chain-of-command structure to insure safety and survival. However many civilian specialists have gone into space under NASA’s auspices, each mission has always had a military officer in undisputed command.
As for government-supplied food, clothing, and shelter, eventually the “Moonies” will become less reliant on that (in fact, have already done so to some extent in Books II and III). But in the beginning, they had to live within the limits of the infrastructure that had been built, and only the LFS government was in position to procure the supplies they needed. Unlike the U.S. government, which often behaves as if it has unlimited revenue available, the founders of the LFS were practical business people who recognized that their limited financial resources had to be spent wisely. Under the circumstances, uniform clothing and community dining made economic sense.
Of course, none of this addresses the issue of individual freedom. In fact, the “Moonies” have freedom – with most all of the freedoms of the U.S. Bill of Rights incorporated into the Lunar Free State’s Constitution. Unlike the founders of the U.S., however, the people who established the Lunar Free State recognized that rights imply responsibilities, and explicitly spelled out those responsibilities in the Lunar Constitution. As a simple example, Freedom of Religion carries the responsibility of tolerance and respect for the rights of others and the good of the community. In other words, you can practice your religion as long as your religion doesn’t deny others the right to practice theirs, or involve practices harmful to others or to the community as a whole. Interestingly enough, the LFS Constitution restricts Freedom of the Press by requiring the media to report only the truth, based on verifiable facts… or as expressed in this quote from Someday the Stars:
“The Lunar media could report anything they wanted, provided it was accurate and based on verifiable facts – and not tainted by journalistic speculation, emotional bias, or innuendo; and provided it did not compromise national security. For violations of the second constraint, the burden of proof was on the Lunar High Command, which had to demonstrate to the Judge Advocate General that the violation constituted a real danger to the security of the state.”
Think about that the next time you are watching the evening news…
Obviously, the “rights” of any citizen of any nation are limited by the need to serve the public good – the old saw in the U.S. is that Freedom of Speech doesn’t give you the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium. The citizens of the LFS may suffer even greater restrictions because of the harsh environment in which they live; but they do have rights and freedoms, and are very vocal about preserving them.
Hopefully, someday I’ll give my readers a look at the LFS Constitution. Can’t do it just yet, however, because it’s still a “work in progress.”
OK, let me first say that SF writers can’t actually predict the future — at least, not any more accurately than anyone else who looks at what is going on in the world, thinks logically, and knows a little about history. Yes, history… because just as an actuary uses historical numbers to predict future results, the past is often a good indicator of things to come. Maybe that’s because we keep repeating the same mistakes…
SF writers generally try to envision a possible future, not necessarily a prediction of how things will be, but how they might be. Sometimes, however…
I see in the news that Senator John McCain has proposed legislation that will outlaw the use of encryption in any digital electronic transmission unless the originator provides a means by which the government can decrypt the transmission (in real time, while the transmission is in progress). McCain and other supporters of the bill claim this will prevent terrorists from using electronic means to pass messages to each other. Aside from the fact that this shows a shocking lack of understanding on the Senator’s part of how encryption actually works, it would do nothing of the sort; but that’s not the point of this post.
The issue caught my attention because in my first Lunar Free State novel, The Moon and Beyond, the protagonists had to deal with just such a proposal sponsored by a Senator (Blackthorne), passed and signed into law. OK… I didn’t exactly predict the future. I envisioned Blackthorne’s “Cyber Security Act” primarily as a means for the government to spy on private computer systems, from home PCs to commercial server arrays. In addition to banning any form of encryption for which the government didn’t have keys, it required that any system connected to the internet have what was essentially an open port through which the government could examine the entire system if it felt inclined to do so. So far, nobody in government has gone that far.
What they are proposing, however, is bad enough — at least if you believe that the citizens of a free country ought to be entitled to anything resembling privacy. Think about it: every time you make a purchase on a legitimate web site, check your bank or credit card statement, or access information about your health insurance, retirement benefits, or just about any personal information you may have provided to someone, you are using encryption. All of those sites use it to protect your privacy, to keep your personal information from becoming known to anyone who doesn’t have the need and the right to access it. You never notice this, unless you happen to look up at the URL displayed on your web browser and see that it begins with “https” instead of “http”; but it’s there, and it is done for your protection.
