He won the Writers of the Future contest in 2014 and was flown to LA to meet many of his childhood literary heroes. That “pay it forward” experience ultimately inspired him to found Got Scifi Group, an author’s collaborative and small press dedicated to promoting the best new voices in genre fiction. Last year he won the Jim Baen Memorial award and flew to LA again, this time to the International Space Development Conference where he was honored along with Jeff Bezos and got to meet Rod Rodenberry, Harry Hamlin and several of his scientific heroes. Today, we’ll be discussing his latest release, Final Frontier: A Scifi Celebration of the Indomitable Spirit That Carried Humanity to the Moon, published by Got Scifi Group.
Fifty years after the Apollo moon landings, Final Frontier is a celebration of the adventurous spirit that took Humanity to the moon. Fourteen award-winning authors tell stories of adventure, sacrifice, triumph and tragedy, with a foreword by Astronaut Stanley G. Love, a poem by former NASA flight controller Marianne J. Dyson, and a special musical contribution by Spider Robinson (from his novel Variable Star, lovingly based on an outline by Robert Heinlein).
These mostly near future space stories include five award-winners and run the gamut from hard scifi set during the Apollo era, to mini-thriller set in the coming age of commercial space exploration.
What do you want readers to know about your book?
Final Frontier is meant as a shot in the arm for all those who wonder why in the fifty years since the moon landings we haven’t gone back to stay. The Apollo program employed half a million people, most of whom were the first in their families to attend college and attain “the American Dream.” These were the grandchildren of the Great Depression, the children of the Second World War—and they were going to another world. What would their children and grandchildren do?
But Apollo was so hurried and so far ahead of its time, it left the impression that manned space travel was impractically expensive and dangerous—and would always remain so. It’s a bit like the pyramids, which remained unrivaled for four thousand years until the age of industry and steel. We built rockets the size of skyscrapers, but only now is our technology catching up to their promise. Now the cost of space travel is plummeting, but do we still remember our dreams?
All human history has been blazed from one horizon to the next. It’s been said that civilization can only progress so long as people are free to leave their neighbors and governments from time to time and strike anew into the wilderness—but there is no more wilderness on Earth. We have our problems here, and space technology is a powerful tool set with which to address many of them, but at the same time, it’s our nature to wander, expand, and seek the next frontier. Even as we work to improve our civilization and better manage this world, we know we must someday find another. No garden lasts forever, and neither does human patience. This then is who Final Frontier is for—those who feel drawn beyond the cosmic shore, who see our future—whether tomorrow or in a millennium—as threaded amongst the stars.
Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?
You might say that. At the Writers of the Future workshop, our classes were led by Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, the inspiration for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The first thing he taught us was that rather than competition, we should view each other as our greatest assets; writing’s a hard business.
I took that to heart. Mike Resnick gave me grief about joining my local writer’s guild, so when I got home, I joined. That led to invites and appearances throughout Texas. My network grew until it stretched from publishing industry veterans to veterans of NASA. And like any professionals, my writer friends and I spent a lot of time sharing wisdom and canvasing for advice.
I realized that early career authors like me have a real problem: we don’t have enough backlist to sell, and that makes it hard for those of us who make appearances to cover our costs—especially for out of town appearances or higher profile venues like comic cons. At the same time, many of my friends had a hard time attracting newsletter subscribers or just needed help getting their work in front of new readers. These were problems I was well positioned to help solve.
I founded Got Scifi Group to publish The Future is Nigh, an anthology of stories hand-picked by Writers of the Future winners as their introduction to new readers. Everybody got something: newsletter subscribers, readers, a profitable item to hand sell at cons—or an introduction to great new writers.
It was a big success for everyone, so we decided to do it again, this time with a wider pool of award-winning authors and a theme celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Astronaut Stanley Love agreed to write the forward. Spider Robinson (a huge proponent of space exploration) contributed a song he’d written to promote space colonization—and that had been arranged by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash! You can’t make this stuff up! Well, you could, but it would have to be more plausible!
So now I’m promoting our second anthology and I’ve already been contacted about a third. And meanwhile I’m meeting new people and learning all sorts of skills that will help me in the future. Oh, and my appearances are paying for themselves. Pay it forward, and it has a way of paying you back.
Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?
Non-fiction authors are warned to write the book that only they can write, or else why should the publisher pay them instead of a bigger name? I’d like to think I do that with my fiction. I’m not going to say I’m better than anyone else—goodness knows there are a lot of very good writers today, many of whom are better than me in some way. But I’m proud that stories like “Dreams of the Rocket Man,” “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” and “For All Mankind,” (which won best novelette in the Analog reader poll), are stories only I could have written. They combine real science and history with moving humanity in a way that, if not unique, is at least identifiably mine. And the feedback I’m getting tells me I’m on the right track.
When an award-winning author tells me mine is a story they wish they had written, that means something. But when a reader thanks me and tells me they’re buying my story for a loved one, or compares me favorably to Heinlein, Bradbury, or Ursula K. Le Guin, that’s the best thing ever.
What was your path to publication?
