The Big Idea: Chris Gerrib
Posted on March 2, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 31 Comments
It’s not exactly a new idea that one day, humans might go to Mars. But questions worth asking are who goes to Mars, how and why. Those questions are fun because they can have multiple answers, and if you’re a writer of fiction, multiple answers mean more opportunities for fun and adventure. Ask Chris Gerrib, who asked himself these sorts of questions for his novel Pirates of Mars. Here he is to tell you where these questions sent him (besides, of course, Mars).
I love the sub-genre of science fiction that’s best described as “big space fleets battle it out.” Like most of Elizabeth Moon’s output, or the “Lost Fleet” series from John Hemry AKA Jack Campbell. It’s the kind of stuff where The Service has been around forever, with traditions harkening back to pre-spaceflight militaries.
I found myself wondering, as I read these space operas, how exactly The Fleet, or The Service or whatever we’re calling it, how it came to be. I mean, nobody builds a fleet, space or water, because they got bored one slow Tuesday. Fleets are expensive, and if you don’t want them to be a collection of pretty targets, you need to spend even more money on training and crews.
When I was a kid, I remember reading a book about air forces in WWI. In August 1914, pilots from opposing armies waved at each other. By April 1918, less than four years later, a single German pilot had shot down 80 enemy planes in aerial combat. So that was a Big Idea – creating a Fleet from scratch.
I’m also mildly obsessed with Mars, and have been since I was a kid. A few years back, I read the late Kage Baker’s wonderful novel The Empress of Mars, and I loved it.
I found myself wondering, as I read Empress, why there was only one human settlement on Mars. If you ask five experts on Mars where the best spot for a settlement would be, you’d get at least four answers. And if a private company or a mid-tier nation like modern Great Britain could afford a settlement, surely you’d have multiple settlements.
Another good question is “Who would go?” Here, Empress gets it right, as far as I’m concerned. The people who would settle on Mars, especially if getting back to Earth was unlikely, would be misfits. They would be the people who got kicked off of Earth or left before the boot landed. These are not the type of people who play well with others. So, there’s another Big Idea – Mars as the Home for Wayward Earthlings.
Now, I don’t know if the “alt.space” people (like SpaceX, Blue Origins, Masten or the like) can in fact develop relatively cheap manned access to orbit. Considering we as a species have flown fewer than 600 missions on six different types of vehicles (seven if you count the Chinese Soyuz-clone as a separate ‘type’), I don’t think anybody has the data to make that call with confidence.
If the alt.space guys can make space access cheaper, what’s to stop Joe or Jane Billionaire from going to, say, Bolivia and getting their approval to set up a colony on Mars? And exactly what level of supervision will Bolivia exert over that station? What level of supervision could they exert? Call it Big Idea #3 – some number of space settlements are de-facto independent entities. Small city-states on the wrong end of a long, expensive supply line from Earth.
Historically, when you have a collection of city-states clustered together, you get warlords and bandits. The temptation to raid your neighbor and take his stuff is high, and the risk can seem low. Except, Mars is a big place, with the same surface area as all of Earth’s continents, and no roads. Overland travel will not be easy. It might be easier to go up to orbit than cross-country to the next settlement.
Space as a coastline, then, lined with weak city-states. Something that looks a lot like current-day Somalia. Somalia, a place where pirates hold dozens of vessels and hundreds of sailors for ransom. Except, in my future coastline, there isn’t a fleet offshore to fight pirates.
So I get to build one.
Pirates of Mars: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s
Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s LiveJournal.
This sounds very old school sci-fi, and I hope it is. I miss the silver age of sci-fi, and think there should be more books harking back to it. Just as long as it isn’t too militaristic-is-awesome-answer-to-everything (or spacebattles.com as I also like to call it), then I look forward to reading this.
First, as the author of Pirates of Mars, I’d like to thank John Scalzi for doing Big Idea pieces in general and mine in particular. We ended up playing a few reindeer games with online retailers which led to delays in posting this piece, and again John’s patience was helpful.
Second, I do have a day job, but I’ll be dropping by in comments periodically to answer any questions. Which leads me to CrypticMirror’s comment – yes, I missed the Old School SF too. I also served in the military, and know that a military can’t fix every problem.
Thinking about the exploration (‘ploitation) of the Americas, you initially had some big money groups moving in (Spain, England, France) and some smaller exploration/trade groups (Dutch) and then there were the independent cities that sprang up (slave/pirate towns in the Caribbean). So yeah, lots of dynamics going on, especially if “there’s gold in them thar craters!” The idea of riches will attract a lot of folk who might never head out. My wife’s great-grandfather was a Yukon prospector who would come back home to Kansas sod house every couple of years, start another baby and then head back up north. If there is a fairly reliable/not too expensive way to get to Mars, and then back to orbit at least, yeah, this could be real interesting. Am putting on my list.
