Thursday, September 20, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Yorks?

Steve here:

Maybe some of you have noticed that Chris and I have mostly been missing in action that last few months.  I've managed a few social media posts (a lot of them just sharing links on stuff I was reading), but Chris has almost completely vanished from the internet, and even my "Minions at Work" web-cartoons have been on hiatus.

What happened?  Well, it's been two of the roughest months in our lives.  Chris had an shopping-list-all-in-one major emergency surgery, we lost a family member, and Chris got a post-surgical infection that landed her back in the hospital and knocked her down hard, pretty much as part of one, ongoing, train-wreck.

You can read a very personal post about it all over on Chris's blog, ChristyMystery.

The good news is, the saddest days are behind us, and Chris is (finally) healing nicely and getting her strength back.  

Both of us are trying to get our writing and publishing efforts back on track (my latest ebook, "The Steam Man's Plantation - A Clockwork Cowboy Story," is now finally up on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, with other major publishing platforms to follow soon).  The next book in the "Haunted Gift Shop Mysteries," Murder Hooks a Mermaid, will be out at the end of December, and the third is coming.  I hope to get "Minions at Work" back up and running, we'll have some exciting stuff about Chris' "Haunted Gift Shop" mysteries soon, and maybe we'll get back to our very-popular conversational posts that got interrupted back in June.

One step at a time, but it's good to be back...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yet More Murder and Mayhem on the North Florida Coast (And a Panorama Beach Mystery Announcement!)

A couple of important mystery announcements today: First, the third installment in the conversation between Chris and I discussing our respective mystery series set in the Florida Panhandle, is up over at her blog, ChristyMystery. Give it a read. 

 Second, I'm pleased to announce that I need to write faster. The master plan for the future of my "Panorama Beach Mysteries" series has been firmed up four titles in advance of the two already available in ebook (and soon, print) form.

 My initial plan for the series was to write four individual, shorter, mysteries that I could eventually publish as one volume in both print and ebook form. That's still the plan, though with both "The Best Devil Money Can Buy" and "A Breath Away from Dying" finished, the installments are getting longer, and I'm not sure how long parts three and four will end up.  So I might end up with two volumes, or even three by the time I'm done (with those four).

The next two are were well mapped out, and I'm about to start writing number three, "The Beat of Angels Wings."  Here's the pitch on that one.  The actual setup has changed slightly since I wrote this, but it's close.

When Deputy Mustang Sawtell witnesses a sight-seeing helicopter crashing into the surf just off Panorama Beach, it seems a matter for federal investigators -- until it's learned that the pilot died not from the crash, but from a gunshot wound sustained before takeoff.  With no crime scene, no suspects, no witnesses, and most clues washed away by the surf, it seems an unsolvable crime. 

But when a second dead body shows up with helicopter connection, it's no coincidence.  To solve the crimes, Mustang will need to match wits -- and nerve, with a fraternity of veteran Korean war air-ambulance pilots, united in war, divided by secrets, and capable of delivering both mercy -- and death -- from above!

The wrap-up for the 1967 series is "By the Rocket's Red Glare."  Here's my pitch (again, subject to revision): When an off-course Air Force test missile crashes in an undeveloped area of Panorama Beach, the resulting forest fire leaves more than ashes.  When Sheriff's deputies are called in to help search the scorched forest for missile parts, Mustang finds a shallow grave with three skeletons, each with a bullet hole in their skull.  Now, an old murder investigation is turning red hot, the FBI and the State Patrol are taking over Panorama Beach, and Mustang's enigmatic boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass, is the prime suspect!  Can Mustang solve the murders, can he save Big Bass, and does he even want to?

I initially didn't have strong plans beyond that, except that those four would all take place in the summer of 1967, and the next series would cover the year 1968, a turbulent year in US history, and also an election year for Mustang's boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass.  But while I was working on those two books in my head, I was thinking about Mustang's back story, and some of the things that made him the man he was in 1967.  And out of that came another story, "Small Bones."  This isn't actually set in Panorama Beach, so I may simply publish it as "A Mustang Sawtell Mystery."