And you don’t have to be on the internet to use encryption. These days, cell phones use it as well, for both voice and text messaging. Effectively, giving the government the keys to that kind of encryption gives them the right to listen in to your phone calls, to read your email, to see all of your texts without any restriction. Maybe I’m dating myself here, but I seem to remember a time not so long ago when people got upset over the idea of government “wiretaps” — listening in to old-style landline phone conversations — without probable cause and a warrant signed by a judge. Now we are proposing to give the government unlimited access to a much larger body of personal information, with no requirement to even tell us it is being done let alone justify it to a court.
Sometimes reality does mirror (or at least resemble) the possible future described in a story written by an SF writer, and I’ll admit to a small feeling of smug “I told you so” satisfaction on this one. But as a citizen of a free nation, where it seems like every day we are being asked to give up a bit more of our freedom… the truth is, I would rather not see this particular prediction come to pass.
Well, here we are again. Just got the word this morning that Valkyrie’s Daughter is a finalist for the 2015 Darrell Award for Best Fantasy or SF Novel. Here’s the link for those who might be interested:
I will be going to MidSouthCon in Memphis next month, to find out if I’ve won the award. I note that, once again, my competition comes from Frank Tuttle, a long-time local author who was in the finals last year. That time, I won the award (for Someday, the Stars) and he got First Runner-Up. We’ll see what happens this year.
P.S. — Well, the 2015 Darrell Awards have come and gone and…
Valkyrie’s Daughter took First Runner-Up for Best Novel. Frank Tuttle did in fact win the Darrell Award this year for his fantasy novel The Five Faces. Congratulations to him and hopefully we’ll see each other again, because I haven’t stopped writing and (as far as I know) neither has he.
Valkyrie’s Daughter is officially published! Yesterday, UPS delivered two boxes of books to my doorstep, and I immediately checked the major online vendors. I couldn’t find it on Amazon yet, but Barnes & Noble has it listed. No doubt Amazon will have it in the next few days.
Time to update the website. Books are also on the way to the warehouse for MyBookOrders.com. As soon as they arrive, readers will see the book listed for sale via the “”Buy the Books” links on this site. Just FYI, there is a hardcover version, but you won’t find it on Amazon or B&N — it will only be available here (purely an economic decision — the big outlets haven’t sold many hardcovers for me).
And yes, I know… despite my earlier comments about them, ebooks are still the biggest sellers . The ebook versions of Valkyrie’s Daughter are in the works right now, and should be ready in a few more weeks. They’ll also be available here, as well as through the usual outlets like Amazon, B&N, iBookstore, Kobo, etc.
Oh, and Mill City Press has just sent me a reminder that I need to send two copies to the Library of Congress. Details, details… (sigh).
Well… the bad news is The Moon and Beyond didn’t win a Darrell Award (though it was a Finalist ).
The GOOD news is that Someday the Stars won the 2014 Darrell Award for Best SF/Fantasy Novel by a MidSouth Author.
To find out that I won, I had to attend the awards banquet at MidSouthCon, the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Gaming convention held over the weekend at the Memphis Hilton. I was invited to be on a panel in which Darrell Awards finalists talk about their work, and I thought about just going to that and the banquet; but after downloading the MidSouthCon schedule, I decided to go for the whole day. Believe it or not, lifelong SF fan though I am, this was my first time at a Fantasy / SF convention.
OK… it was a little weird. Almost bumped into Princess Leia in the lobby, had to dodge a couple of Jedi Knights going at it with light sabers in the hallway, and the whole place seemed to be overrun with superheroes, pirates, and elves (including some young female elves in rather skimpy costumes). I guess I should have known what was coming as I walked through the parking lot and saw a bumper sticker that said “My Favorite Sport is Quidditch” as well as an SUV whose spare tire cover had an inscription written in Klingon.