I don’t know if this is a good thing from the author’s POV or not, but the Kindle version of Pirates of Mars is only $2.99. That plus the old-school SF vibe of the Big Idea piece got me to give it a try.
Thanks for the pointer Neal_with_an_a, I just picked it up too, for the same reasons.
I was just gonna go against the Mallet of Thumping and note the Amazon Kindle Price, but the poster above me did so. Just gonna note, I was getting this book, absent a jolting surprise on price, but the $2.99 was a deal maker. Good promotion.
The author is thrilled with the $2.99 ebook price. We’re (author and publisher) are trying to build an audience. In my case, the sequel is on my hard drive. In the publisher’s case, he’s got a lot of other good titles for sale.
Mr Gerrib – I am going to read the hell out of this book.
Mr. Gerrib: How about us Nook readers?
Bruce Diamond – Nook should be up any day now. I know the file was sent to B & N days ago, so it’s percolating through their system even as I type this.
Yeah, the teaser grabbed my attention and the kindle edition price was irresistible. Good yarn. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
Great news, thanks! I’ll definitely be buying a copy.
I’ve already loaded the sample and most likely will buy. I love the ability to sample the e-books. And congratulations and best wishes to Chris Gerrib who gets to live his dream.
color me intrigued on my e-reader now
Tell your publisher that they are very smart. For $2.99 I am more than willing to try out a new author. Just now purchased it.
I love the fact that the woman on the cover is fully dressed and has a realistic body. I may buy the book for that alone.
As one of the prototypical alt.space guys…
I think you miscounted human spaceflight vehicles so far – Vostok, Vokhsod, Soyuz for the Russians; Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle for the US; the Chinese Shenzhou really is a different vehicle than Soyuz, though it reuses the Soyuz basic geometric configuration and a few components. That comes to eight (or seven).
Other than that, bravo.
Pirates of Mars downloaded, Empress of Mars on reserve at the library. Thanks Chris!
George – I stand corrected
@ Chris Gerrib
Loonies who lose their passport on space holiday?
Engineering aside, it all boils (hehe) down to energy production. As long as were hooked on fossils, foggetaboutit. But if our species develops mature energy tech instead of beating an industrial retreat after peak oil, then three things will occur.
1) We’ll have the energy to spend on propellant to launch tether propulsion systems.
2) We’ll have the resources to kick some in the direction of materials engineering, with big-ass carbon-nanotube ribbons as a spin-off (hehe) project.
3) And we’ll maintain the tech base to continue our medical researches until average folks are living way, way past the natural reproduction age.
At which point the solar system is basically doomed.
Planes. Big-ass low-gee planes.
Martian air pirates? You know you want Martian air pirates in the sequel.
Generally, once a society is down to a military solution (as opposed to “elective” wars), it’s too late to fix anything.
“War doesn’t determine who is right. War determines who is left.” ~ Bertrand Russell
And nowhere would that be truer than war in an environment where staying alive even without being shot at is an uphill battle.
I love the fact that she’s posing for a snapshoot with her hostage :)
Now available for Nook. Snagged!
Dropping in to note that Pirates of Mars is now available for Nook.
Gulliver – plain ole rockets to orbit and VASIMER continuous thrust will do just fine, I think.
@ Chris Gerrib
IIRC, Paul Preuss already did Martian planes in Venus Prime anyway (though it’s been a long time since I read those). Plasma rockets are cool too. I don’t suppose you might be familiar with Ben Bova’s Asteroid Wars books? Not the deepest characters or plot, but an interesting take on what gearing up for interplanetary war/policing might be like.
Yes, I’ve read Bova’s Asteroid War series, and enjoyed the heck out of them.
(…) an environment where staying alive even without being shot at is an uphill battle.
To quote the old show Star Cops:
Nathan Spring: You leave Earth and anything you forget to bring with you will kill you. Anything you do bring with you which doesn’t work properly will kill you. When in doubt, just assume *everything* will kill you.
Ooh, this book hits me squarely in the middle of my big pulp-SF heart! The cover art is perfect as well.
Thanks to John, his Big Idea features have kept my reading list full for a few years now.
Your book is on my ‘to read’ list (along with a thousand or so other volumes).
Assume you’ve read Book 1 of Thucydides ;-)
jafd – actually no. Didn’t even read the Cliff Notes version.
just finished the other day – SOLID
Love the Big Idea, this me a look at another book, that I would not have a chance to look at on the shelf, because we don’t have a large bookstore in town. Amazon works, but….
Jason – Thanks!