The Pitch: Still reeling from the events of summer, Mustang receives a phone call from his old station in north Pascua County.  The skeletal remains of a child have been discovered in his home-town of Pinodeoro, and they're believed to be those of his childhood best friend, who was abducted while walking along a highway when Mustang was ten.  Stunned, he drops everything and goes to the crime scene, but after seeing the body, he is banned from the crime scene by the investigating officer.  He's too close to the case.  But Mustang can't make himself goes far, and moves into his shuttered childhood home to watch from afar, dealing with survivor's guilt, old ghosts, bitter memories, and probing the darkest shadows of his own past -- where he is certain a killer awaits!

And just the other day I came up with the a title I knew I'd use for a future installment, "A Fist Full of Sand Dollars."  Then, later that evening, I realized where it would have to be set, and then the story just started writing itself.  Here's what I have so far:

When a staged gun-fight at the Dodge City western town attraction in Panorama Beach goes horribly wrong, Mustang finds himself on a dusty western street with two dead bodies, two shooters, no doubt about who show whom, and no suspects at all.  It's either a most unlikely accident, or a most elaborate murder.  But who did it, how, and who was actually the intended victim?  A candidate for either role, is the "Sheriff" of Dodge City, who was replaced in the gunfight at the last minute, and who is now a torn in Mustang's side.  And as he investigates, Mustang will learn that although "Dodge City" may be as fake as a cigar store Indian, the politics, rivalries, and secrets it hides are as real as any, and that he may just have to draw down with the Sheriff to catch a killer!

So, that's the road map:

AVAILABLE Ebooks (And Coming Soon to Print):
The Best Devil Money Can Buy
A Breath Away from Dying

The Beat of Angel's Wings
By The Rocket's Red Glare 
Small Bones (A Mustang Sawtell Mystery)
A Fist-full of Sand Dollars

Hope you're looking forward to them half as much as I am!


Monday, July 2, 2012

More Murder and Mystery on the Florida Coast

In part two of and ongoing series, Steve and Christy (Chris) continue their discussion of why they were drawn to write mystery series set in the Florida Panhandle, and what makes the place special...

(Enjoying our discussion?  Buy one of our books, or drop a donation in our tip jar, just to let us know you enjoy this kind of stuff and would like to see more!)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Murder if the Florida Panhandle: Chist(ty) and Steve interview each other about their Mystery series

Haunted Souvenir Shop series/ Panorama Beach series
Steve: Over on Chris's mystery blog, "ChristyMystery," she and I interview each other about how we both came to be writing separate (and very different) mystery series set in the little-used location of the north Florida panhandle.  Read the first installment HERE.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Read Steve's first Panorama Beach Mystery for FREE!

(Sorry, you missed out on this limited-time offer to preview the "Panorama Beach" series for free, but you can still find the ebooks on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo,  Sony Bookstore, and all other major ebook outlets.

And look for an announcement soon from Tsunami Ridge publishing regarding "Two Bad Days of Summer," a trade-paperback omnibus which will collect the first two "Panorama Beach" ebook mysteries!)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Mystery from Chris(ty) and Steve!


Chris (writing as Christy Fifield this time) and I both have new mysteries out.  As it happens, both are set on the north Florida coast (though in different time periods).  Let's examine, compare, and contrast, shall we?
First up, Chris has a brand new mystery series launching from Berkley Prime Crime, as I said, under a new pen name.

The "Haunted Souvenir Shop" mysteries, starting with "Murder Buys a T-Shirt," are set in the fictional town of Keyhole Bay, where Glory Martine has just inherited her late Uncle's gift shop, a place full of secrets, dusty memories of times gone by, a foul-mouth parrot, and literal ghosts, who just may be using the afore-mentioned parrot to communicate from beyond the veil!  Can clues from the afterlife help her solve the mysterious death of a local sports hero?

If you like cozy mystery, Florida mystery, contemporary fantasy, humor, or southern cooking, you'll love this new series!  You can order the Kindle book or paperback using the Amazon link provided, order the ebook directly from your favorite device, or pick it up at your favorite local or on-line bookseller.

For my part, I have the second installment in my "Panorama Beach Mysteries," series (after "The Best Devil Money Can Buy).  This series is also set in a fictional Florida panhandle town, the resort community of Panorama Beach, but the year is 1967, when the relatively untouched, sugar white beaches are dotted with small hotels and colorful, quirky road-side tourist attractions which will provide backdrops for the stories.