Like many writers, I wrote from an early age, but unlike many, I never considered it as a career. Instead, I spent my time making animated home movies and trying to build flying machines out of swing set parts. Then, after I was grown and had kids of my own, I was walking to lunch one day, mentally revising a story I’d been working on for years, and it suddenly dawned on me that it was time to “fish or cut bait.”
I sat down on the spot with a napkin and a ball point pen. 35,000 words later, I had 35,000 words of drivel, but I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I went back to school. I started inflicting myself on poor editors. I joined a critique group. And in time, I started finding my voice.
Winning Writers of the Future was like reaching the end of the Yellow Brick Road and instead of hearing a voice cry, “Ignore the man behind the curtain,” a hand reaches out and the voice says, “Here, let me help you.” Then you find yourself in a lodge full of helpful and fabulously successful uncles and aunts—only you’ve really only just reached the trail head and the rest of the way is straight up the mountain. And there are bears.
My first sale after WotF was “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” written on a sort of internal dare to see if I could pull off a touching story about an inanimate object. That made Tangent Online’s recommended reading list. Then my first Jim Baen award entry sold to Analog—the oldest and most venerated scifi magazine in the world. I’ve been selling to them ever since, and I still pinch myself each time the galleys arrive.
Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?
I’ve already mentioned the Writers of the Future contest, which was started by L. Ron Hubbard shortly before he died and has become the most prestigious contest for short scifi and fantasy in the world. Before that, I was a semifinalist for the BSFA James White award, and I won a few smaller honors. I’ve also won the Analog Analab reader poll (for “For All Mankind,”) and the Jim Baen Memorial award after being finalist for both numerous times.
Interesting side story: It was the Jim Baen win that took me back to Los Angeles. where I met Rod Roddenberry, Harry Hamlin, and famed scientists Frank Drake and Freeman Dyson. Your readers may know Dr. Drake from the famous Drake Equation used to estimate the likelihood of extraterrestrial life and Dr. Dyson from his work on atomic pulse propulsion (project Orion) back in the ’50s.
At the time of the LA trip, “Open Source Space” was due out in Analog, and since I had set a scene at the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory, I decided to rent a car and drive up to see the facility myself. That was an adventure, as I found myself passing through towns familiar from the asteroid evacuation scenes in Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. Then, like the flick of a light switch, I pulled out of a rainy, overcast LA, through a thousand foot layer of cloud, and out into the Nebraska springtime atop Mt. Wilson.
Then, when I got there, the telescope was locked up—naturally. It has an observation window for visitors, but no lighting. I had a better view in my daddy’s 1961 encyclopedia. Somewhat disappointed, I started the hike back to the car when I ran into a ranger. Learning of the reason for my visit, he offered to take me inside for a photograph under the telescope. And that’s how I came to have a photo of little ol’ me, standing under the instrument that Edwin Hubble used to redefine our universe!
How do you overcome writer’s block?
My character gets up. They brush their teeth. They have bacon or scones or a bottle or injection or whatever that character would have, and pretty soon I’m writing the next scene—the real scene hiding behind the block. Scoff if you will, but it works. Writers block is just performance anxiety, and we do it to ourselves.
Performance anxiety is a funny thing. It’s all about fear of failure. On my website is a photo of me explaining to two younger writers that there’s no fear when you’re playing a part because you’re just reading someone else’s lines. It’s the same for writer’s block. It largely goes away when you give yourself permission to write drivel. And you can edit the drivel out later.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Enormously. When I won my first little contest, I declined publication because I knew my story wasn’t yet what it should be but I didn’t know why. Now I do, and I’ve learned to better see through my reader’s eyes so I don’t make stupid mistakes that would otherwise waste time, confuse readers, and annoy editors. Clarity is job one. I may also have polished up my metaphoric superpowers a tad, but that doesn’t help if the reader’s left scratching her head.
Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.
I had the very good fortune to talk to the late, great Jerry Pournelle about that. He didn’t have anything very surprising to say, just that it works best with someone whose strengths and weaknesses complement yours—which means you need to know what they are. And you have to be able to subordinate your ego to the work. And it’s not for everyone. Of course, there are other kinds of collaboration, from sharing a booth at a comic con to the work we do at Got Scifi Group. The main thing is to play fair. A rising tide floats all boats. Just let it seek its level.
What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?
I grew up traipsing through the badlands and ghost towns of South Dakota: Cold War bombers flying overhead, Old West relics under foot, and Cretaceous fossils eroding from black, barren hillsides. At night we built bonfires, cooked marshmallows under the Milky-Way, and listened to family lore about post-depression Louisiana like pages from a Steinbeck novel. Of course I became a writer.
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I do. I’m that guy who sells watermelons by the side of the highway when it’s hot out. Not really. Actually, I help keep the lights on for millions of people in Texas, a job that’s more like being a secret agent than you might suspect, in that we spend a good deal of time dealing with foreign powers attempting to probe our defenses, and what we do about that would bore an audience to actual tears.
Actually, that watermelon gig looks pretty good. I’m pretty good at hand-selling books at comic cons. Maybe I could trade all this in for a road-side library and taco stand? Just a thought.
