Defunding the U.S. space program was discouraging, but also inspiring for an Ottawa author and editor.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt hopes his work on two new books — the anthology “Mission: Tomorrow” and the novel “The Worker Prince” — help to restore a sense of wonder about space exploration, he said. Both works of science fiction were released in November, and focus on space travel.
“It is kind of classic, core science fiction, the kind of thing that inspired the genre in the first place, which not everybody does a lot of anymore,” Schmidt said of “Mission: Tomorrow,” which he edited. “It is fun because I think part of the reason I did this anthology was because, with the defunding of NASA, I got kind of discouraged.”
Space travel, he said, got lost in the shuffle of our modern lives.
“In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, we kept cooking with every single [space] launch,” he said. “But by the mid ’80s and ’90s, it became so regular that space shuttles went up, people stopped paying attention. It wasn’t front page news as much anymore. It wasn’t everybody sitting in front of the TV watching. It was kind of like routine. What gets lost in the that shuffle is the magic of, ‘We sent a guy to the freakin’ moon’ or ‘We sent a guy to space. How cool is that?’”
“Mission: Tomorrow” focuses on travel within Earth’s solar system in an age when NASA no longer is the only way to get into space, Schmidt said. The anthology features 19 short stories from such accomplished science fiction authors as Robert Silverberg, 80, San Francisco, and James Gunn, 92, who is a professor emeritus and founding director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.
Schmidt hopes the book will be something for all space enthusiasts, young and old, he said.
“We’ve kind of lost our sense of wonder about the space program, and I’m still the kid who grew up dreaming about that,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to do this anthology. There are a lot of kids out there like me that dreamed of that who are now adults, but they have kids that they want to get excited about space travel. Let’s do a book that they can share with their kids that reminds them how cool this is.”
Schmidt’s new novel, “The Worker Prince,” earned honorable mention on Barnes and Noble’s year’s best science fiction releases, and is part one of three of a saga of Davi Rhii, he said.
“I took the Moses story and turned it into an epic space saga kind of like ‘Star Wars,’” Schmidt said. “I left out the 10 commandments and some of the heavier religious stuff and made it more of an actual adventure story.”
Both books are available online and Schmidt said he plans to have copies available at the Ottawa Library, 105 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.
The author also noted some parallels between “Mission: Tomorrow” and Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian,” which recently was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott.
“The similarity, long story short is, these are stories of near-future space travel ... ” Schmidt said. “‘The Martian’ is basically, you know, if we sent a mission to Mars, what might happen right now? That is the same concept here. There are stories here set on Jupiter, Mars, Pluto, Venus, Mercury, the Asteroid Belt ... all over the solar system with people either experiencing trouble or having various things happen. Exploring — that is what this is about.”
Schmidt was brought in to edit “The Martian” novel in 2013, he said. The novel itself was published electronically in 2011, as an audiobook in 2013 and as a hardcover in 2014. He was recommended by his colleague Jennifer Brozek, with whom worked on the book “Shattered Shields” and who grew up with Weir, the author of “The Martian,” Schmidt said.
“[Weir] wanted an editor, and [Brozek] said, ‘Well we’re friends, so I can’t edit you, so let’s get somebody else.’ So she brought me in, and recommended me to him,” he said. “I worked with him on ‘The Martian’ before he ever sold it to a movie. He had it published on the internet and people wanted to buy a copy. He said, ‘Well, if I’m going to do it, I want it to be professional, so I need to make it a book. I need to polish it.’ So, we worked on a bunch of stuff, and then he started to self-publish it and got this huge deal. Then they edited again and put it out. He told me, ‘Bryan, the stuff that I didn’t do that you told me to do when you edited me? They made me do it at Crown [Publishing Group, which published the book]. They made me millions of bucks, so you came out ahead.’”
A signed copy of Weir’s original manuscript for “The Martian” with Schmidt’s first edit notes was to be donated to the Plaza Cinema’s memorabilia museum, 209 S. Main St., Ottawa, along with a copy of Weir’s novel for display. Weir agreed to donate to the museum after Schmidt reached out to him.
The key to today’s popular science fiction, Schmidt said, is incorporating more realism.
“I just noticed this the other day: There are like 10 or 12 science fiction TV shows that are major TV shows now,” Schmidt said. “You’ve got everything from ‘Pharaoh’ to ‘Flash’ to ‘Supergirl,’ ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ ‘Limitless’ ... and that’s just the major networks. Then you’ve got, of course, sci-fi channels, you’ve got ‘Game of Thrones’ on HBO, you know. There’s just a whole bunch of science fiction and fantasy stuff that is popular and there is more coming out all the time. These are things that have become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s not so much a nerd thing only anymore. The good thing about this book is — for people who can’t get into the superhero stuff or the laser guns (the stuff that you gotta suspend your disbelief a lot for it) — this is stuff that is more realistic. It’s got real science. It is the kind of stuff that really could happen possibly if a couple circumstances all went a certain way. That is what is cool about it.”
Schmidt is set for a new anthology, “Galactic Games,” to come out next June, he said. The anthology will focus on galactic olympic games, and will feature several authors including George R.R. Martin — best known for his epic fantasy novels which have been adapted into “Game of Thrones.”
“It is basically sports stories, so there are aliens playing football and all sorts of wacky sports,” Schmidt said.
Clinton Dick is a Herald staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org