Our hero is Deputy "Mustang" Sawtell, the youngest and newest lawman on the beach, an idealist with a strong moral compass given to him by his "Memaw," his late grandmother who raised him.  As in "The Best Devil Money Can Buy," Mustang is navigating the dangerous political waters of his new assignment, from the questionable ethics and morals of some of his fellow officers, to others who who are unquestionably bad, to his dangerous and morally compromised boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass.

This time he answers a prowler call to the Aquarama aquarium, only to find the body of a dead mermaid, a performer in an underwater show.  He's thrown off the case by a vindictive superior officer who quickly bungles the investigation and rules it an accidental drowning.  So when, for his own reasons, Big Bass gives him another crack at the case, Mustang is eager to set things right.  But he's in danger from all sides.  If a murderer on-the-loose doesn't get him, one of his fellow officers just might!

Both Panorama Beach mysteries are available thought the Kindle link provided, or through all major ebook outlets. A third installment, "The Beat of Angel's Wings" will be out later this year.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Free Fiction!

"Godspeed, John Glenn."

With those words, a true American hero rocketed into space fifty years ago, aboard Friendship 7.  A decorated Marine pilot, he became the first American to orbit the earth, and gained a permanent place in the minds and hearts of his country.

Years later, after a lifetime spent serving his country, he returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77, the oldest man to ever fly in space.  When the shuttle Discovery lifted off the pad, we once again heard the iconic words, "Godspeed, John Glenn."

Today we offer the story "Godspeed" for free, in honor of a real hero, a man who has lived a life of service and honor, and who has served his country with grace and dignity for more than half a century.  This is my tribute to a man I greatly admire.

Hero worship?  You bet!

Godspeed, John Glenn.

If you prefer to purchase a copy of "Godspeed" for your electronic reader instead of reading it here, it is available for Kindle,  Nook,  iPad, and for other formats through Smashwords.

President John Glenn has Only Seconds to Change History...
His Own!


Christina F. York
Copyright 2010 Christina F. York

January 28, 1986

"Mayday!  Mayday!  This is Air Force One.  There's been an explosion; we're missing part of the left wing.  We are going down."
Muffled by the headphones the president had tuned to the cockpit, the pilot's voice cracked with stress.  Strapped into his seat, surrounded by his Secret Service detail, President John Glenn knew the end was near.
In the midst of the crisis, he was still struck by the irony.  A decorated combat pilot, veteran of two wars, the first man to orbit the Earth -- and he was about to die in what should be the safest passenger aircraft in the known world.  Annie, who had supported him through all the dangerous undertakings, would be widowed by an accident that should never happen.
Time slowed, stretching like summer taffy.  Each second felt like minutes, as the presidential jet continued its plunge through the banked clouds, hurtling toward the unseen ground below.
Around him, people moved in slow motion.  Shouted orders became a deep hum, as voices slowed and time stood still.
Glenn glanced quickly around, looking for any sign of movement.  Everyone was frozen in place in the dim cabin lights.  Everyone but him.
He had to move.
Obeying the reflexes that had saved him so many times before, he tore off the passenger restraints and started toward the cockpit.
From behind him, a flash of golden light bathed the dim cabin.  For an instant, it reminded him of the firefly-like lights he had seen on his first space flight.  Then the light faded, leaving the cabin in shadows.
"That won't save you this time, Colonel."
He whirled around, toward the sound of the voice.  There was a man, a stranger, behind him.  Glenn blinked, trying to focus on the man, but he couldn't see him clearly.  The cabin light was low, and it was as though he were shrouded in fog, inside the plane.
"Who are you?" Glenn demanded.
"Don't you know?"
"I can't see you.  How could I know?"  He wasn't afraid, but this stranger was damned annoying, and he had much more important things to do than stand around arguing with some guy in a fog bank.  He could save this plane, if he could just get to the controls in time.  He knew he could.
"Yeah, you can save them," the man said, as though Glenn had spoken his thoughts aloud.  "But not in the way you think."
"Who are you?"
"Who I am isn't important.  You can call me your guardian, if you need a label.  It's who you are that matters."  He gestured toward the empty seat.  "Might as well sit back down, Colonel.  No one is going anywhere for a while yet."
The fog slipped lower, as the guardian settled into a seat across the aisle from the empty seat.
"I know who I am.  I'm the President of the United States.  And I have my people to protect."
"Sit down."  It was a command this time, in exactly the tone to activate the retired colonel's military training.
He sat, assuming the rigid military posture that had been a part of him for so long.
"At ease, Colonel."  The guardian waved a hand - he thought it was a hand - at him.  "I told you, we aren't going anywhere."
It was true, the plane wasn't going anywhere, though it should have augered in by now.  Instead, it hung inside a cloud, defying the law of gravity.
"What do you want?"
"Like my name, what I want isn't important.  The question is, what do you want?"
Over the years, Glenn had learned the hard lesson of waiting out a question he did not want to answer.  He sat ramrod-straight, and stared at the shifting cloud.  The heater fans hummed, sending warm air swirling through the cabin, but the cloud around the guardian remained undisturbed.
After a moment, the guardian continued.
"Haven't you ever wondered how you managed to survive all the missions, all the dangers, you've faced over the years?  You flew combat in two wars.  You flew untested planes.  You survived that first orbital flight, when everyone thought you might burn up on reentry.  Did you think you were just lucky?"


