This is the tense opening of The Legacy of Pandora, the first book in the Shan Takhu Legacy an exciting new series of hard sci-fi novels from Eric Michael Craig.
Hector: Neptune L-4 Trojan Cluster: Date: 2232.094:
Thirty seconds. The timer scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Relentless. Certain.
He sat staring at the display, his eyes unable to focus on the numbers.
He was afraid.
Beyond the edges of civilization, with only a clock to watch over his last fleeting seconds.
Weeks ago he’d run out of options, and hope had died soon after. So he made peace with himself and pointed his ship toward the inevitable.
Twenty seconds. The stars ahead blinked out as he dove forward. He could see it, almost visible in the dim light of the distant sun. Dark, ominous, and unforgiving.
The engines behind him coughed once. Then again. The roaring fell away as his fuel supply failed. The last of the reaction mass exhausted, gravity would finish the task, hauling him to his destiny.
He tapped the control to jettison the marker buoy, listening to its thrusters hissing against the outer skin of the ship as it shot off into the darkness. He knew it would remain trapped in orbit as certainly as he had found himself ensnared, but it gave him some solace that his last thoughts and actions might live past his own mortality. If anyone ever came looking for him.
He floated free from the seat and closed his eyes.
Counting down the numbers in his mind …
Jakob Waltz: Neptune L-4 Trojan Cluster:
“Commander, report to ConDeck immediately.”
Jephora Cochrane was not the type to take his duty lightly, but his engineer’s tone made every word an order as she ripped him from sleep an hour early.
Petra “Rocky” Rocovicz always sat third watch alone. No one on the crew wanted to spend time working with her, except as absolutely necessary. She didn’t mean to be offensive, but she had a way of expressing herself that was brutally forceful.
Machinery didn’t care if she spoke her mind. People on the other hand, were less fault-tolerant.
“What’s the problem?” he asked, pulling the seal-edge of his coverlet loose and rolling slowly toward the open air. He tried to keep his frustration from showing in his tone.
“Payload Four is lost,” the chief engineer said.
“How the frag do you lose 500 billion tons of ice?” he asked.
“Is good question,” she said.
“I’ll suit up and be on deck in five,” he said pushing off his bed and over to the autovalet.
Being a native to Juno, his light-world ectomorph physiology would never function well at anything above a tenth-g, and working with a mixed-physio crew meant that he had to be ready at any time for hard acceleration. His Pressure Support Exosuit let him work on an even footing with any of the heavy-grav mesomorphs on the crew by boosting his strength and compressing his extremities and torso with enough force to keep the blood flowing to vital body parts. Like his lungs and brain.
As the suit’s polymorphic liner wrapped around him, he flashed through the familiar sensation of suffocating under tons of water before the actuators kicked in and began carrying his breathing. It was a moment of terror that anyone who’d ever wrapped into a PSE knew.
The autovalet’s arms finished the rest of the dressing process. Contact pads first, then legs, arms, torso shell, and finally neck-support struts all slipped into place. He resented having to wear his suit because every time he put it on, it reminded him why he’d never been given a real command after twenty years in FleetCom.
A nearly inaudible beep told him the process was complete and his augmented body sprang to life. He shoved himself forward, a slug encased in an armor shell. He hated it, but it didn’t matter because without it, he’d be dead at an acceleration level most of his crew could take naked.
He thought about grabbing himself something to eat on the way by the galley, but instead he swung himself feet first up the chute toward the ConDeck. After four years working with her, he could tell that Rocky sounded worried, even through her gruff.
Flipping out onto the deck he stopped abruptly, snapping his maglock boots down with a firm click.
A Bite of... Eric Michael Craig
Q1: What is the greatest challenge in writing realistic sci-fi?
Staying fresh enough and educated in enough disciplines to stay ahead of the world we live in. The truth is the world around us is SciFi. Every single aspect of it is impacted by things that were science fiction when I was in school.
In order to stay up on the trends, an author needs to read not just other novels, but technical stuff. Journals and trade publications. And those things have to be broad spectrum. You cannot write relevant sci fi if you only know one thing about science.
A person who was on the cutting edge of biochemistry ten years ago could have written any number of stories that by today would be out of date, and missing something hugely important in electronics (the smart phone). On the other side of that an Electrical Engineer that saw the coming portable communications explosion, might have missed something like CRISPR and the idea of biohacking.
It is almost impossible to stay relevant in a world that will have changed by the time you get from chapter one, to chapter twenty, let alone two years after the book is published.
I chose to move my latest series 220 years into the future and I am praying that they endure a few years before someone invents the warp drive and makes local space colonization irrelevant.
Q2: If you didn’t write science fiction is there any other genre you would like to write?
This answer fits in with the one above. Other than historical romance, most anything set in the real world is now science fiction. The stories I have been writing are a bit across the lines of science fiction sub-genre. Stormhaven Rising is a political thriller/action as much as it is mainstream Science Fiction. My new series has elements of mystery/crime drama, as well as political drama buried inside a harder edged space opera.
Anything I’d write would have to include those elements. Even if I wrote Epic Fantasy, I’d be explaining the magic in terms that made it just technology beyond our human understanding. I think it has to be that way or the reader won’t see and feel the relevance of the story. If you can’t make your world relatable in a real way, it’s pointless to tell the story.
So, having said that, I don’t feel like there’s much of anything around that I could write that isn’t in some way inherently science fiction.
Q3: Which author do you most admire and why?
This question is a real challenge for me. I grew up reading the “masters” like Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, and although I could say they have influenced me and how I think, I have been forced to turn away from that.
The issue is that we live in the Marvel/Disney era of storytelling.
Authors like RAH and Clarke could spend 300 pages developing an epic premise story, and people read them because they were fascinating studies in possibility.
Unfortunately now, authors cannot do that. We do not get to write “epic premise stories,” we have to write “major crisis management adventures.” If the first paragraphs of a novel don’t drive the story into an emergency situation, nobody will read past the first page.
Because of that, I’ve had to turn loose of my heroes and look to the world around me … unfortunately, very few modern writers are more than a “flash in the pan” or formula hacks. I know that sounds harsh, but at the speed the world moves, there is a sad truth to the notion that most readers attention spans vary inversely with the velocity of life.
About Eric Michael Craig
Eric Michael Craig is a Hard Science Fiction writer living in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. He is the former Director of Research for a private consulting laboratory in Phoenix, where he experimented with inertial propulsion and power generation technologies.
Fascinated with the “cacophony of humanity,” he dedicated much of his life to observing society and how people relate to each other and the world around them. Ultimately this drove him to write full time.
When not writing, Eric is active in Intentional Community Design, plays guitar and bass, occasionally dabbles in art of various forms, and designs websites. He also owns way too many dogs.
Eric is a founding member of the SciFi Roundtable. The SFRT is an active online group dedicated to supporting indie and traditional authors by networking them with other writers and professional resources.