B55 Mini Interviews with Les Johnson, Jeff Hecht, Andrea Corbin & Walter H. Hunt

Interested in a dash of science for your science fiction? Read on to find out more!

Les Johnson

ljohnsonLes is a physicist, a science and science fiction author, and a NASA technologist. His science fiction novels include Back to the Moon, Rescue Mode (with Ben Bova), On to the Asteroid and his latest, Mission to Methone. His popular science books include Graphene: The Superstrong, Superthin, and Superversatile Material That Will Revolutionize the World, Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel and Sky Alert: When Satellites Fail. In his day job, he is the Principal Investigator for NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout solar sail mission which will launch in 2019 and a Formulation Manager in the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Science & Technology Office. Les is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, The British Interplanetary Society, The National Space Society and MENSA – and is the Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. He was a technical consultant for the movies Europa Report and Solis. NPR, CNN, Fox News, The Science Channel and The Discovery Channel have all interviewed Les about space and space exploration. He was the featured Interstellar Explorer in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine and has been interviewed on Science Friday. Visit his website, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @LesAuthor.

There are a number of conventions that you could attend. What is it about Boskone that makes you want to attend this convention?

My convention experiences have been primarily in the southeastern USA and I’ve heard for many years about Boskone and what a great convention it is. As a southerner, I am a little nervous about being in Boston during the winter, especially February, but I am looking forward to it!

What is your favorite Boskone memory or experience?

I’ve never been and look forward to making those “favorite Boskone memories!”

Looking back at your work, which character, piece of art, song, poem, article, etc. stands out as an all-time favorite? What is it about this piece that makes it stand out for you?

As a scientist, a fan, a writer, and now the lead scientist (PI) for a deep space robotic exploration mission, I would have to say that I would like to re-experience reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama for the first time. Clarke was able to convey the sense of wonder like no other writer and he inspired me to pursue a career in science and, in particular, space exploration. If you haven’t read Rendezvous with Rama, or if you haven’t read it in many years, stop now and get a copy. You will not regret it!

In the realm of “truth is stranger than fiction,” what experience from your past would people never believe if it were written into a story?

There is the time I was almost arrested for a crime committed by someone sharing my exact name and birthday. And the time I was almost put into the Federal Witness Protection Program for testifying against a NASA contractor who committed fraud — and has shady relatives associated with the mafia. Or the time I was in the Washington, DC airport about to board my flight home to Alabama when I accidentally encountered my sister, who lives in Tennessee, who just happened to be in Washington, at the Washington airport, waiting for her flight at the exact same time I was there waiting on mine. Or the time…

What are you working on now? What excites or challenges you about this project?

I am editing an anthology for Baen books and writing the first book in a three book series, also for Baen, about our first interstellar voyage. At the same time, and for my day job at NASA, I am preparing for the launch of my mission – the Near Earth Asteroid Scout – which will use a solar sail to propel it toward an asteroid rendezvous sometime in 2020. Do you really have to ask what excites me about these projects???

If you were building a team of 3 (super)heroes to save the world from this trio of (super)villains: The Night King (GOT), the Emperor (Star Wars), and The Master/Missy (Doctor Who), who would you pick? The only catch is that you can’t pick characters from the GOT, Star Wars, or Doctor Who universes. Share why you chose your 3 (super)heroes.

Tony Stark (Iron Man), Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Stephen Hawking (a real-life superhero) would be my choices. I would like to think that human ingenuity and creativity can solve our problems without relying on mystical superpowers. Even against the totally evil villains you selected!

Jeff Hecht

jhechtJeff Hecht writes about science and technology for magazines including New Scientist, Nature, and IEEE Spectrum. He also writes short fiction, which has been published in Nature Futures, Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, Asimov’s and anthologies including NESFA Press’s Conspiracy! His recent books include City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics, Beam: The Race to Make The Laser, and Understanding Lasers. He is now working on a book on the history of laser weapons. He lives in the Boston area with his wife Lois. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter @jeffhecht.

There are a number of conventions that you could attend. What is it about Boskone that makes you want to attend this convention?

I go to Boskone because I live in the Boston area and because I have lots of friends who come to Boskone. I’ve been going since the late Neolithic…otherwise known as the 70s. It’s a great place to hang out and talk with people about science, technology, science fiction, and various and sundry other topics. And it’s a great place to pick up interesting ideas.

Looking back at your work, which character, piece of art, song, poem, article, etc. stands out as an all-time favorite? What is it about this piece that makes it stand out for you?

In “On 202” I evoked the chill of hearing the voices of the dead on the radio and invented Oldies radio. Or so I like to think. The story originally appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine, reprinted in Year’s Best Horror Stories, Great American Ghost Stories, and elsewhere. When I was growing up, radio was live people talking from somewhere else, a radio studio or a baseball game. They were visiting me in what was often a lonely world. When I started listening to music on the radio it also seemed alive, a way for other people to speak to me. Then sometime in the 1970s I began noticing the voices of the dead. It may have been after I heard a voice uncannily like a dead friend in the place where I worked. It wasn’t him, of course; he had died three years earlier, a suicide, maybe a hundred feet from where I was sleeping at the time. But then I started hearing on the radio the dark ghostly voice of Jim Morrison, the plaintive wails of Janis Joplin, and others who had died recently and young. As time passed, there were voices of the dead on the radio. I set the story on the most empty stretch of road I recalled, Route 202 northwest of the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts, which I driven to substitute teaching jobs a couple of dark late autumn roads. The music came from radio 666 in Enfield, one of the drowned towns under the Quabbin. The reservoir caught my imagination because my grandmother had been born in a lost town, now covered by the Sacandaga Reservoir in upstate New York. My two characters were haunted in their own ways, a young couple slowly drifting apart, one maturing while the other just drifted, wrapped up in himself. I wrote in the woman’s voice because it felt natural, and because she was trying to pull herself together. I like it because it captured a time and a feeling in a way that spoke to others as well as it did to me.

