Q&A with C. Stuart Hardwick

C. Stuart Hardwick discusses his current story—”A Measure of Love”—in our current issue on sale now, as well as the upcoming sequel to his July/August story “Open Source Space.” Get to know him in our newest Q&A!


 

Analog Editors: Before we dive into the Q&A, a “Congratulations!” is in order—you recently won the Jim Baen Memorial Award. What an achievement!

Stuart Hardwick: Thanks!

AE: Can you tell a little bit about the award?

CSH: Sure. The competition is run by Baen Books and the National Space Society. Its focus is on inspirational and plausible near-future manned space exploration, so right up the Analog alley. They invited me to attend the International Space Development Conference in LA with other winners and Amazon and Blue Origin founder, Jeff Bezos.

AE: Wow! Did you get to meet him?

CSH: I did shake his hand. I also had coffee with Rod Rodenberry, whose foundation is using his dad’s Star Trek fortune to help people around the world. And I got my picture taken with two scientists familiar to most of your readers, Freeman Dyson, who worked on atomic pulse propulsion back in the 50s, and Frank Drake, famed for the Drake Equation for estimating the potential for extraterrestrial civilizations. I also talked with all sorts of scientists, students, and entrepreneurs who gave me all kinds of story ideas.

AE: We can’t wait to see them. Have you submitted to this award in the past?

CSH: Yes, four times, all of which have been finalists. My first, “Dreams of the Rocket Man” was my first Analog sale.

AE: And rumor has it that your winning story is a sequel to “Open Source Space,” which WAS just in the July/August Analog.

CSH: Man, your spies are good! Yes, “Dangerous Company,” takes place a few months after the main events in Open Source Space, and involves the same replica Apollo lander introduced in that story. It also reaches back into the early days of the space race, and some of its forgotten heroes on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

AE: Where can our voracious readers find this sequel?

CSH: In a future issue of Analog, but you provably knew that already.

AE: Of course! Do you plan to continue this series in the near future?

CSH: Absolutely. I have a lot of adventures planned for The Open Source Space universe and could easily see it evolving into a novelized collection like Larry Niven’s Flatlander, or even a standalone novel. It’s fertile ground for the sort of uplifting, positive stories we see too little of these days, and that readers clearly want. And my goodness, I need to get them written—before they all come true!

AE: Turning to the current issue, what was your inspiration for “A Measure of Love”?

CSH: “A Measure of Love” was originally written for a contest. I’m not going to say which one because I don’t want to prejudice your readers. Suffice it to say I found the premise contrived and knew if I didn’t win, I’d never sell a story based on it. So I crafted “A Measure of Love” to work without that premise, and in the end it was utterly excised. What remains, I believe, is a far more poignant and powerful story—so to heck with the contest.

The story itself came from a newspaper article about the opioid crisis creating an epidemic of orphans, and from conversations with a Google researcher friend about AIs gaming the reward systems they are given—just like human children. That gave me the idea for a role reversal between an caregiver AI and a human.

Instead of the silly contest conceit, I painted a world in which effort and intelligence offer ways out of even the most dire problems—but we have to struggle to reach them. I think that’s true in reality, and that we can and must learn to live together—with each other, with our machines, and with the world we all share, or none of us are going to make it. So it’s scifi of a classic sort, a warning steeped in hope. I really hope people like it.

AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?

CSH: “A Measure of Love” is hard Sci-Fi and unabashedly hopeful. To me, that’s classic Analog.

But also, I wrote it shortly after my article, “Taming the Genie,” which appeared in the March/April issue. Some of the ideas from that article feature prominently in the story, and you can think of the two works as companion pieces—in the Analog tradition you know—Science: Fiction and Fact.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

CSH: Robert Heinlein and Carl Sagan. Heinlein because two of my earliest forays into literature were “A Tenderfoot in Space,” reprinted in an old Boy’s Life magazine, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which I found very strange indeed while reading my older sister’s copy as a child. Sagan because of his poetic way with words and the reverent, almost sensual pleasure he conveyed in the very act of discovery.

There’s a profound beauty in the workings of nature and in the human drive to understand them. Heinlein wed the two in his fiction and Sagan in popularizing science. To use our understanding to grow beyond our origins is, I believe, what defines us as a species—and what makes Scifi a transcendent art form.

In addition, on the topic of influences, I’d be remiss to overlook Ursula K. Le Guin. Her story, The Lathe of Heaven, forever changed my definition of heroism and showed me how simply and accessibly complex characters can be drawn.

AE: Are there any themes you find yourself returning to in your writing?

CSH: When I look back at my work, from “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow” in Galaxy’s Edge, to last year’s “For All Mankind” in Analog, one theme I see myself returning to time and again is the community of all humanity.

 


That’s one reason I think I’m drawn to unconventional protagonists. The world needs heroes, but we’ve largely outgrown the muscle-bound swashbuckler mythos. Real problems—interesting problems—are not solved by splitting skulls. They are solved by asking, listening, investigating, and sometimes by splitting atoms.