February 20, 1962

Mission Control was hushed, as the 11th scheduled launch approached.  After months of delays and reschedules, they were finally going to send a man into orbit.  Finally, with multiple orbits, they would be back in the space race.  Unless the launch got scrubbed again.
From the capsule, Glenn was patched through to his Annie, at home in Arlington.  Hearing her voice made his chest tight.
He tried to reassure her.  "Hey, honey, don't be scared.  Remember, I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum."
"Don't be long," she answered.
His voice caught as he said, "I love you."  He was glad no one could see his eyes at that moment.
Glenn heard Flight Director Chris Kraft call a hold, with less than ten minutes to go.  It was the second in under thirty minutes.  The Bermuda tracking station was having trouble with their radar.
They had come so close this time.  He was in the capsule, ready to launch.  Would today be just another delay?
The silent seconds ticked by.  For two long minutes, everyone waited for a decision.
Finally John Hodge in Bermuda said, "We're go."
The countdown resumed.
Familiar voices went through the procedures they had drilled on for months.  Today it was for real.  He waited, listening, hardly daring to believe it would finally happen.
At eighteen seconds the countdown went to automatic.  For the first time, he knew he was going to fly into space.
Seconds later, the engines roared to life, the holddown clamps released, and the giant rocket slowly lifted off the pad.
Later, someone would play the film of the launch, and he would hear the one thing he couldn't hear from the capsule.  In the launch blockhouse, Capsule Communications - Capcom - was Scott Carpenter.  As the rockets fired, he said, "Godspeed, John Glenn."


The flight of Friendship 7 was etched in Glenn's memory.  The glory of the first sunset, the sudden blinding brilliance of sunrise.  The fireflies, a swirling cloud of glowing golden lights around the cabin, which no one had ever explained to his satisfaction.
There were other memories.  Problems with the automatic attitude control.  His irritation when flight control wouldn't voice their fears about the heat shield.  The searing heat of reentry, not knowing whether the heat shield was intact.  Wondering if the capsule would withstand the next minute.  The elation when the chute blossomed over him.
Everything had worked the way it was supposed to.  Or was there more to it?


The plane remained frozen in midair, as the guardian waited for an answer.  Glenn shook his head.  He was grateful for the faith that sustained him in times of peril, and for his good fortune.  But he had never questioned its source.
"The big guy likes you, man!  Haven't you figured that out by now?  Think about it.  The flight controller says, "Godspeed, John Glenn."  That pack stays in place, and you drop into the ocean, pretty as you please."
"I didn't even hear him," Glenn replied.
"It doesn't matter whether you heard him or not.  He said it.  That wasn't the last time, either.  Every time something went wrong, every time you were in danger, somebody remembered the magic words, and you came back safe.  It was a ritual with your regular ground crew, something the chief mechanic repeated on every Air Force One flight.
"Every time until today."


They had left the ground ahead of schedule, before the arrival of the regular crew.  They were anxious to reach the Space Center in Florida, where the stunned NASA engineers and astronauts were trying to make sense of this morning's horrifying explosion.
As Air Force One climbed away from Andrews Air Force Base, Glenn had watched the capital pass out of sight behind them.  He was one of the staunchest supporters of the space program, and he worried about the opposition the program would face when he returned.
Then he dismissed consideration of the long-term problem, and focused on the next few hours.  The grieving families of the victims would be waiting in Florida, waiting for comfort from their president.
It was ironic that he would be the one.  It could so easily have been another president, offering the meager comfort to Annie and his family.  He knew, perhaps more than anyone, that it could never be enough.
He hoped he could make them understand how important the program was, to the country and to the individuals who had given their lives for it.  He believed in a life of service, and the brave men and women of Challenger has believed it, too.
He prayed that their families shared that belief, as Annie and David and Lyn did his.


