A few months before finishing my bachelor’s degree I remember working at my kitchen job, all alone in the back, when the idea came to me.
As much as I dislike my job at times, some very important factors make it actually quite appropriate for me. I usually work by myself, and I’m able to listen to podcasts using a Bluetooth device I refer to as my Borg Ear. I listen to political podcasts, some goofy podcasts, university lecture series, and a ton of science podcasts. If you want to see my favourites, just look at the thanks and acknowledgements pages in my books. I heard talk about ion engines, NASA’s New Horizons mission, exosolar planets, generational starship ideas, artificial intelligence, fusion power, biochemistry, SETI, exobiology, long duration space flight, prospects for the future… and it was all filtered through my new found sense of skepticism and wonderment at the universe. As a result I’d been building up in my head a model of a possible (if not probable) future, and at some point I started thinking about how doable a generational starship mission could actually be, if sufficient motivation and resources were called to bear.
And at the same time I was thinking about writing. I’d been a writer for a very long time but I never thought much about it. I’ve kept a journal since I was a teenager, and part of what drew me to psychology and philosophy in school, was how effortlessly I seemed to be able to understand the information presented to me and synthesize essays about it; it came naturally. For a long time I’d thought about writing books, and in years past I’d actually had brief attempts at beginning a couple. But I wasn't ready yet. I was not technically ready, and I had yet to figure out what I wanted to say; I had yet to find a voice.
Leaning about science, psychology, and philosophy though, taught me many things. I leaned how to understand and accept myself, the society I exist inseparably with, and the benignly indifferent physical universe we all live in. Only once I had thoroughly re oriented my world view by internalizing into my own psyche the processes of science in becoming a skeptic, did I discover what I had to say. Now I found I had a lot to say.
I remember the moment when I had the idea to write a story about a mission to colonize a nearby star and to split it into three separate stories, the first about those who chose to go, the second about those in the middle who had to suffer the worst consequences of that choice, and the third about those who would face the challenge of actually getting there and trying to build a civilization. I realized I could follow the proud tradition of hard science fiction by being meticulous about trying to get every single fine grain detail as accurate and scientifically credible as possible. I had stumbled upon my star.
At this point though, it was still just a shell; it was only a concept. Each book at this point had only a spatial and temporal setting, nothing more. But I started working on it, slowly at first and painfully awkwardly. My original first draft of Launch is positively cringe inducing for me to read now, but I’d never tried to write anything like it before. As I finished the first draft though, as I fleshed it out and researched the science, as I wrote multiple drafts over the following year and made significant changes, it became something I was proud of. It became about something very personal to me; it became about choice and purpose.
Before I’d even finished my last draft of ‘Launch’ though, I’d already started working on ‘Midway’. I thought I had a great idea; a murder mystery in deep space. Again, it was just a concept, and the rest had to be filled out. I had learned a lot from writing the first book and writing the second was much smoother. With the first I sort of made it up as I went along chapter by chapter, which wound up necessitating a lot of re-writing, restructuring, and refocusing. When writing the second I actually went about drafting the whole story arc ahead of time, and in the end it only required one significant revision.
The second book became about the darkness in contrast with the brightness of ‘Launch’. Where ‘Launch’ was about a glittering idealized future world of abundance and infinite choice which could give rise to a New Horizon mission, ‘Midway’ in harsh contrast was about scarcity in all respects. The ship was their entire world; the only resources available to them were those which their founders had thought to bring with them. Meaningful choice, which was all importantly maximized in ‘Launch’, was all but non-existent in ‘Midway’. The first was about the light and the second was about the darkness, but the third would be about the grey.
While my girlfriend was reading my drafts and I was waiting on rejection letters from publishers, I started working on ‘Arrival’. I had been excited to write this one for a long time at this point, I felt the same anticipation I imagined my characters feeling at having finally arrived at the ending after so much build up and anticipation. Long ago while at work I had sketched out the characters and basic plot on cue cards; each card had a character or numbered chapter. I was excited to write it because it would be so much more action and plot driven, and it would also be a different kind of writing technically. Where ‘Launch’ was written in first person limited, and ‘Midway’ was written in third person omniscient with many different characters, ‘Arrival’ would be focused on the four simulants exclusively, and chapters could only have scenes which involved them.
Building on the light, dark, grey theme, I made ‘Arrival’ about human conflict. I wrote it very quickly compared to the previous two, and it never required a major revision because I had thought it out so thoroughly ahead of time. When I’d finished it though, I realized that there was no way it could be traditionally published and be available in time for the flyby of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons probe, and this broke my heart because I’d always dreamed of a natural tie in with the release of the books and the mission which helped inspire the trilogy. So I decided to go it alone, so that the books would be out there and available in some form when the fastest spacecraft ever launched by humans hurtles past its target.