What are you working on now? What excites or challenges you about this project?

I am writing a book about the history of laser weapons. I have been writing about lasers for nearly 40 years, so I’ve seen a lot of that history. Thirty years ago Gordon Gould told me about how all the colonels “were so eager to believe” when he told them that he knew how to make a laser in 1959. He also told me how he was given a million dollars, then denied a security clearance because he had once been a communist. It’s part of a great story. The 1960s were full of wild-eyed schemes to build incredible lasers that were entirely non-credible. Each time one crazy plan failed, another would be conceived. It kind of made sense at the time, but in retrospect Ronald Reagan’s plans for an orbiting fleet of megawatt laser death stars to shoot down the whole Soviet nuclear arsenal were little short of daft. The Airborne Laser tried to shoehorn a giant laser into a Boeing 747 and shot down a missile; but it was totally impractical. But now a new laser technology has come along that might just work to shoot down rockets, artillery, mortars and drones. And just yesterday I wrote about an Air Force plan to install one of these new lasers in a fighter jet and test it against air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles in 2021. It’s a fascinating bit of technological history, with plenty of science-fictional angles.

Andrea Corbin

acorbinAndrea Corbin is a Boston-based writer. Her work has appeared in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, Crossed Genres Magazine, Sub-Q, and The Sockdolager. Her interactive fiction and the occasional blog post can be found on her website, amcorbin.com. She talks a lot of nonsense on Twitter as @rosencrantz, but sometimes there are cat pictures, too.

There are a number of conventions that you could attend. What is it about Boskone that makes you want to attend this convention?

Boskone has a great mix of panels (and panelists!), with such a variety of fascinating topics. I love a con where looking at the schedule is a little bit heartbreaking because you can’t clone yourself and go to everything! And, of course, there are the conversations that happen as you’re trailing out of panels, over dinner, in the art show, wandering the dealers room… It’s a wonderful weekend.

If you could relive your first experience with any book or film, which one would you pick? What is it about this book or film that you want to experience again for the “first time?”

This is a terribly hard question, because for me there’s a joy in reliving things and anticipating what you know is coming. So I thought, maybe a mystery would be good. Like Tana French, or if I could experience the book or 1974 movie of Murder on the Orient Express without any knowledge of it at all. Then I thought, what about assigned reading from school that might not deserve my antipathy? In the end, though, if I could experience Emily Carroll’s comics anew every time I picked up Through the Woods, I would be happy. Terrified and disturbed, but happy.

Looking back at your work, which character, piece of art, song, poem, article, etc. stands out as an all-time favorite? What is it about this piece that makes it stand out for you?

I wrote a story called “The Roving Bookstore” after the title phrase popped into my head on a rainy walk home. That story, published in The Sockdolager in 2016, only has a few characters, but does have one of my favorites — the bookstore itself, Tka. Tka walks on leopard legs and taught itself to communicate. Tka creates books, though does not shelve them accurately, and is home to a witch. How could I not love a living bookstore that prowls the hills and fields of the Kansas/Missouri border?

Walter H. Hunt

whuntWalter H. Hunt is a science fiction and speculative fiction writer from Massachusetts. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Dark Wing series, originally published by Tor Books and now in the Baen e-library. He has also written A Song In Stone, a novel of the Templars; Elements of Mind, a Victorian thriller about mesmerism; and, with Eric Flint, 1636: The Cardinal Virtues, part of the New York Times best-selling Ring of Fire series. He is married with one daughter, and is Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts. Visit his website, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @WalterHHunt.

What is your favorite Boskone memory or experience?

In 2002, when I was attending Boskone for the first time as a pro, I came out of a panel to attend an autograph session. My fellow-writers were Robert Sheckley and Hal Clement. My seat was occupied by David Hartwell, who was chatting with Sheckley. As he got up, he said to me something like, “this is a *tough* business, don’t forget that,” and wandered away. I sat down and Robert Sheckley leaned over, looked at my book, nodded, and said, “don’t listen to *him*!”

If you could relive your first experience with any book or film, which one would you pick? What is it about this book or film that you want to experience again for the “first time?”

I remember watching Empire Strikes Back in Geneva, Switzerland, with subtitles in German and French. Everyone in our group spoke one or the other or both – and they ran a little ahead of the actual English dialogue.

Looking back at your work, which character, piece of art, song, poem, article, etc. stands out as an all-time favorite? What is it about this piece that makes it stand out for you?

A Song In Stone was originally based on a real-life experience – a visit to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. We were in Scotland for Worldcon and I wanted to see Rosslyn after reading about it – and it led to the first novel that wasn’t related to any of my existing work. It’s ample proof that inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time.

What are you working on now? What excites or challenges you about this project?

I’m writing a novel with Eric Flint set in an alternate 18th century in America, and I’m about to start copy edit on Harmony In Light, my second novel set in the nineteenth century and dealing with the world of mesmerism.

About Brenda Noiseux

Product Owner by day/Sci-fi geek and community builder by night. Using my super hero powers for the good of all kind. I'm the organizer several groups, including the League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, a women's comics discussion group and a writer for Women Write About Comics.
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