"Do you mean--?"  Glenn hesitated, hope rising within him.
"You can't change what happened this morning," the guardian answered.  "Disaster is going to bring down Challenger, no matter what you decide, Colonel.  But you can change what's coming.  Not this year, and maybe not the next, but soon.
"They'll send up another shuttle, and lose another crew.  Discovery.  A little thing, really.  An access hatch blows off at launch, and damages an engine.  But, like I said, the big guy likes you.  He'll bring you home safe.
"But if you're not there, that disaster will end manned spaceflight."
The thought sickened Glenn.  The work, the sacrifices, the lives given up for the program.  It couldn't end this way.
"What can I do?"
"Go back."
"Back?  Back to where?"  He looked around.  There wasn't anywhere to go, except down - to meet the ground and end in a ball of flame.
"Not whereWhen.  Go back and take a different path.  Not the one that leads to the White House, but the one that dead-ends in the Senate."


March 16, 1984
Super Tuesday hadn't been very super for the Senator from Ohio.  Beaten in the primaries and caucuses across the country, he faced the inevitable with his usual remarkable calm.
This wasn't his first disappointment, nor, perhaps, his greatest.  Alan Shepard had beaten him into space.  He had been forced out of the 1964 Senate race by an injury.  He had lost the 1970 Senate race to Metzenbaum.
He didn't lead a charmed life, not by a long shot.  But he had gained more than he had lost.  He still had Annie, his kids, and his honor.  He wouldn't trade any of them for anything, including the White House.
When his Senate staff assembled, he played a popular song for them.  They listened, as Kenny Rogers sang about the gambler, "You've got to know when to fold 'em."
With his head high and his shoulders back, he maintained his dignity in the face of defeat.  He announced his withdrawal from the race at a press conference in a Senate caucus room, declaring, "Although my campaign for the presidency will end, my campaign for a better America will continue."


Glenn was confused by the memory that wasn't his.  He had done well on Super Tuesday, giving him the boost that earned him the nomination and the White House.
"That isn't what happened."
"It could."
Glenn stared at the guardian.  They were about to smash into the ground at terminal velocity, and this guy was telling him he could go back in time and change things?
He had never had a hallucination in his life, even when he had truly gone where no man had gone before.  But maybe he wasn't able to accept the end of his life, and this apparition was his way of blocking it out.
"You're not crazy," the guardian said, once again hearing Glenn's unspoken thoughts.  "This is real, and the choice is yours.
"Go back.  Make a difference.  Ride the rocket again.  You're the biggest hero NASA's got; they'll find a way to let you go.  And when someone says 'Godspeed, John Glenn' - and they will - you'll all come back down as smooth as can be.  You can save that crew, Colonel.  The space program will have a hero again, even if no one knows exactly what it cost you."
"There's got to be a catch..."
"You won't be in the White House.  You will have political trouble, and you'll never get farther than the Senate.  That enough of a catch for you?"
"But I will always know I could have."
"Nope.  Doesn't work that way.  Once you go back, this never happened.  You won't be able to tell anyone, because you won't remember.
"Or you can go up to that cockpit and try to bring this plane down safely.  You're missing half a wing, and even you can't overcome that, but you're free to try."  The fog swirled, as though the guardian had shrugged inside his cloud.  "Who knows?  You may make it, if you can suspend a few laws of physics."
For a moment, he dared to hope.  Maybe he could overcome the damage.  But the program, the research and exploration that he had given his life to, that he believed in, would be doomed.  And six good people, people who shared his love and dedication to the space program, would die.


January 28, 1986

The images of the exploding shuttle were indelibly etched in the minds of every citizen.  The scene had been replayed endlessly, as a stunned nation watched, unable to fully accept the disaster in the clear Florida sky.
Within minutes, questions were being asked both in Mission Control and around the world.  How could this happen?  What was the cause?
Who was to blame?
The future of manned space flight hung on the answers to those questions.  For now, no more Americans would fly in space.
A delegation from the nation's capital was quickly assembled and shuttled to Andrews Air Force Base, where they would depart for Florida.
A detail of Marines watched as Air Force Two took off, carrying the Vice President to Cape Canaveral.  Aboard the plane was one of their own.
As the jet turned south, one young Marine said softly, "Godspeed, John Glenn."


