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Unfortunately, though, he has not yet fulfilled his other dream of riding into space. By the mid-1990s, space exploration seemed to have faded from the scene and he didn't even find much in the way of space sci-fi comics. Inspired by the Pathfinder mission (and a comment from his wife) he decided to use his comic book skills to create some space exploration via his imagination and wrote Live from the Moon, whose success was followed a few years later by the other books.
In my Solar Sci-Fi section I advocate a return from intragalactic adventures and back to space stories that take place in our own time, in our own star system. Unfortunately, many near-future space sci-fi offerings, especially in film and TV, have not been very successful. They often seem flat and uninspired, particularly to young people. The AiT series, on the other hand, manages to make near-future space sci-fi once again seem cool and hip.
I contacted Mr. Young to try to get an idea of how he and his collaborators managed to do this. The Space.com article - Live from the Moon: It's 'Astronauts in Trouble' - Space.com - Apr. 15.00 - and interview - Ground Control to Larry Young - Space.com - Apr.12.00 - covered the particulars of the stories so I thought I would focus more on the broader issue of near-future space sci-fi.
HS: How would you describe your own interest in space and how it developed? Did you follow the space program closely as a kid? Were you particularly into space sci-fi?
Young: I grew up outside of Dallas in the late Sixties, so along with hero-worshipping the defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, most of whom lived in my neighborhood, I also loved the guys further south in Houston at Mission Control. I was six years old in 1969, and we had a telescope that looked up at the moon at the backyard. It wasn't hard to imagine that my friends and I would all be living up there as adults.
When I was a kid, I was into all the stuff little boys are into: dinosaurs, Egyptology, race cars, knights-in-shining-armor, that kind of stuff. It was a small leap to see that astronauts are modern-day knights, gearing up for their adventures in Beta cloth suits instead of hammered steel plates.
I guess I got interested in science fiction when I realized that I WOULDN'T be living up on the moon as an adult, so I came to it sort of backwards.
HS: One of the things I follow closely with HobbySpace is the growing parallel universe of private space development outside of NASA and the usual aerospace suspects. This universe harbors lots of activist organizations and many entrepreneurial companies developing launchers, satellites, space services and other businesses.
noticed that AiT really avoids the "NASA is space" mentality that dominates
most contemporary space fiction. I didn't see the NASA acronym anywhere
actually. (Though the AiT logo looks vaguely familiar...) Would you
say that space sci-fi based around NASA, such as the short lived TV
series "The Cape", drastically limits the range of plots and characters?
How much can a writer do with yet another satellite rescue by the shuttle?
But, yes, I avoided mentioning NASA in Astronauts in Trouble just to underscore that there are real folks doing real jobs with space exploration, and our stories were meant only as entertainment and not as instructions.
Or, conversely, one really audacious feat of engineering could do it. If someone ever builds the postulated space elevator, you'll see people falling all over themselves to get a ride up.
So that's where the tripod genre structure of Space 1959 comes from: the first act is a crime/noir/murder mystery; the second act is a nod at the superhero tropes you find in comics; and the third is the poetic/elegaic theme you find sometimes in grand opera. Just wanted to show my readers I had a bunch of other pitches besides my fastball.
HS: OK, I guess I was over-projecting a bit there. I did enjoy the diversity of the stories and the styles. I can also relate to the SF that inspired you as a boy. Although I found the books fun and engaging as an adult, they did bring on a certain nostalgia. I can definitely remember reading these kinds of stories outside in the shade on a summer day. I wish I could afford to buy a few hundred copies and distribute them to some deserving young teenagers as their vacation starts.
Young: Well, thanks very much.
HS: As with Sydney Stanton, the wheelchair bound financier in "When Worlds Collide", early sci-fi often relied on a rich guy to fund the rocketships. Then Apollo came along and it needed hundreds of thousands of engineers, technicians and bureaucrats and tens of billions of dollars to reach the Moon. For a long time it after that it became quaintly unrealistic to propose that any private individual could do anything significant in space.
