Monday, July 13, 2009

Childhood Memories Become an Adult's Inspiration

Yesterday's blog about the masters of SF and their enduring importance to the field started me thinking about what inspired me to become a writer in this particular genre. I'm a child of the '60's. I grew up with Lost in Space and Star Trek (the original). I loved the B movies of the '50's that played on Friday and Saturday nights on the local independent station. Day of the Triffids terrified me and, to this day, I still have to remind myself that looking at a meteor shower won't cause me to go blind and be eaten by walking Joshua trees. TANSTAAFL and "Klaatu barada nikto" were phrases as familiar as my own name. Still, while all of that had an influence on me, it was just the seed, the germ of an idea that had yet to sprout.

What brought that germ of an idea to light was the space program. NASA. Project Mercury and the space race against the Soviets. Would we land a man on the moon before they did? It was the stuff of dreams and daydreams and it sent my imagination soaring.

It seems hard to believe that, come July 20th, it will be 40 years since Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. Forty years since he uttered those words literally heard around the world thanks to technology that hadn't existed 20 years before: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I was 11 years old that day. That's the day I knew science fiction could become science reality. It was also the day my imagination took flight, rarely to land for long. Even though I did the "responsible" thing and finished school, went to college, had a career -- or three -- my imagination never stopped flying. I hope it never does.

So, what is that one moment, that one image that inspires you to this day to do what you love?

24 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I was also 11 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I thought we'd be living on the moon and in space stations by now!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, me, too. The daydreams I had about that day finally happening. Of course, to be honest, back then I wanted to live on Mars or Venus more than the Moon. They seemed much more exciting to my pre-teen imagination.

Ori Pomerantz said...

I find it really hard to think of science fiction plots (I used to try and write, before we had four kids in four years). I suspect that the reason is I didn't grow up in a world where the moon landing was an exciting achievement. At the end of the day, I grew up in a world where people walked on the moon, said: "Meh, this isn't worth it" and went back home.

I still like reading science fiction, having grown up reading it. But I wonder if other people in my generation feel differently.

matapam said...

When I was in kindergarten, my father-the-engineer took a job at an aerospace company. A few years later we moved to a house that was closer - close enough to hear the rocket engine tests. I considered the Gemini missions a family accomplishment, my Dad designed parts of first stage boosters, and then parts of the third stage of the Apollo spacecraft.

I guess in some ways I grew up like a character in one of the novels I read. Space and spacecraft were a part of the ordinary world, for me.

Forty years . . . and I think we're reinventing the Titan and Atlas rockets of my childhood. As we speculate on "The Singularity" perhaps we should also consider the evidence for stagnation in some technologies.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, I really don't know what to say. It is possible that your generation -- gawd, that makes me feel old -- doesn't feel the same way about the accomplishments of the NASA space program because they weren't part of your childhood. Still, there are so many other things that could be used as fodder for the imagination. The ISS and shuttle program that could be viewed as precusors to life on space stations and travel between Earth and orbiting colonial platforms.

Something that has my imagination going now are the geological tests and their results from Mars. What impact does the potential finding of water have on terraforming? If there was water on Mars in the past, what sort of life could have flourished there? How long would it take for all evidence of life to be erased to a point where our current tech can't find some sign of it?

So here's my question to you, if you choose to answer, what sort of theme or conflict would you like to see in a SF novel or short story?

Amanda Green said...

Pam, first off, I'm jealous. I'd have loved to have grown up that close to either NASA Houston or the Cape in Florida. How much more fun it would have been to have been right there, a part of what was happening -- even if from a distance.

I also think you are absolutely right about needing to consider stagnation in some technologies. If we don't, I fear we are in for some serious problems down the road.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Amanda: Ori, I really don't know what to say. It is possible that your generation -- gawd, that makes me feel old -- doesn't feel the same way about the accomplishments of the NASA space program because they weren't part of your childhood. Still, there are so many other things that could be used as fodder for the imagination. The ISS and shuttle program that could be viewed as precusors to life on space stations and travel between Earth and orbiting colonial platforms.

Ori: My depression is acting up today, so that might be part of it - but the real question is "why bother?". There is a business case of Low Earth Orbit. There could eventually be a business case for asteroid mining.

But people are expensive, they require life support. Robots are cheap. If we can explore Mars using the primitive robots we have now, why shouldn't we be able to mine the asteroids using the more advanced technology we'll have in fifty years? The problem is that robots don't really lend themselves to fiction. They don't matter in the way that people do.