Describe a typical day.
The sun rises, “bang,” like that (snaps fingers). For 168 hours, it creeps across the sky, insinuating itself into every shadow, all but the deepest craters, those near the poles where primordial ice still holds out from the formation of the…oh…you probably meant on Earth, like for me. That’s nothing so dramatic. I spend a typical day at the day job paying the mortgage. Then I come home and catch up with the family, eating stir-fry or sandwiches in front of Star Trek reruns. Then I go write—another full time job, or do PR (another full-time job) or edit anthologies (a full time job) or record and produce narration (a sometime full time job). Fortunately, there are 168 hours in a day.
Would you care to share something about your home life?
My terrier, Mr. Lucky, is a rescue dog so named for having survived distemper, three dates with the country executioner, and (as we learned later) a bullet still lodged in his belly. He’s so smart it’s eerie, and uses his own distinct “bite code” to tell us when he wants to go out, is thirsty, is hungry, wants to go look out the front door at the fireworks, or wants us to play “blanket monster.”
Thanks, Stuart, for sharing with us. Before I conclude with an excerpt from Final Frontier, followed by your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m a: Science nerd.
The one thing I cannot do without is: Wikipedia. No, coffee. No, cushy seating…in a coffee shop…with wifi.
The one thing I would change about my life: Not one damn thing. If I’d started writing earlier, I’d have made bigger mistakes and given up. If I hadn’t had my heart broken, I’d have married the wrong girl. If I were smarter or better looking, I might be a jackass. I’m good, thanks. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t dare.
My biggest peeve is: Short form improvisational narrative. The shiny is all in revision.
The thing I’m most satisfied with is: That awesome new gate I built beside the driveway with a little shelf to set coffee mugs on while fumbling for keys. And the writing thing.
Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with? Sure. Final Frontier is on sale now and an audiobook production is on the way. I also have an article coming up in Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “Do We Still Need NASA.” Free samples are available on my website, cStuartHardwick.com.
Thanks for having me.
In July of ’69, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. I was with Scott at Laguardia, waiting on the red-eye to Moscow. The era of détente had blown in three weeks earlier when the Russians’ heavy booster exploded, destroying its launchpad and their one-of-a-kind mother of all asteroid killing H-bombs.
With their camper and atomic drive, the Russians had the ticket to the ballpark, but we had the ride and the bat to swing once we got there. It would require a Frankenstein’s Monster of technology and culture stitched together with explosive bolts, but someone had been planning ahead.
Parts for two Saturn rockets had been waiting at anchor off Istanbul, having started their journey a year earlier. Now they were en route to Baikonur, where the backup pad for the Russians’ failed booster would be ready for them in September.
One Saturn would carry the Russian drive. The other would take the camper, and us in an Apollo Command and Service Module with our “Special Payload Deployment Ring” in place of the heat shield. So in addition to five million pounds of explosive fuel, I’d be riding atop a dozen A-bombs. Don’t tell me girls don’t have balls.
I’d said my goodbye’s back in Houston, all except to Jerrie, who’d made herself scarce since our orders came in and she wasn’t on the roster. As Scott had foreseen, I was in command, but my Drive Module Pilot was a Russian engineer named Tatyana Tereshchenko. She was a crackerjack, but she was no pilot. She’d never even been in a simulator.
It galled me to trade Jerrie’s experience for some egg headed Ruskie. After all we’d been through, she had to feel betrayed, and it killed me that she might think I’d had any hand in it. But Scott was my backup along with a tiny Soviet air force captain named Fyodor Danisov. If I held out for Jerrie, I was assured, either man could replace me with only a slight increase to the risk of killing everyone on Earth.
We had a month to prepare a brand new mission. There was simply no time for complaining.
Tatyana was sharp. She’d memorized all our manuals and could even quote from Buzz Aldrin’s dissertation on orbital rendezvous. But the critical maneuvers during the first three days would all be on me. Assuming I didn’t get us killed, she’d have eight months to learn the ropes. And so would I.
At the Gagarin Training Center, Tatyana took me to see our unproven drive module, still on a test stand awaiting its nuclear fuel. At its heart was a miniature atomic reactor designed to power a strategic bomber but never used for that purpose because, well, that would be crazy.
In space, it would sit at the end of a twelve-meter boom, with six radiators projecting around it like the fins of a dart. We’d be at the pointy end, protected from radiation by shielding, electromagnetic lenses, the boom itself, and finally a pair of propellant tanks.
For now it was all folded and crated, and when I moved a tarp from one of the plasma nacelles, some dust flew up and I sneezed.
Tatyana said, “Gesundheit!” then looked away sheepishly and launched into a lecture on the assembly procedures to be performed by cosmonauts in space.
It was an awkward start, but when I suggested handholds to facilitate spacewalking repair, the chaperon balked, Tatyana barked, and in twenty minutes, a squadron of engineers had descended on the hanger, argued around a chalkboard, and agreed to a short list of changes.
I started to think my egghead might be an asset after all.
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