G. David Nordley’s first Analog story since his novel To Climb a Flat Mountain was serialized in our pages—“Empress of Starlight”—features in our current issue [on sale now]. Below, he explains its origins as well as his many other inspirations.
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
GN: When I was in the Air Force back in the mid ’80s, I managed a propulsion-related science effort that Bob Forward worked on. I’d been thinking about how to work that science into a science fiction story ever since; and that finally made it into the last part of “Empress of Starlight.” The first part follows from Freeman Dyson’s paper on detecting what are now called Dyson spheres, but probably should be called Stapledon spheres. The notion of the surface of a Dyson sphere being used as a phased array may be original to me—I hadn’t heard of that before, at any rate. The main character is a fusion of a couple people I once knew—dead now.
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
GN: Most of my fiction takes place in a more or less consistent future history, which is a fairly straightforward extension of our own times, with a common technological base. At the time of “Empress of Starlight” interstellar travel is at near lightspeed and base on mass beams for acceleration and, with a couple exceptions, deceleration. Courtesy of genetic engineering, after some time in the 2100s, people no longer age. They are born with an engineered sixth (or seventh?) radio sense—they don’t need cell phones or implants. There are people in O’Neill-type space colonies around most of the nearby stars, but only a few Terraformed worlds, including Mars. See To Climb a Flat Mountain, or Among the Stars.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
GN: Many of my stories appeared first in Analog. Please see the published fiction list on my website: www.gdnordley.com.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
GN: Arthur C. Clarke was the one I treasured most when growing up for his accurate descriptions of space travel; but I probably learned more about people and future society from Robert A. Heinlein. Poul Anderson was the most fun to read. Algis Budrys was my teacher in plotting and writing as a career—literally. I took a one-week course from him back in the early ’90s, and he remained a friend.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
GN: Though they educate me, as they do all of us, I seldom comment on them directly. But if you see a bit of Fox News in Torsten Reid of The Black Hole Project, you would not be alone.
AE: How did you break into writing?
GN: I wrote an SF story for an English class project in high school, which got me an “A,” but didn’t make it into an envelope. It was lost in one of my parent’s moves. I wrote another story while I was in the Air Force; after much rewriting, it is still in the “trunk.” When I retired from the Air Force and was stuck in Boron, CA, trying to sell our home, I had plenty of time for writing. I started sending stories to Stan Schmidt; he bought the third one.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
GN: I’d really like to see that life extension gene hack—that goes back to Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis,” by the way. Too much to do, too little time left.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
GN: You might not call this “weird” but for a story in which I used Winston Churchill as a character, and wanted to emulate his writing style, I found myself reading a great deal of what he wrote and what others wrote about him—much more than I needed for a short story, perhaps. I became a reservoir of Churchillian trivia for a while, but that is slowly leaking away now. Somewhere in all this, I began to think of Churchill as primarily a writer, with politics as more of an avocation. After the Kansas City Worldcon, Gayle and I visited the Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, where Truman brought Churchill to give his “Sinews of Peace” speech—better known as the “Iron Curtain” speech—that pretty much laid out the “containment” strategy that got the world by the totalitarian threat without a nuclear war. It seemed strange and wonderful how such a world-shaking speech came to be given at a small college in the middle of rural Missouri!
AE: What are you reading right now?
GN: Tom Holland’s narrative history, Rubicon, about the life and death of the Roman Republic. There were no heroes, except maybe Cato.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
GN: I’ve been a Space Cadet all my life, starting with Rocky Jones and Captain Video, before encountering Heinlein’s books. Fast forward, I majored in physics and got a “preinduction notice” from the Selective Service as a graduation present. I joined the Air Force instead, starting in air battle control, but in a few years working my way into astronautical engineering. My work was mostly management in both operations and engineering—I picked up an MS in systems management along the way—but what technical work (I would not call it scientific) I got to do was in astrodynamics; calculating orbits and doing estimates of advanced propulsion system performances. I still did a bit of consulting in this after retiring from the Air Force. One thing I did before I started writing for Analog was to spend a few weeks brushing up on relativity and causality. As a result, I came to the decision to not use “faster than light” and have stuck with that.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL…)