Could we colonize space in a few decades? Probably, but why bother? The areas of our civilization that are rich enough to matter aren't running out of room - they are not even breeding at replacement levels. The people who took the risks of colonizing new frontiers were usually lower middle class and below - poor enough that their lives at home sucked. But at least they could make a living once they got where they were going. In space, you need expensive life support - and if you can afford that, you'd be able to afford a nice life at home.

I love reading science fiction. But when I try to write it ends up being fantasy because I can't believe, deep down inside, enough to come up with a good story.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, the question of why bother is, to me, the heart of the question for SF as well as for real life. We live on a planet with finite resources. At some point in time, we will need to find other sources for precious metals, fuels, etc.

But beyond that, a look at history might hold potential answers to your question as well. I can see where we, humanity, might take the same approach to a penal colony in space as England did to Australia. Send the worst of the worst there, let them take their families if they want and give them enough tech to survive. Security costs would be negligible and, in a relatively short period of time, it would be physically impractical for them to return to Earth due to differences in gravity.

More than that, there is still that "pioneering spirit" that caused people to leave Europe for the Americas not that long ago. The desire to explore new reaches, to find a place one can live without religious persecution or governmental interference...it is a common thread in history that repeats itself over and over again. I really don't see it ending now.

Will it be expensive? Sure. But so were the penal transports to Australia. Will it come to pass? I hope so. Though I doubt I'll be alive to see it. The tech has a long way to go before the day of viable planetary colonization. But that doesn't mean research along those lines shouldn't take place.

Just my opinion, and fodder for my sometimes overly fertile imagination.

matapam said...

Life support is just a matter of having enough cubic space for a viable ecology. Okay, and backup for leakage as you come and go.

The point failure of space exploration is getting enough "stuff" off Earth for the start. Period. If I were rich, I'd be looking into how to build a skyhook.

"Once you're in orbit, you are halfway to anywhere." RAH, of course.

John Lambshead said...

I am inclined to side with Ori.

We have had a similar discussion in deep-sea biology. Deep-sea biologists love going down in submersibles but the truth is that there is nothing they can do that cannot be done better by a ROV or Robot.

The latter are so much cheaper to make and run because, partly because they don't have life support but mostly because they are built to a lower standard.

When a ROV fails you curse and winch it in: when a submersible fails you have to start writing letters to your student's parents.

Space engineering is developing all the time but this is no environment for a human being.

With hindsight, Apollo was not just brilliant engineering but also incredibly lucky.

John

RJ_CruzeJr said...

I don't know about an image that inspires me, but I do know one that's just sort of stuck there: When I was about 5 or so, I remember walking into the living room while my dad was watching Dr. Strangelove. I was just in time to see Slim Pickens ride that bomb out of the B-52. And that image has been stuck with me ever since.

Yee-haw!!!

On the other hand, maybe that does explain why I am the way I am...

Amanda Green said...

John, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. While I agree that there are any number of things that will be safer and less expensive to do with robotics, I also say they aren't the be-all, end-all for space exploration and development. I think to do so is to forego the human spirit of exploration. Also, and I could be wrong here, but I think there are times when, even if you have robotics to do the heavy work, you need human eyes and hands nearby not only to interpret what is happening but to repair and/or replace parts should the robotics breakdown. I don't know about you, but if I'm Joe Blow, president of Mega-space Mining Corp, I don't want to have to keep sending robo-miner after robo-miner to Mars when I can put Elmer in a habitat there to do repairs.

Amanda Green said...

Robert, this is your day for images. I love that scene. In fact, Dr. Strangelove was on the other day and I set the DVT for it just so I could see that scene again.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Talking about colonisation of space and how popular these stories were. Apart from the fasciantion of going to new places, I think there was also an aspect of being able to explore the effects of colonisation on people. Amanda, our generation were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of colonists.

One of the themes I remember from reading those SF stories was the sense of 'home' being so far away you'll never go back. My great grandparents came out to Australia in 1890. When I was a child my grandfather (who had been sent back to England to boarding school) still referred to the UK as home.

There was that sense of adjusting to an alien landscape (particularly in Australia with Kangaroos etc), alien culture and people.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Ori -- As someone who did grow up with space exploration, I feel short changed.

You're right, there is this sense of 'Meh, why bother?' Econonmics wins out over adventure. What happened to the Brave New world that science of the 60s was going to bring?

Here we are with religious intolerance, environmental degradation and no brilliant future.

Where are the flying cars?

My post for Tuesday is going to be about 'Antique Futures'.

Kate said...

John, Ori,

I respectfully disagree. Antarctica, the middle of any ocean out of sight of land, and quite a few other parts of the world are also no place for human beings, but that hasn't stopped us.

If everyone thought that we shouldn't go where we weren't made to go, there wouldn't be any people in the Americas, there'd be no cars (used to be, the only time people ever got to 60 miles an hour was en route to a traumatic meeting with the ground), no planes, no just about everything we take for granted in our lives.