"Is that where I'll be, if I go back?"
"Yeah.  Same airspace, different plane, different companions.  And a different future."
Compared to the loss of manned flight, personal ambition was a petty concern.  There were things he could change, and things he couldn't.  He hoped he had the wisdom to know the difference.


January 16, 1998

Daniel Goldin, Chief Administrator, NASA:  "When someone who has risked their life countless times for a space program and for our country comes to you and says, 'I'm willing to take the risk of space flight and serve my country again, because I think we can do more to benefit the lives of older Americans, can I go?' you don't say no.  I am extremely proud to announce that John Glenn of Ohio, the first American to orbit the earth, will get his long-awaited and much-deserved second flight."


Glenn could feel a lump in his throat when he considered the possibility of being allowed to fly again.  It was a dream he had given up long ago, an ambition for a younger man.
"Will they really let me go?"
"They will need you, more than any of you will know."
Hope bubbled in his chest.  The prospect made him light-headed with joy.  "And can I make a difference?"
The cloud moved slowly, as though the guardian were shaking his head.  His voice was somber when he replied.  "Yes, you can make a difference, for that mission.  There will be others, ones you can't change.  One person can only do so much, you know, no matter how much the big guy likes him.
"But you can save Discovery, and you can save the people on this flight."
Glenn took a look around.  His Secret Service detail had been with him since the campaign.  He knew their wives and children.
He knew the press secretary and two speech writers who were working in the conference room, even though he couldn't see them.  One of the speech writers had just moved her ailing mother into her home, where she could care for her.
For each of these people, he could make a difference.  If he could believe what the guardian was telling him.
"It's the truth," the guardian said.  "Or at least a possible truth.  If you choose that path."


October, 1998

The T-38 rolled to a stop on the tarmac at Cape Canaveral.  Beside it were four identical planes.  Although he was sitting in the second seat, John Glenn was once again flying a jet plane, and preparing for a flight aboard the shuttle Discovery.


The guardian seemed to grow impatient, his tone sharp as he asked again, "What do you want, Colonel?  Do you need to see more?"
Glenn hesitated.  Hope swelled within him, a dream rekindled by the images the guardian had shown him.  Was that hope clouding his judgment?  Perhaps he could do more to protect the program from the White House than he could from the flight deck of the shuttle.
He wished he could talk to Annie.  For forty-three years she had been the best advisor, the strongest supporter, he had ever had.
"This is your decision, Colonel."


October 29, 1998

The day dawned bright and clear.  It was as if Mother Nature herself had given her blessing for the launch.  But it takes more than good weather to make a safe flight.
The countdown droned on, each second ticking over as each member of the huge team performed their assigned duties.
Standing on the pad, the flight crew looked up at the rocket that would carry them into space.  They were tiny orange specks against the massive machine, a few hundred pounds of bone and flesh facing a four-and-a-half-million-pound behemoth with a million moving parts.
With five minutes to go, the countdown stopped.  Two small planes had entered the airspace near the Cape, and would have to be removed.
Finally, the last few minutes ticked away and the engines lit.
In Mission Control Scott Carpenter repeated the magic words.
"Godspeed, John Glenn."


Glenn considered his choices.  The cloud stirred impatiently.
"You said no one could help me decide," Glenn said, his voice slow.  There was one thing he had noticed.  "But you have not addressed me once as 'President,' only as 'Colonel.'"
The guardian was suddenly still, impatience turning to wariness.  As Glenn suspected, the observation had been not only accurate, but significant.  He had his answer to the last unspoken question.
"Send me back."  As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew, all the way to his bones, he had made the right decision.
The cloud stirred and Glenn thought he saw the guardian nod.  "You got it."
The light faded around him.  He was dropping, weightless, through time and space.  As the darkness overtook him, he looked back.  The guardian's cloud had become a swirl of tiny fireflies, just like the ones he had seen surrounding Friendship 7 on his first flight.
The cloud passed through the bulkhead, swarming around the plane as they emerged into the darkness.  Before they vanished completely, he heard the guardian say softly, "Godspeed, John Glenn."


