A Field Guide to Saturn by John Meszaros an illustrated fictional natural history book on the alien life of the ringed planet and its moons. It is written as a series of personal letters between Hyacinth- a young woman from Earth who is training to be a pilot for a kingdom on Saturn’s moon, Titan- and her girlfriend Jess, a science illustrator exploring the icy rings.
John has always loved speculative biology books like Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition and Dougal Dixon’s After Man, and this is his own contribution to the genre. It’s still very much a work-in-progress project, though he is hoping to have all the writing an illustrations done by the end of 2021.
A little bit to whet your appetite :
My dearest Hyacinth,
The rings! I still can’t believe I’m actually seeing the rings of Saturn! When our ship first approached, they looked like flat razor-edge roads curving off to the horizon. I saw Enceladus and another moon- I think it was Mimas- floating against the stars.
And then we dove down into them and it was- well, do you remember that ice storm when we were kids? When the power went out all night? Remember how we sat at the window and tried to heat our cocoa over candles while we listened to the frozen rain go tink-tink-tink on the glass? And how the drops glowed like gems in the moonlight? That’s what I thought of when the ship dove into the rings and I heard the ice particles tinkling on the hull.
I hope the piloting experiments are going well. And I hope connecting with the ship isn’t wearing you out. What’s it like linking with a bio-ship? I’ve watched Ayum piloting our exploration ship, but it doesn’t seem nearly as complicated as that big thing you’re training with.
I’m sorry, love. It’s not fair that I get to see the rings before you do. I wish Titan’s atmosphere didn’t blot them out. I want to dive them with you in our own bio-ship, just you and me, once you’re done with training. You think the queen would let us take a ship out by ourselves for a few days? Do pilots get vacations?
I’ve taken lots of notes and made drawings of the ring life. I’m still not totally fluent in the Titanian language, though Ayum has been a big help. He’s handling the local translations of the field guide while I do the version for Earth. I mean, I’m really writing and drawing all this for you. But might as well share my work with the folks back home, right?
Anyway, let me tell you about the ring plankton! They’re the foundation of the ecosystems out here in, on, and between the ice particles. Hya, I just can’t believe the diversity. Every time we haul in the sample scoop, we find at least five new species. I could spend the rest of my life cataloging and drawing them.
I recognize some of the groups from the library on Titan. There are triskelions and pseudichthyians. And even some ice-elephants form Enceladus. I wonder- could they have ridden into the rings on debris blasted out by meteorite impacts? Maybe the ice-elephants were flung into space in Enceladus’ geysers?
Many of the plankton are photosynthetic, though we’ve found a few that seem to feed directly off the radiation of Saturn’s magnetosphere. I even found an organism that was powered by Saturn’s radio waves which it collected with a tiny galena crystal. Where did it even obtain that mineral? From space dust? The rocky core of one of the moons? A centaur comet that got caught in Saturn’s gravity? So many mysteries. I’ll solve them all for you, I promise.
Your intrepid explorer,
A Bite of… John Meszaros
Do you see writing as an escape from the sorrows of existence, an exercise in futility, or an excuse to tell lies and get paid for it? Or is there another option…
I don’t view writing as an escape from sorrow and life’s difficulties so much as a method for processing, understanding, and coming to terms with all of it. Many times yes, I relieve stress and depression by writing, but I think of it as a method to calm my mind and organize my thoughts so I can find a path through the difficulties I’m facing. Also, I put a lot of my anxieties into my characters and by exploring the way they struggle and overcome these issues, I gain insight into how these same difficulties are affecting me.
Have you ever written somebody you know into a book? A lover? A friend? An enemy?
Most of my characters are loosely based on people that I know- if they aren’t based on some aspect of myself. I think it’s difficult not to put a little bit of the people you know into your characters, consciously or unconsciously, since writing is all about taking your knowledge and experiences and weaving them into a new tapestry. The personality, quirks, and struggles of the protagonist in one of my current works in progress- not A Field Guide to Saturn, though- was inspired by a former romantic partner, though I made the character different enough that she’s not an obvious fictionalization of a real person.
If you could meet one person (alive or dead) who would you choose? And what would you talk about? And what do you bring as a gift?
I would really like to meet Dr. Joseph Barratt, a polymath and geologist from Connecticut who studied fossil dinosaur trackways in the 1800s. He’s not a very well-known historical figure. I only stumbled on him by chance through an entry in a book about New England paleontology. But I find his life story fascinating. I even wrote about him for ConnecticutHistory.org
He had a wide variety of scientific interests that he tended to bounce between, to the point that he had trouble following many projects through to completion. He allegedly had an apartment that was like a mad scientist’s laboratory, filled with bones, minerals, plant specimens, books, papers, preserved brains, taxidermied creatures, etc. As a curious person with ADD, and a collector of books and oddities, I relate hard to Dr. Barratt.
I’ve actually got a story outline that features the ghost of Dr. Barratt meeting Kate and Maggie Fox, the founders of the 19th century Spiritualism movement.
If I hopped in a time machine and went back to meet Dr. Barratt, I’d really just like to listen to him talk about all of his discoveries. I love hearing people talk about scientific things that drive their passions. I’d especially like to hear his thoughts on the prehistory of New England. I think we could talk late into the night about a lot of ideas. As a gift, I’d bring him casts of the few fossil bones that have been found in Connecticut in the 20th century. I think he’d like them for his collection.
John Meszaros says: Like a lot of creative folks, I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to hold one of those big, Sharpie-sized Kindergarten pencils. When I’m not writing, I’m usually exploring and gathering inspiration for more writing, be it through books or through life experiences. Museums have been a huge influence on my work, particularly old natural history museums packed with cases of fossils, dioramas, and maybe a Mastodon skeleton or two (every natural history museum needs a Mastodon, in my opinion). I’d absolutely live in a natural history museum if I could. Or a library. Or a botanical garden. Heck, I’m already halfway there with all the bookshelves, fossils, and plants filling up my house.
I’m an artist in addition to being a writer and I often like to weave these two aspects of my creativity together in my works. Sometimes I’ll create illustrations to accompany my writing. Sometimes I’ll write long explanatory texts to accompany my illustrations.
I grew up in Michigan with occasional trips to Hawai’i and Florida. After getting a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, I moved to Connecticut and haven’t stopped traveling since. My biology background has greatly influenced my writing and art- as have those old natural history museums mentioned earlier.