But there were a lot of things for writers there, and I attended workshops most of the day. Not sure how much I got out of it – most people there were traditionally published authors, not SPAs like me, and a lot of them wrote in the Fantasy / Horror / Urban Fantasy genres (along with the “Romantic Horror” stories — think Twilight — that have gotten so popular). Some of the sessions were good, though. Among other things, I metToni Weiskopf, the CEO of Baen Books in a session entitled “Editing and Submission Ettiquette” I also went to Baen’s “Road Show” presentation, and I have to admit their publication schedule is mind-boggling. New stuff coming out from some of my own favorite authors at a dizzying pace.
My own panel in the afternoon was enlightening. I got a chance to talk about my books, to an audience that included most of the Darrell Awards jury, as well as anyone else who was interested. I told them a little story…
In 1969, I was in the Air Force in the Far East, and I watched in awe (as did the rest of the world) as Armstrong put the first footprint on the Moon. At the time, I remember thinking that by the time I retired, we would have cities on the Moon (maybe even a retirement community, so I could go live there). We might even be taking vacation trips to Mars.
Of course, that didn’t happen. We lost the dream, and it has been bothering me for over thirty years. So… I wrote a book. In fact, I wrote a series of books, about a group of people who didn’t lose the dream, who still wanted to build that city on the Moon and finally manage to do it. And that’s what the Lunar Free State series is really about.
From the reaction I got, the audience (particularly the Darrell jury people) really got into that story. Incidentally, the Darrell jury was three men and four women — and all of the women chimed in when one of them mentioned they really liked my “strong female characters”… so I guess it was Lorna who really won the award for me.
The banquet was nice, though I was too nervous to really enjoy the food (they didn’t announce the award winners until after the dinner was cleared away). Can’t tell you how great it felt when they called my name for the Best Novel award.
Anyway… Toni Weiskopf was at the banquet, but she didn’t come running over to offer to buy my books for Baen. Oh well… doesn’t matter. The next book WILL be coming out soon, probably through my old publisher, Mill City press.
Well… it took longer than I thought it would; but the ebook editions of Someday the Stars are out and available — at least on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. IBookStore should have them shortly, and of course they are also available (at a discount) from MyBookOrders through this website. The print versions, of course, have been out and available for over a month.
Friends have asked me why I bother with print books at all. Ebooks, they tell me, are the wave of the future. They can be published at lower cost and more easily distributed, are environmentally friendly, and actually provide a better return for the author. Yes… all that is true, but think about this: everything stored in electronic media is fragile, temporary in nature, and dependent on an ever-changing technical infrastructure.
How much music was lost because it never made the transition from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs? How many great innovations in computer software never made the transition from DOS to Windows? Hey, all you gamers out there — how many “classic” video games aren’t around any more because they were never rewritten for the new game consoles? For that matter, how many great old movies will never make the transition from film to video tape to Blu-Ray? Hollywood has already lost a few classics because they turned to dust in the film vaults without ever being copied to new media.
So what’s different about ebooks? I have an entire collection of classic literature as well as some more recent stuff in Microsoft Reader (.lit) format. Microsoft Reader was one of the very first ebook formats, but it’s pretty much dead now, no longer supported by Microsoft. Today, just about everything is either EPUB or MOBI, designed for modern readers like Kindle, Nook or iPad; but someday (probably within the next couple of years), some clever systems designer will come up with something new that makes those obsolete as well.
This wasn’t an issue when ebooks were just electronic versions of books that had already been published in printed form; but these days, there are many books being published only in electronic format. How many of these will not make the transition to the next level of technology?
And what happens if the “preppers” are right? What happens if civilization collapses, and we lose our technological infrastructure altogether? Who’s going to worry about ebook readers if we don’t even have electric power to light our homes?
According to Wikipedia, there are still 48 copies of the Gutenberg Bible in existence, a book that was printed in the year 1450. How many ebooks, published this year, will still be around (and still readable) 500 years from now?
… and for you SF fans out there, maybe it’s time to go back and re-read Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 for a look at one author’s vision of a “bookless” society.