However, in AiT, written in 1999, we find that Ishmael Hayes,"the world's richest man", has funded a secret space project that includes a lunar base.
I have a hunch another space race is going to start when China launches its first taikonaut, though.
HS: If so, won't that make for a lot of great sci-fi story possibilities? It seems to me a lot more fun to speculate about people building a space hotel than with astronauts installing a module to do micrograv experiments on the ISS! .
Young: I'm with you, yes. That sort of thing will definitely lend itself to good fiction. SF is just societal extrapolation, anyway. Technology is always at the forefront of societal change, and the business of science fiction is to anticipate THAT.
HS: Cosmonauts, astronauts, taikonauts, tourists, moguls, etc. It's going to get interesting up there! If some enlightened magazine editor comes to you in a couple of years and offers to sponsor you for a trip on Rutan's SpaceShipOne or similar rocketship in exchange for an article about the experience, would you do it? It would be one hell of a ride. (See the trajectory.)
Young: Heck, yes. I think if you posed that question to nearly anyone with even a passing interest in space exploration, they'd sign up quickly.
HS: With Tito's flight, space tourism went overnight from a ridiculous fantasy to a simple fact. In the next year or so we will start to see private piloted rocketships flying. They won't be reaching orbit, much less the Moon, but they will still be going to space. The regulations need to be worked out, but within two or three years paying passengers will start taking rides.
If suborbital tourism turns out to be as popular as I hope (say, 1000 passengers a year at $100k each), we'll finally have a genuine private space industry, The profits will be reinvested in improved vehicles and within ten years we could have passenger rides to orbiting space hotels. All without breaking any laws of physics or economics.
HS: You're an obvious exception but I believe many writers even in sci-fi need a paradigm change before they will be inspired by space travel. I still get annoyed thinking about the movie "Red Planet". Not a single character in the movie expressed any enthusiasm whatsoever about going to Mars. It was just an ordeal to get over with as soon as possible. Obviously that's what the screenwriters think about space. ("Mission to Mars" was also a big disappointment but for other reasons.)Young: I think the writers were trying to imagine a time in which space travel was just a job. I mean, wasn't the Val Kilmer character in RED PLANET the ship's janitor, or something? I think viable space fiction can be had WITHOUT a "sense of wonder" permeating the piece...
HS: They should hear Dennis Tito. At a lecture I attended last year, he went on and on for over an hour about what a pure state of joy he was in for the whole week he was in space. I don't think a trip to Mars or some other space venture would necessarily be such an ecstatic vacation, but it obviously would be carried out by people who love being in space.
Young: You'd have to be, to take a two-year bus ride to Mars!
HS: When you talk with other sci-fi writers do you find yourself in the minority as far as still having a real enthusiasm for spaceflight? Bruce Sterling, for example, has panned space as yesterday's has-been adventure. "Manned space exploration : Can you hear me, Houston? Put a stake through its heart, it's a flying mummy in a coffin." (Wired Jan.2000)Young: Everyone has different interests; I admit that my enthusiasms aren't usually those shared most often by others, but, heck! that's what makes it all fun.
HS: Are there any new installments in the AiT series in the offing?
Young: We're collecting all three stories into one big hardcover for August, and I have a quick story I'd like to do with series artist Charlie Adlard if his schedule allows.
HS: As noted in the Space.com interview, the AiT series is very cinematic. Is there any chance we'll see an AiT story on the big or small screen anytime soon?
Young: Well, the property's been optioned, and LIVE FROM THE MOON was mentioned in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY as a "graphic novel ya gotta have," so there is certainly some other-media opportunities. I'd sure like to buy a ticket, I can tell you that.
HS: Me too! Thanks Larry for these great space adventures.
Larry Young can be contacted via his website AiT/PlanetLar.