Godspeed by Christina F. York first published in Time After Time, edited by Denise Little,  DAW Books, 2005.

About the author:
Christina F. York remembers both of Glenn's spaceflights, and considers him a true hero. 

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Christina writes across several genres, including SF, fantasy, romance, and mystery, sometimes in collaboration with husband J. Steven York.  Her mystery novels are published as Christy Evans, and Christy Fifield.

Look for more fiction from Christina at Tsunami Ridge Publishing, or wherever books are sold.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Faster-Than-Life Travel


No, that's not a typo. When people bemoan the fact that faster-than-light travel seems physically impossible, and even travel at near the speed-of-light is phenomenally difficult, they somehow jump to the conclusion that humanity is forever denied the stars. That's just wrong, and I'll tell you why.

I am a child of the space-age, and I'm as reluctant as anyone to give up the visions of Heinlein and Star Trek; of heroic humans cruising almost effortlessly from star to star in space-ships made of rivets, steel, and atomic power. In fact, a bit of me isn't ready to give up on faster-than-light in some form, even if I regard this is more of a comforting illusion (and insurance against an often-surprising future) than a real possibility.

But let's assume it is impossible, and then consider, why do we need it?

Well, the answer may seem obvious. Captain Kirk can sail between stars in days or weeks (bedding down with a rainbow of alien babes at every one). He won't spend his entire lifetime getting to Vulcan, or be forced to start out, hoping his great, great, great, great grandchildren will survive to see the place that he won't.

Survival. That's the great stickler. It's the human lifetime that the real limiter here as much as the speed-of-light. Let's face it, mostly even our wild imaginations don't have us traveling at infinite speed.

Even on Stargate, they seem to spend several seconds whooshing through the wormhole before stepping out on another world. That few seconds constitutes an arbitrary finite speed. The four-plus years it would take, at the speed of light, to reach the nearest star is another arbitrary finite speed. Why is one worse than the other?

It's a simple ratio. 4 years is a significant percentage of a human lifetime. Eight plus years for a round-trip is a very significant percentage. And that's just the closest star, and not an especially inviting one to visit. More interesting places start out further way to vastly further away. And that for a speed we don't have a clue how to approach.

One solution that has long been proposed for this is the so-called "generation" starship, in which generations of humans will live, reproduce, and die during the voyage. It might work, but it seems most plausible to me as an act of desperation to me. If our sun were to suddenly show signs of going nova, we might well consider such a thing, but the idea that we might do it simply as a matter of exploration of colonization somehow seems more doubtful. Some large group of people has to step onto that ship into what will likely be a cramped, difficult life of limited-freedom and deprivation, knowing they'll never step off, and that they're likely condemning generations of their decedents to the same, or worse.

It also seems a brute-force approach to the problem. Any generation ship is going to be massive, since it has to be big enough to hold a sustainable human population and all the resources that (even with heavy recycling) they'll need to complete their voyage and establish themselves somewhere else, and the problem of interstellar travel isn't just one of speed, it's of energy. Mass equals energy, and the relationship becomes very obvious once you start traveling between stars.

There's also the possibility of suspending life, which in fiction, usually means shoving somebody in a plastic tube and freezing them (ala the Alien movies).  But that's not the only way to do it, and in fact, we have a pretty workable technology for that right now.  We can freeze embryos and later thaw them out.  Currently, bringing that embryo to term requires a human mother to host it, but there seems to be no reason we can't think our way around that and create an artificial womb.  So it's not difficult at all to conceive (no pun intended) of sending a small, robot ship to a distant star with some carefully preserved human embryos on board.  On arrival, the robot finds a likely place with the necessary resources, digs in, spends years (or maybe decades) building a suitable habitat and support structure, and then brings one or more of its embryos to term.

Now, one could argue, with robots of this sophistication, why do you need humans at all?  Well, for starters, this is a very tricky and slippery ethical question to be asking (one advocates of all robotic space exploration should be thinking about very carefully).  If you don't need humans there, why do we need them here?

The obvious answer is that humans can do what robots currently can't.  Robots can gather the data, but it takes humans to process it and appreciate it.  But robots are quickly getting more sophisticated rapidly, and while true artificial intelligence is a more difficult problem than we initially thought, there's no reason to suppose it won't eventually be licked, and every reason to think it will be.