Someone recently posted a new topic in the Goodreads SF and Fantasy group, asking what readers thought of the idea of “anti-gravity” or “artificial gravity” in Science Fiction (both books and video). This led to a lively discussion, in which some complained that Hollywood apparently takes the ability to generate gravity for granted. For example, how many SF movies / TV series have you seen where characters walk around inside their spacecraft as if they were strolling through an Earth-bound shopping mall?
Others complained that authors / screenwriters who do admit to using artificially-generated gravity don’t seem to realize how many other applications there are for such technology — everything from zero-gee sports arenas to high-rise construction equipment that replaces cranes and lifts. There were also a few “hard” Science Fiction fans (who generally take the science part of SF very seriously) who complained about authors who just use anti-gravity or artificial gravity at will, never explaining how it works or creating a reasonable technological framework for its use.
Of course, I found these discussions most interesting, because mastery of gravity is so very crucial to the technology of the Lunar Free State. Gravity-driven spacecraft initially give the LFS a tremendous military and commercial advantage in the Sol system, and the ability to keep their Lunar “home” under normal Earth gravity helps them avoid any medical problems (such as muscle atrophy) that might be associated with living in a low-gravity environment.
To answer the “hard science” critics, I’ve tried to provide a scientific basis for gravity technology, keeping in mind that gravity is still the least understood force in the universe. Physicist Lisa Randall questions why gravity is such a weak force, compared with, say nuclear binding force (the force that holds atoms together), or even compared with common electro-magnetism.
Weak? Hey… gravity is the force that keeps the planets in their orbits, and even holds galaxies together. What’s weak about that? But consider this: it takes a mass the size of the entire Earth to generate the 100 kilos or so of gravitational force that keeps your feet on the ground. If you look at it that way, yeah… gravity is a pretty weak force.
Randall goes on to speculate that what we perceive (and can measure) as gravity is just the manifestation in three dimensions of a much stronger force in an n-dimensional framework. Whoa! Just thinking about the mathematics involved in that statement gives me a headache…
… but it does open the door to some interesting possibilities for the study of gravity, and just maybe for the technology to generate and control gravity (in a much stronger form than occurs in nature); and that, of course, is what the LFS has managed to do.
As for the lack of other applications (other than spaceship propulsion and internal gravity, that is), the technology simply hasn’t advanced far enough for that yet. Like any new technology it is still somewhat cumbersome. It’s power-hungry, and requires a fusion reactor just to provide enough energy to propel a ship; but LFS researchers are working on it, and will eventually find ways to make it more efficient, and with that will come new ways to make use of it. Hey, the first digital computers used vacuum tubes, filled very large rooms, and required their own air conditioning just to keep them cool; but now, some sixty years later, that “smart” phone in your pocket packs more computer power than the systems that were used to fly the Apollo missions to the Moon.
As far as the LFS is concerned, you can expect gravity technology to evolve in the same way.
Oh… and just a little bit of tribute, or “credit where credit is due”… as readers have probably figured out, LFS scientific research ships are named after noteworthy scientists; and in Valykyrie’s Daughter (Book III in the series), you’ll discover that they’ve just commissioned a new one: LFS Lisa Randall…
The UPS truck rolled into my driveway yesterday, and dropped off two large cartons from Mill City Press — my copies of Someday the Stars — Book II in the Lunar Free State series. That reminded me to get on the web and check the big name book vendors (Amazon, B&N). Sure enough, the listings have been published and (to my surprise) they are actually selling it at a slight discount from the cover price (though you can still get it cheaper here, through the link to MyBookOrders). The ebook versions aren’t listed yet, but they will be soon.
The important thing is that the story continues. The Lunar Free State has not faded away. In fact, it has grown in the ten years since Ian Stevens and his crew established themselves on the Moon. The LFS is still smaller than most Earth nations, but out beyond Earth orbit, it is a force to be reckoned with, an economic giant, and the dominant military presence in space.
But something is about to happen that will change our view of the universe forever, and the LFS will find itself locked in a struggle for the survival of the human race in the Solar System. In the course of that struggle they will find an unlikely ally, and will get their first hint of a galactic secret surrounding the origin of the human species.
Want to know more? Read the excerpts.
Still want to know more? Read Someday the Stars, available through booksellers just about everywhere.