 

Triumphant women don’t always need superhuman martial arts prowess and a figure to match. Men don’t always need to overcome through pugilistic endurance. Sy Liebergot and Margaret Hamilton got us to the moon as surely as John Glenn, and if they didn’t actually sit atop the rockets themselves, they fought their own battles and ran their own gauntlets—often against the current of expectation. That’s herosim we can all identify with and take inspiration from.

Sometimes, the best stories come not from superheroes, but from ordinary people struggling to follow their moral compass through an ambiguous and changing world—or confronted with extraordinary options.

I love July’s “Open Source Space” because it recalls the spirit of hope that suffused the Apollo program—even inside one of America’s most troubled decades. Think of it. Aside from all the industrial and technical prerequisites, before we could actually go to the moon, we had first to look up and see it for what it is and conceive of going to another world.

Sure, there was the Cold War, and that may have motivated Congress, but that’s not what drove the 400,000 men and women who took us there or the millions around the world who tagged along as best they could—or those before and since who’ve dreamed of spreading mankind among the stars.

Ultimately, we went as Kennedy said, not because it was easy but because it was hard, because striving for the horizon serves to “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” because troubled and troubling though we are, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we look outward and forward together. I see it as my job to help make that happen.

AE: How did you break into the writing business?

CSH: The conventional answer is, “by winning the Writers of the Future Contest,” but that and $3.00 will buy you a latte, small, hold the cream. Don’t get me wrong, winning was great, and it does open doors, but the biggest thing it gave me was perspective. I spent a week in Hollywood hanging out with literary idols who treated me with clear expectations of future achievement. Some people might respond to that with a swelled ego or a feeling of entitlement. I felt responsibility—to live up to their expectations—to stop dismissing writing as a hobby and commit to the risks and sacrifices of the profession.

Viewed this way, a contest win is less breaking through some imagined barrier, and more like the breaking of a wave, one of those giant Hawaiian pipelines maybe, when you’ve learned enough to reach one and ride it into shore, and you give a well-earned shout—and then you paddle back out to catch the next one, and the next one after that.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

CSH: A mother who told stories of rural poverty like pages from a Steinbeck novel. A big sister who read me Heinlein, hooked me on B-movies and traveled the universe with me in our kitchen table space capsule. We used to record “radio shows” on an antique reel-to-reel tape recorder and make the sound of charging horses by pounding our fists on the blankets. I banged out the scripts on an old Smith Corona. I was always a writer; I was just too stupid to see it. I’m glad I finally caught on.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

CSH: I’m currently working on a novel about an American frontiersman whose potbellied stove holds the key to inter-dimensional conquest. Based on a true story, of course.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

David Gerrold says the best writing advice is “do something else, anything else.” But then he says if that just pisses you off, if there are stories inside you and it feels like you’ll run yourself up a mountain and burst into flames if you don’t let them out, then welcome aboard. I added the part about the mountain. David doesn’t talk that way.

My advice is, if you’re going to write, grow a hide of depleted uranium and work ‘til it glows red hot—but crawl out from under it on a regular basis for love and puppies and exercise. Like everything else in life, it’s a balancing act, and when you’re doing it right, it feels a lot like the balance achieved between gravity and air resistance when falling from a great height.

AE: What’s something we should know about you but haven’t thought to ask?

CSH: The Future is Nigh is an anthology of short speculative fiction by all award-winning authors that I’ve been editing for Got Scifi Group. The advanced reviews have been great and I’m quite proud of it. It’s available on Kindle and in print.

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it Influence your fiction?

CSH: Early in my career, I was assigned to apprentice under an analyst nearing retirement. As I sat at her desk asking questions to help tease together a clear understanding of the system she was handing off, she grew irritated.

“You’re just one of those people who wants to know how things work, aren’t ya?”

I thought—but didn’t say—“Human people? Yes, I’m one of those.”

I’m a Quora Top Writer and contribute heavily on scientific topics, so I get asked this a lot. No, I don’t work for NASA and I’m not a real scientist (I just play one on the Internet). I do, however want to know how things work—and how they got that way, and what comes next. I’ve been digging out answers since I was little, standing in the South Dakota Badlands by my mother’s side, a fossil fish in one hand, a toy car in the other, and a hundred million years stretched out beneath me in the sedimentary valleys and canyons of nature’s card catalog.

I internalized the value of the scientific method early, and love learning for its own sake. It’s great fun weaving the results into creative works. If some of them help engender the same love in future generations, I’ll consider my time on the planet worthwhile.

The universe is amazing. Watching its gears turn is all a conscious mind really needs to be happy; well…that and maybe a puppy.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

CSH: www.cStuartHardwick.com. New newsletter subscribers get a signed eBook sampler collection. I’m also on Twitter (@cStuartHardwick) and Facebook (cStuartHardwick.author) and of course, Quora (C-Stuart-Hardwick).


Stuart Hardwick is an Analog regular who’s won the Writers of the Future contest and the Jim Baen Memorial award as well as the Analab poll for his novelette, “For All Mankind.” An Air Force brat from South Dakota, he grew up on Black Hills treasure hunts and family stories like pages from a Steinbeck novel, making “radio shows” on an old tape recorder and animated shorts using Star Wars miniatures. He worked with the creators of the video game Doom, married an aquanaut, and has been known to wear a cape. For more and a free signed e-sampler, visit www.cStuartHardwick.com.

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