So, planetary scientists, the moment the computer here on the ground is better able to do science than you are, and to write poetry about what that science means, are you ready to take your suicide pill and get out of the way?


Me either.  So shut up.

I selfishly value myself, and by extension my fellow humans, and by extension whatever extended definition of "human" technology and society take us to, over any other intelligence we may create.

Maybe that definition will expand to include the intelligences we create, just as it extends to our children and the children of our fellow humans.  I'm okay with that too.

But I'm not ready to have our machines go all Terminator on us and wipe us out, nor am I prepared to simply step aside for my betters.  I am willing to accept them as equals and go forward from there.

But enough of that diversion (much as I think it's relevant to my long-term conclusions here).

Anyway, the "seed" ship crewed with embryos and robots seems viable, and in a lot of respects, a lot more reasonable than a generation starship.

It's also a crude form of life-extension, and so changes that critical ratio with the speed-of-light.  Captain Kirk can not only take on a new world in the prime of life, he can grow up there and experience it in the prime of childhood as well.  But once he's there, he's there.  It's not a "brave new world," it's the only home he's ever known, and probably the only one he'll ever know (except in recorded history).

So what about just making humans live longer?  Again, that's a much more difficult problem than science-fiction may have anticipated, but there are intriguing clues that the problem may be cracking.  If humans can live hundreds of years, or maybe even indefinitely, that changes everything, right?  Captain Kirk can jump into his one-man scout ship if he wants to, and spend a few decades getting to Vulcan, and still arrive there in his prime, no girdle or hair-piece necessary to impress the space-babes.

Well, the problem with that scenario is that it does change everything, and long before you start thinking about space travel.  Before we get that far, we'd have to work out the problems of long-life right here on Earth.  Suddenly you've got a logistic and ethical nightmare to deal with around such basic matters as resources, access to life-extension treatments, and the right (if such a right exists) to reproduce.  And even ignoring that, it also is going to change how we see the universe around us.  If we're looking at potentially hundreds or thousands of years of life ahead of us, are we going to be less willing to risk it all on something as dangerous as star-travel?  Good question, for which I have no definitive answer.

But lets assume that all gets worked out somehow, and Captain Kirk climbs into his scout ships and heads off (at nearly the speed of light, somehow) with enough resources for his five-year-mission.  What then?  Hopefully, Captain Kirk bought his Kindle, because he's going to have a lot of time to read.

Okay, let's assume that Kirk has something more sophisticated than that.  Let's assume he has a holodeck, or something like it, so he can live a full, rich and interesting life on his way to the next star.  Maybe he gets to command a make-believe U.S.S. Enterprise and battle the Klingons (and bed the space-babes) all the way there.

But if it's that great, here's the next question: when he gets there, why does he want to get off?

Good question, and maybe that's the ultimate answer to the Fermi Paradox (if there are aliens in the universe, why haven't we encountered them already?).  Maybe every civilization reaches a point where the enticements of their created inner-spaces override the limitations of the physical one outside.

At that point, the physical universe simply becomes the platform on which they build their own, more accessible and possibly more interesting, virtual universes.  It becomes like the silicon substrate on which computer circuits are made.  Necessary to the functioning of the device, but not terribly interesting.

Is that where our self-evolution is headed?  Are we to be lumps of flesh, ever connected to the "real" virtual world, or maybe even cast that flesh off entirely?  Such a creature could be long-lived enough, massless enough, to travel between stars with relative ease.  But would it even want to?  Would it even care about it any more?

My hope is, we can do both, to enjoy our created worlds without limits, and also to explore the natural one as well.  Certainly, for the sake of our own continuation, I hope we go far enough to insure our own survival, just in case an asteroid gets out of line and heads our way, or our sun decides to blow up or burn out.

But I am hopeful, because one way or the other, and the laws of physics be damned, all we have to do is stay alive, keep advancing, and not kill ourselves.  If we can do that, one way or the other, there's a universe just waiting for us to explore.

And maybe more than one.

If you found this post useful, interesting, or informative, please share the link with others.  Also, consider that in writing it I took time out from writing the stuff that actually keeps me from starving.  A small donation to my tip jar (button below) will help keep me in PB&J sandwiches, and encourage me to write similar posts in the future.  Thanks!  - Steve