Cost - in lives or money - haven't stopped us. The Vikings lost in the order of one ship in four when they left the safety of the coasts to cross to Britain and then Iceland and Greenland (and Vinland). They still considered it worth while.

The cost of sending convict ships to Australia was hardly negligible, either - the ships had to be seaworthy, the convicts had to be fed and guarded for a journey that could take up to 9 months, and there was nothing at the other end that could be brought back to offset the cost. To the British government of the time, that cost was worthwhile because it got the convicts out of the appalling conditions in the hulks and prisons and parked them somewhere where they could make a new life for themselves, so long as they didn't do it in Britain. Most convicts who served out their sentences got land grants, and often well behaved or particularly skilled ones could get their sentences reduced and a land grant.

For that matter, when Britain was busy shipping convicts south, Australia wasn't considered a fit place for a human. Most of it still isn't - you can do everything right and still get screwed.

I could see a Mars colony starting on a penal basis with technology not much advanced from where we are now. It would be pretty hellish for the prisoners, but I suspect the cost of a one way trip to Mars for several thousand prisoners will soon - if it hasn't already - get to be less than the cost of keeping those prisoners in the system now.

And that's just one scenario, and probably the most dystopian one at that.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Rowena Cory Daniells: You're right, there is this sense of 'Meh, why bother?' Econonmics wins out over adventure. What happened to the Brave New world that science of the 60s was going to bring?

Ori: I suspect that economics have always won out over adventure. The Americas have always had a business case, whether it was robbing natives of their gold and silver or being able to set up a farm where land was a lot cheaper than in Europe. Space could have its own business case - but now we have robots, which we didn't back then.

KylieQ said...

I spent most of my childhood off in my own fantasy world. When I was about 10, an uncle gave me a birthday card on which he had written me a story - it was totally unsuitable for a child, something very bloody about a farmer hunting bunnies (and maybe that's where my views on animal rights stem from!) but that was the first time I realised that the stories I was reading weren't very far removed from the ones in my head - all I had to do was write them down. I've written ever since.

My major character flaw is that as soon as someone says I can't do something, it's all I can think about and I'm determined to prove them wrong. My family (hubby excepted) have never supported my writing and that just makes me want it even more :) Even when I'm not loving it (like right now - trying to push out a first draft - I HATE first drafts!), that will keep me motivated.

Kate said...

Ori,

Somehow I don't think cheap land figured in the reasons the various religious groups fleeing persecution settled in the Americas. You know, the ones who were being executed for heresy back in Europe at the time.

I think you're confusing economics and value which are two very different concepts indeed, although I do agree there is some overlap.

Economics has no place for the intangible, where value is largely intangible unless one wants things or power over others.

Some people value freedom far more than anything material. For others, it's the chance of seeing something no-one ever saw before. Still others just need to get away from the constant press of too many people. All of these people will make value-based decisions and not one bloody one of them will be economic decisions.

And yes, I am speaking as someone who has made decisions for reasons that have absolutely buggerall to do with economics, and would not change those decisions if I was given the chance. Give me the opportunity to explore, to be the first person to see new worlds? I'm there. I'll find a way to pay for it myself if I have to.

Amanda Green said...

Kylie, that stubborn streak sounds very familiar. For the most part, I'm much the same. Although, I hate to admit it, I did let family and friends convince me I couldn't write to submit. It took someone -- quit looking so innocent. You know who you are -- who kicked me hard enough in the rear to not only make me send her something I'd written but to start sending out for submission as well. As for not loving first drafts, I sort of understand. But it's synopses written after the fact to include in a submission packet that I hate to write. I hates them, I does.

Amanda Green said...

Ori, as I said to John, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree. What I think you're overlooking here is the human factor. When the stakes are high enough -- stakes determined by real people facing real challenges -- man will do almost anything and economics is far down the list of factors to be considered. As for having robots now, there are simply things they can't do, things humans will be needed for, even if only to make those who rely on the product of the robots' labor feel more secure.

Chris McMahon said...

I think what really inspired me were those old Saturday and Sunday matinee movies like Sinbad the Sailor and Errol Flynn movies. Things were tight as a child, and book had to wait until I was old enough for the library, but there was always the movies - and my imagination. A great way to escape from ten rampaging, ill-adjusted older brothers and sisters.

I loved the old movies with the Good guys and the Bad guys. I guess that's why I love heroic fiction so much and write it.

Although for some reason I would always go for the pirates. Hey, they were just so much cooler!

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I have one word for you -- "Arrrrgh!"

Chris McMahon said...

Spoken like a true pirate!